Handybook Co-Founder: The Key To Scaling Local Is Great Service

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iconMobile bookings services are on the rise as consumers increasingly want to use their smartphones to transact with local  businesses. And with Uber proving to investors that the model can scale, the consumer services space has attracted a deluge of startups looking to disrupt local service verticals like healthcare, transportation, and household services.

Enter Handybook, a New York-based technology company that allows users to book household services on its site and app, and currently operates in 13 cities across the U.S. The one-year-old company works with individual service providers and matches them up with customers, aiming to be the easiest and reliable way to book household services. With $10 million in the bank from series A funding, Handybook plans to expand its team and tap into other verticals.

Street Fight recently spoke with Umang Dua, Handybook’s co-founder, to find out more about Handybook’s plans to impact the way customers book household services.

Uber is the golden example of local tech these days. What made their model work and how has it influenced the way you’ve built Handybook?
One of the ways they have disrupted the space is by standardizing quality, and I think that is hard to do and people sometimes overlook it. When I get into an Uber cab, I know exactly what to expect. If you get to that level with other services, that’s half the battle. They are standardizing an industry that is potentially unreliable, and their technology is also really simple.

On the customer front, we’re thinking about trust, reliability, recruiting, and on the supply-side it’s a far more fragmented supply space. At the end of the day, our businesses are very different in the actual realities and executing, but as a concept, Uber is fantastic.

I think Uber has definitely influenced the approach we take towards how we can use data once we have service providers, and how to use data to predict demand, supply, pricing and surge pricing. Uber has also done well in creating a brand that people trust. So we look at those two things and think about how we can get to a similar place in the household space.

As a target for tech startups, what makes the home services vertical such an opportunity for disruption?
Household services have been a space that never made that jump from an old-school way of doing things to moving online. On the consumer side, when someone is searching for a cleaner or plumber, they might have no idea what is the right price, when the provider is available, if they are good or bad except for relying on reviews, which could potentially be misleading. We believe that arranging this should not be this difficult. People like the ease and reliability in what we offer.

On the supply side, providers are central to our business. They are our brand ambassadors, and by treating them well and professionally, we are empowering them by setting up their own schedules, allowing them to work on jobs when they want, and as long as they keep doing a good job and their ratings are good, it is obviously in our interest to keep giving them more work.

A lot of venture funding has poured into the space recently. How is Handybook different from its competitors?
We really focus on the service delivery. It’s about how we can become so integral in the customer’s mind and provide such value to them that when they think of household services, they don’t look anywhere else. The second thing we focus on is the technology. We have a technology that is logistically challenging, and we focus on how we can have apps on phones, and build portals and tools to make the lives of both customers and providers easier.

A number of companies  have bagged the consumer-side recenlty to focus exclusively on building back-end technology for merchants. Have you considered using your platform to get into the enterprise business?
We are focusing on individual customers as our priority for the foreseeable future. We are figuring out how to target house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood, and individual users who need services at home. There are companies who provide services for customers on demand like delivery and there is definitely a market there, but in the next 6 to 12 months, we see so much potential with households. So we want to focus on that and not get too distracted this early.

Yelp recently launched Platform, with plans to expand across every vertical. Do you see this as a threat? Will Handybook tap into other verticals?
In terms of competition, there are companies like Yelp and Angie’s List that are in the same space, with Yelp still predominantly a reviews site and Angie’s List subscription-based. As people book more services online, it will not be surprising how many companies start moving into this space, and it’s something we will have to deal with.

We definitely want to tap into other verticals. The way we think about it is if you need services done in your household that are simple to explain, we should be able to do them on our platform. If a customer wants their house rewired, a deck built, or an extension on their house, that might be out of the scope for instant booking online, so we might stay away from larger home improvement projects. But, everything that is under let’s say $1,000 — whether it’s electrical, gardening, plumbing, housecleaning — those are fields we slowly want to get into.

When you started Handybook, what was your original vision and has it evolved since?
When we started, we were focused on the user experience on the app and the site itself. It was about how to provide the quickest booking, and we were concerned with how to make it look sleek. We have held onto that vision, but it became apparent it was about more than being a booking tool. This was more about building a brand, recruiting great service providers, the service delivery, and how to communicate with the customer. You can have the best booking tool in the world, but if you’re not providing great service and you’re not on brand, you’re not going to build a sustainable and scalable business.

The local space has a lot of deep infrastructural issues that make scaling new technologies challenging. What makes building a product for home service difficult on a day-to-day basis?
It’s challenging. A lot of service providers we deal with have their iPhone and are in touch with what’s going on, and then some are not the most technically savvy. So that’s challenging when you are trying to communicate and be as efficient as possible in allocating jobs. But, we gradually and consciously have been migrating providers to see the value in using our apps and web portals. So when we are on-boarding our providers, we show them they can go online and check things like their payments and future jobs, and give them a reason to use technology, but we do not enforce it. By the end of the month, we want to see three quarters of our people on smartphones.

Last month, Handybook closed on $10M in series A funding. What’s next?
We think of ourselves as a  technology that is tackling an offline problem which is how to find a reliable service provider when a customer needs something done in their home. Once people start using us for certain services, they use us for other services. That’s been important to us as we build up the business model and think through marketing and customer loyalty, it helps us to have the multiple services that we offer.

The challenge is obviously making sure we keep the service level high and making sure we do that across every city. We want to expand and invest in getting the right people and getting the right structure, while also investing in the service part of it as well. With the funding, we can now focus on improving service level, find the best providers, train them better, and give providers better tools. The goal is really how we can be so vital to every household not only in the U.S. but also around the world.

Myriah Towner is an intern at Street Fight.