As the founder and CEO of Applico, I often speak to platform operators. This week, I spoke to Matt Williams, founder and CEO of Pro.com, a home services marketplace where anyone can immediately find trusted service professionals, get instant price estimates and schedule appointments online, all in a matter of minutes.
The idea for Pro.com came from the realization that Matt had while he was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Andreesen Horowitz. "There were a multitude of companies that focus on varied pieces of the home improvement puzzle; however, there was not one comprehensive platform available to make it easy for homeowners to get a price, get a Pro and get the job done," he explains.
Matt knew early on that he needed to solve the problem that is often referred to as the "chicken and the egg." "First, we focused on finding the best Pros in the country and pre qualified them for the different types of projects that homeowners need. Then we answered the top question that homeowners want to know: 'what should it cost to get my project done?'" Today Pro.com's marketplace provides immediate pre-estimates to homeowners and provides actual jobs to these qualified home professionals (not leads) and has found that this model that works very well.
The successful execution of this strategy has enabled Pro.com to start building network effects. "We knew from day one that Pro.com had network effects and today in 5,500 cities nationwide, people depend on us to find out what a project will cost in their neighborhood, taking the hassle and upfront research out of home projects."
A little over a year in business, Pro.com announced a new service offering on Facebook's Messenger app, where they were the first company to offer home services. Matt shared his three takeaways with me for successfully navigating the integration from a simple idea to the operations that followed the launch.
1. Don't jump the gun until your platform is ready
The team spent a considerable amount of time evaluating trends in the space and doing backend research to understand what value would be delivered and how to effectively grow the business.
Based on customer feedback and identifying these trends, the next step for Pro.com was to launch an even more flexible and reliable service offering for homeowners. Text-a-Pro is a new mobile messaging service for homeowners to submit home project requests, from a window cleaning to a smart thermostat installation to wall mounting a TV, and receive flat-rate prices and schedule appointments in minutes with an available contractor. The integration with Messenger was a way to expand this offering to an even wider audience and provides a rich experience for Messenger users, a service that boasts over 700 million active monthly users.
Platform Modeling can be a way for startups to test their business idea's network value, learn how consumers interact with their platform and better understand what KPIs to measure moving forward.
2. Skate to where the puck is going to be
The news broke on October 7th that Pro.com would be the first home services platform to integrate with Messenger. Applico actively follows the home services market and we've noticed a lot of momentum in platforms connecting owners and renters with home service professionals in an on-demand and frictionless manner.
Furthermore, we were excited to follow developments once Facebook announced Messenger would become a platform. Messaging platforms like WeChat and Messenger are skyrocketing in popularity and evolving into development environments.
"We have learned over the past year that many of our customers prefer texting and messaging as channels for working with Pro.com. Our customers' first instinct is to engage with Pros on their existing applications rather than having to pick up the phone to call." Matt shared with Applico early positive results from the partnership, "Facebook brought a 50% increase in new Text-a-Pro customers following our launch."
3. Keep your network appraised of your progress and initiatives
Lastly, casting a wide net is essential in a startup's early days.
As the CEO of a growing startup, you must keep your network informed. In Matt's case, a mutual third party connection between Pro.com and Facebook was responsible for the initial conversation between the two companies. Matt explains, "This was an introduction through a mutual third party who had an idea of what both of our companies were up to and facilitated the connection. This started the initial conversation and ultimately led to a discussion specifically about integrating our latest product Text-a-Pro within Messenger."
"In many cases, people believe you need to start your company in Silicon Valley to make the right connections and achieve success. We're based in Seattle and over the last decade I've seen this city transition into a hotbed for technology and with new channels for social communication, take advantage of these opportunities to grow your network, take introductions from others and never be afraid to step out of your comfort zone."