These days there is a tremendous amount of fervor around startups. Excitement abounds in the media and at the watercooler.
“Have you tried this new app? It’s awesome.”
“Did you hear how much company X raised? Can you believe it?”
“I’m thinking about starting a new company. It’s like Omaha Steaks but for dental floss.”
The thing is, any company needs to start by doing two things:
Building an app
Making sure the back end is ready to scale for huge numbers of customers
Wait, sorry. That’s not right. Let’s try again.
How to bootstrap a business:
Figure out how they can best be served
Since starting Fixer, as we have come across people who are in need of home repairs, we have done whatever we can to understand a homeowner’s thoughts as they consider fixing issues. There are numerous thoughts one has before deciding to call a service provider. People do interesting things like batching up a long “To Fix” list before acting, even if the first item on the list is super annoying to them. But far and away the things we hear most often are:
“Most handyman-like services don’t show up on time, and some don’t even show up at all.”
“I want someone who cares about quality to just fix this stuff.”
So much mental energy goes into finding someone good. This shouldn’t be as big a problem as it is. And yet.
The product is the people
After hearing enough potential customers list reliability and quality as the two main factors that they are looking for in a handyman, we had a realization:
Our product is our Fixers.
Delivering on our customers’ needs is not about creating flashy apps or newfangled business models. It is about hiring a team of excellent handymen/women/people, and outfitting them with everything they need to do great work. At the end of the day, our customers want to tick some important To Dos off their lists, and interfacing with our company is simply a means to an end. Enabling Fixers to do their best work has a direct impact on the quality of service that our customers will come to expect.
Choosing to enable Fixers to do great work has had a major impact on where we have focused our “Product” efforts. Take, for instance, the Tools and Materials that our Fixers use at each job. In our first few weeks, new Fixers would bring their own tools and a handful of materials to a customer’s door, but they would routinely run to their car for extra materials. This was quite inefficient, and our customers noticed the problem. “Why don’t you have the supplies you need?” was a question we heard.
So, we focused our efforts on creating the Standard Fixer Toolkit and Fixer Materials Bag by interviewing Fixers and working to elicit feedback on the most commonly used tools and materials. Each of the kits has around 30 items that are always with a Fixer when they arrive. We are now able to complete 80% of our jobs without leaving the customer’s home, and that number will improve as we continually tweak our toolkits and materials bags.
Beyond the direct benefits a customer reaps when a Fixer shows up at their door with the necessary tools and materials, they also benefit by working with a Fixer who is mentally ready-to-go. Customers can expect attentive and courteous service – your Fixer isn’t wondering whether they have their hacksaw in their bag. In our experience so far, customers notice the difference.
But seriously, what about an app?
Of course we are hard at work on the technical side of our Product. One day soon we will have an app that customers can use to call a Fixer to their location. And our Fixers will have their own app to communicate with customers and the dispatch center. For now, though, we are focused on asking fundamental questions about Fixing and building a Product that is truly what our customers want it to be, and by operating the business using analog methods we are learning about the user experience without making the necessary tradeoffs that come about when building software.
In true Lean Startup fashion, we have been successful in finding many ways to interact with customers that don’t require our own apps. As we are ready to codify the business rules we are making now as we learn, our customers will interface with more and more of our technologies. Until then, we are not solely focused on building for scale. We think our customers will experience a stronger series of Fixer Products in the long run because of this approach, and most importantly, our Fixers will earn our company the reputation that only they can.
Later this week, Zach will tell you more about our Fixers and how we ensure that we’re hiring the best, but for now rest assured that our plan is working. The reviews we receive are glowing, and we could not be more proud of our crew of Fixers.