I have been involved with StarOfService since the end of 2015, so it must be about time to briefly explain, why that is the case.
I have a long history of being involved in online market places with a clear vertical focus. All the way back when I did my first startup (sol.dk), we experimented with market places in e.g. cars. During my time building JUST EAT I learned a lot about the vertical focus, and it’s the same with Treatwell, ClickMechanic etc. However, many years ago (10 yrs is a long time in this industry), a colleague showed me some services, that tried to aggregate all kinds of local services in one platform, and make it bookable, ie. like the old school directory sites but with a booking and service platform on top. None of those companies made it, but it always stuck in my head, that maybe one day technology advancement and user adaptation would make it possible to create a successful local services market place that was not vertically focused.
Imagine if such a service could be designed to work for both consumers and the local service professionals. In my youth, I was used to the yellow pages phone directory, and I would use it quite a lot. Seldom would I use it frequently for the same service category, but because yellow pages were the portal to all local services, then I would use that big, yellow book every month. One month for looking for this, another month looking for that – but I always knew where to find that book, and how to use it – I would flick through the pages, find a couple of professionals offering the service I was looking for, and make my calls. Later the internet came along, and it became easier to find the relevant professionals, but the service and booking experience was still old school.
My thesis is, that for all those services out there, where there is not a high-frequent use case (auditor, plumber, tax lawyer, etc.) + where the underlying scale of the category is limited (DJ’s, event organizers, numerologists, photographers, etc.) there is a real need for an aggregater service. I don’t want to go to Google every time I need to interact with all these services, because then I will be send to a new interface, a new registration platform, new evaluation of trust both ways, etc. for every category, and even for every professional. I want to go to one service, which I trust for local services and where I can easily find the relevant and trustworthy professionals and book them safely. And I know, that most of the (typically) small entrepreneurs running these kind of businesses are also ready. They are already using digital services for accounting, tax registration, etc., and they understand that the internet should be a source of business for them. In both their private and professional life they buy and book product and services, so they should of course use the same channel to earn a living. Both demand and supply needs a market place that could make the interaction a better and more efficient experience for everybody.
How difficult can that be? Why did this not happen a long time ago? Well, because as usual, it is difficult when you get into the details. How do you bridge the use case of different verticals? How do you create economics that work, e.g. who is paying who? How do you with algorithms match demand with the right supply? Etc., etc. I spend more than a year looking at various companies in Scandinavia, the UK and throughout the rest of Europe, but even though I met some great entrepreneurs, I didn’t meet someone that had metrics I could believe in. I continued, also fueled by the fact, that an American company, Thumbtack, had made it work. It took them a few years to figure out, but around 2014-15 they seemed to have had a major break-through in their business volume and they raised significant amounts of money.
There had to be someone in Europe, that had also understood how to do it, and I badly wanted to part of that venture. Building leading international companies is what I really like to do in my professional life, and when it is in a local services market place I simply can not be involved.
Through an introduction from Guillaume Durao of ID Invest, I then met Lucas from SOS. My first call and then later meeting with Lucas I will never forget. I knew very little about Lucas before I met him, other than he was quite young, having launched SOS straight out of school, so I was surprised to see such a “solid” appearance from his side. Some would call it French arrogance, but let’s just say that Lucas had no intentions of being impressed by a punk like me. In normal circumstances that attitude would be a major turn-off for me, but Lucas managed to play it in a way so I instead got respect for him. He really knew his stuff, he was smart and stood out as a world class fighter. And I like a smart general in charge of his company, also if he has a bit of personality and edge.
In some strange way, the first discussions in the autumn 2015 went well, and we decided to move on in our discussions. That revealed four things for me. First of all, Lucas is a stellar guy. Funny and very easy going when you get on the inside – he just had to test me a bit, and after that he became one of the easiest people to work with I know. Secondly, where my first meetings with Lucas was maybe a bit on the edge, then meeting Lucas’ partner and friend Toni was a pleasure from day one, super nice guy that was all over the business. Thirdly, the SOS organisation was three guys in a room in Paris, and then another 40 people spread out over the world. Given that SOS already had very decent traffic, usage and revenue, then I had never seen such a distributed organisation run so well before. And fourthly, the metrics SOS could show were a revelation. They had made it work in France! Traffic was growing fast, they had done it with very limited money (from high profile French angels and seed money from the stellar guys at Point9) and their unit economics made sense.
It did not take us long to agree I should join the battle and become advisor and board member at SOS as well as investing in the company. It’s been 15 months now, and I have enjoyed it thoroughly. There has been lots of changes in the company for sure, but overwhelmingly positively. The company raised a decent series A round, and now there is a real organisation in the Paris office to supplement the international organisation, incl. great people in the exec team like Jean-Francois Rochet (ex-eBay and PayPal), Andy Wilson (ex-GetYourGuide and Rocket Internet), Nicolas Garnaut (ex-AppTurbo), Augustin Neyra (ex-Melty) and my old colleague Guillaume Dellamare (JUST EAT/Alloresto).
SOS wants to be the international leader in the space, and Lucas & Co. is leading the charge to make it easier for everybody to engage with local services. France is the core country now, but the international roll-out is gaining momentum. Good people, I like it!