Boston, Advice
10 March 2016

How MC Alum Handy Disrupted the Sharing Economy

 

What was the inspiration for Handy?
 
My cofounder and I were living in Boston four years ago, and that was when companies like Uber and airbnb were starting to take really big industries and make the whole buying experience much easier. We shared an apartment and had just moved in, and one night we wanted to have a party with a few friends. But nothing was clean or set up around the apartment, and so we looked on Google and all these review sites, and thats when it hit us theres nowhere you can actually go to make a booking for simple things you need done at home.
 
Who are your customers?
 
Weve got several demographics using the platform, but typically its young, urban professionals. They tend to be busy and value time and convenience. They can take out there phone and say, I need help setting up furniture Wednesday at 6, or I need help cleaning Saturday at 7. They really value that convenience.
 
Whats your biggest challenge?
 
Right now were operating across 28 cities and thousands of zip codes, and balancing supply and demand as a market place is really hard. For instance, in Seattle at 3pm on a Friday, you may have enough supply (contractors), but there may not be enough people making bookings. Whereas in San Francisco at 5pm on a Wednesday, you may have the opposite to be true. So what makes our business exciting, but also challenging, is that we are constantly facing this supply and demand challenge.
 
In recent years youve focused on expanding internationallytell us a little more about what went into this decision.
We think that Handy and all it stands for is something thats universal in its appeal. Whether you live in Shanghai or NY, if you need your faucet replaced, youre going to turn to someone else to replace that. And weve been very careful and deliberate about how we launch. We launched London 18 months ago and its been amazing.
 
The business there is growing at a phenomenal rate. NY is our biggest city, and London has very similar dynamics a young, busy, very, very large urban population that really uses home services. Its also a very dense market, and the denser the market, the better we work, because on the supply side you (as a contractor) get to do multiple jobs per day and therefore increase your earning potential.
 
What was behind the decision to acquire a smaller competitor in London?
 
We always want to be the dominant player in a market. To some extent, we are open to all optionswhether that be starting something from scratch, partnering with a company that already exists, or what we ended up doing, which is buying another company. The strategy is to say, how can we build the best team in a city and maximize our chances of success? We actually recently bought a company in the UK called Mopp. We met the founders a couple years ago and hit it off.
 
There was this level of understanding that they were going after the same problems, coming at it with a similar mindset and culture, and seemed very determined to win in that market. So it just made sense at that point, rather than compete with them, a few honest conversations later it just made sense to partner and so we ended up acquiring them.
Whats your best advice to startups looking to partner or acquire?
 
I think the number one advice is just absolute open mindedness in all partnerships. If you go in with a preconceived decision you will invariably stick to that whether its right or wrong. But if you go in with all options on the table, you can, over a period of time, come to the better decision.
 
You recently raised a Series C round of over $110M. How was that process? Any advice?
 
Raising money is a critical part for any business, and weve been lucky to have some great investors along the way. One of the key things when you go out to raise money is that you are not optimizing to raise money. Even us in the early days, it always felt like raising money is the goal, and thats true to some degree because cash is oxygen for a business you need it to grow and scale. But at the same time, if you focus no the actual metrics you need to achieve to improve the business, invariably those will line up with what investors are looking for.
 
Did you accept the first offer that came your way, or take time choosing the right investor?
 
Finding the right investor is absolutely critical as early as day one, because a lot of the angels or investors youre working with have seen this game play out before. No person can scale a business by him or herself you need people around the table who have done it before. So find investors who a) believe in what you do, and b) can add value, whether that be in a functional expertise, as in they started a similar business or have scaled multiple businesses. Theyve seen this happen before and can tell you what is potentially the best option rather than you making several mistakes to get to that same conclusion.
 
You went through the MassChallenge accelerator program in the summer of 2012. Tell us what part of that experience was most instrumental in your current success?
 
Theres a lot of tactical things MassChallenge helps withwhether its connecting you to lawyers, making introductions but I think the number one thing we got out of the MC experience is surrounding yourself with people who are doing similar things. When you start in the early days and go into a vacuum by yourself, you just make it so much harder. You want to be surrounded by people who are working incredibly hard and who are incredibly ambitious, who are facing the same challenges and frustrations and highs and lows in the early days. And I think thats one of the intangibles of MassChallenge. So figure out how you can surround yourself with people are going through similar things.
 
Any advice for people applying to accelerator programs?
I recently read Peter Thiels Zero to One, and he talks about how the founding of a company is a singular moment you can never change, and that sets the tone for how your company evolves. So when you think about an accelerator, think about being at a place that can condense all those things you need to do in the first 6-12 months into the shortest time as possible. Because that just buys you time, and time in the early days is extremely important. If you can get into an accelerator like MC, thats going to let you do a lot you can potentially find co-founders, raise money using the platform, find your first few customers. My advice is do it, beause if you can accelerate the pace of development in the early days that will go a long way in the future.
 
What do you do to blow off steam when you take a break from changing the world?
 
There's something calming about watching others blow off steam, and I enjoy sport: both on the screen and, where possible, in real life. One of the benefits of live sports events is that you find yourself surrounded by real people who care so passionately about what's happening in front of them: after spending time in an office theorizing about how customers might behave, it's great to remind yourself of real people and their emotions.
 
Whats your greatest strength as an entrepreneur? Your greatest weakness?
 
I think that being smart about recruiting is one of my strengths - surrounding yourself with great people makes everything so much easier, and we've been fortunate to build a great team at Handy. And a weakness? I think I can be a little impatient at times but Im always learning to calibrate how I react to certain situations!

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