Class of 2007: ServiceSeeking co-founder Jeremy Levitt on why early-stage corporate partnerships “stink” for new businesses
Tuesday, June 13, 2017/
ServiceSeeking co-founders and StartupSmart Awards alumni Jeremy Levitt and Oliver Pennington couldn’t believe that in 2007, with the internet in “full swing”, tradespeople were still paying for Yellow Pages entries, and finding someone to get a job done was getting no easier. Seeing a problem that needed solving, the duo left their corporate jobs to start online jobs marketplace ServiceSeeking.
Today ServiceSeeking has over 20,000 paying customers and has fielded over 10 million quotes over the last 10 years. Co-chief executive Jeremy Levitt sat down with SmartCompany to run through the challenges and successes of the last 10 years in business.
What inspired you to establish your business 10 years ago?
Ten years ago, hiring a tradie to get a job done around the home was no easy feat. The same story was being repeated in other industries too, even with the internet in full swing. In 2007 the dominant method for finding a business to do something was a Google search or word-of-mouth. But those methods only connected you to a website, not an actual person who had the time and inclination to help you. To this day, suppliers are notoriously hard to pin down. They are booked out and don’t answer their phone.
We saw an opportunity to solve this problem by creating a real-time platform where available and interested businesses contact customers to do the job they need to be done. The best part of our vision was upfront prices so users don’t get pressured to overpay when the supplier turns up to quote.
Together with comprehensive background checks and a way for customers to leave feedback, ServiceSeeking.com.au was born. We aim to put an end to the hassle of finding good businesses and overpaying, and we want to help customers get any job done, anywhere in Australia.
What were you doing before starting your business?
Working long hours at a corporate law firm in Sydney.
I was bored. The transactions were interesting, but I was at the wrong end of them. I became restless and dreamed of being my own boss, creating something to solve a real world problem. Internet businesses were booming and despite not having any direct experience in coding or entrepreneurship, I decided to give it a shot. We made a lot of mistakes but I am finally living a life of purpose.
How different is your business today compared to 2007?
In the early days, we were dealing with one job at a time, calling businesses ourselves to arrange site visits for clients. A good day was 10 jobs and a single subscription payment worth $25. Now we generate thousands of jobs a day and have more than 20,000 paying customers. Since we launched, $3.2 billion worth of jobs have been listed and more than 10 million quotes have been compared.
It has taken a while to build up, but our users now report, through regular surveys, that we are 34% better than searching Google and 55% better than local newspapers in terms of finding good quality suppliers to get jobs done.
What challenges have you come up against?
Raising capital in Australia is and always will be more challenging than the US and we’ve managed to raise in excess of $10 million. We also survived the global financial crisis and came out the other side stronger than ever. And our competitive landscape has changed.
We compete against other businesses backed by the likes of News Ltd, Fairfax and Channel 7, which have collectively raised more than $100 million in venture capital. Despite our well-heeled competitors, we have several unique selling propositions that have helped us build more liquidity of supply than any other local services marketplace in Australia. Our point of difference for tradies and suppliers is the fact we are materially cheaper than our biggest competitor. We don’t charge per lead and don’t take a commission. It is far more attractive and affordable form of marketing than alternatives.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being your own boss?
Setting the vision, creating a great place to work, solving real-world problems, and not having to deal with slow moving management teams. We are nimble, fast and pride ourselves on a total absence of office politics. We care for each other, work towards a common purpose and have full autonomy to do the tasks within the business that make the most difference.
If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be?
Corporate partnerships as a “go-to-market” strategy stink. We would have probably skipped the numerous partnerships we entered into in the early years, instead focussing limited time and resources on improving our website and user experience. We learnt from this mistake though, with our top objective now being to make the experience of using ServiceSeeking as rewarding as possible for both sides of the marketplace.
How has your industry changed over the past decade?
Customers expectations are higher. They want to be introduced to the very best businesses, instantly. They want their job to go perfectly. We work on building a website that delivers highly reviewed businesses and we aim to get jobs done for our users in record time.
What do you think are the most significant factors or developments that will affect your business in the next 10 years?
Our vision is to automate local services, making the process of hiring a business to do a job instantaneous, because as technologies develop, consumers expect things in their life to run smoothly.
We see our job in local services to make sure every job gets done right every time, no matter when it is listed with us, where our users are located or the type of job. It is a high touch concept, ensuring speedy delivery and a quality service across thousands of different industries.
Over the next 10 years, we think the winner in local services will have the greatest supply, the most choice and most importantly not try to control the transaction and take a commission. Consumers want to manage how they pay and want to meet the supplier early on. The right revenue model is one where the SME pays a subscription and then once the client introduction is made, the website gets out of the way.
Our market is huge, estimated to be between close to $1 trillion dollars in size in Australia, and we think we can continue to grow rapidly, even if there are other marketplaces vying for dominance at the same time.
Read more about the Class of 2007 here.
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Four tips for playing the long game in business, from Victoria's Small Business Woman of the Year Fiona White Own Body founder