Don’t do it if you don’t care.
Dmitri Saveliev is a startup veteran with an extensive Silicon Valley background. His experience in developing banking software for Fortune 500 companies has prepared him to lead a venture of his own, ServiceWhale. Derived from his own personal frustrating experience shopping for a heating and cooling system for his home in Princeton, NJ, Dmitri founded ServiceWhale in an effort to create a true market for home improvement shopping where pricing is easily obtainable and the experience is similar to that of how consumers shop for most products and services online.
Where did the idea for ServiceWhale come from?
The idea of ServiceWhale was conjured as a result of a real life episode when I was shopping for a new heating and air conditioning system for my home. Like most of us, I assumed that conducting a few searches online would make this task quick, easy, and efficient – but this was definitely not the case.
Even with all of the existing online services centered on home improvement, I still found my search to purchase the right system at the right price to be a difficult task.
I set appointments with five different HVAC companies. All told, it took me an entire day to meet with those contractors and get their estimates to find the right deal. Not to mention, some contractors prices were 40% higher than others! That time, I was lucky and got a good deal. But why should it be a matter of luck? When we shop for a new TV, it only takes us few minutes to find and buy the best deal online. Why should home improvement be different? There had to be a better way.
In order to solve the problem, we had to figure out a way to price major home improvement projects, such as heating / cooling, flooring, or bathroom remodeling, automatically, without on site estimates. Initially, it seemed impossible. It had never been done before. We decided to bring together a team of industry experts, and built ServiceWhale – the first marketplace with instant pricing on home improvement.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Our development team and designer are in Russia (anywhere from 7 to 11 hours ahead of our U.S. office), so right after getting up and driving my son to school, I often jump on calls with them to discuss the current product development activities and outstanding issues. Then I normally drive to the office where we sync-up with stakeholders and/or our US-based business development / marketing team. Every Wednesday we have a review meeting where we go through all our current plans, adjusting our course and priorities as needed. Also, each Thursday we have a less structured brainstorming meeting where we discuss any possible improvements of the product and/or the business, creating a “pool of ideas,” which we later vet, prioritize, and include in our plan. No idea is too “crazy” for that discussion, all are welcome. The rest of the day really depends on the high priority tasks on hand — it may include product design / planning calls, meetings with potential or present business partners or investors, feedback / user test calls with clients, sessions with industry experts, client on-boarding meetings, technical support activities, new staff hiring, work on the corporate / legal / financial tasks, among other items.
To make a day productive, it really helps to plan the day the night before, identifying two or three major tasks for the next day and four or five less significant ones.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It’s not that difficult when you have a smart, dynamic, and capable team that shares the same vision, both on the technical side and on the business side. We’ve implemented so many ideas together that now it’s only a matter of doing “first things first.” What we’ve learned in the process is that even if an idea initially sounds too crazy or impossible to implement, after you think more about it, often it actually is possible. That being said, it’s critical to vet and prioritize the ideas carefully.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The fast pace at which more and more aspects of our lives are moving online. We decided to ride that trend with ServiceWhale by providing an e-commerce-like experience, with upfront pricing, for home improvement shopping.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Applying the logic and data points collected in the past to vet the new ideas – it saves a lot of wheel spinning.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
One of my jobs as a software developer back at the college was to write applications for CAD (computer-aided design) systems – something I considered boring, not my cup of tea. I’ve learned that you can achieve a lot more if you are working in a field that truly excites you.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Don’t do it if you don’t care (see above).
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
You will have a lot of ideas, so vet them carefully, otherwise you’ll spread yourself too thin in no time. There is no such thing as a “great idea” until it’s proven by the data put to the test with real-life users. Sometimes “great ideas” won’t work and “so-so ideas” will, contrary to common sense.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Talking to your users as early as possible and as much as possible. That provided us a lot of precious insight. For example, some of our contractors told us that they would like to be able to license our technology to be implemented directly into their websites. That’s how we came up with the idea for the white label MyServiceWhale product.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Before we even launched ServiceWhale we started signing up our home improvement contractors. Initially, we tried to outsource the setting appointments with contractors (that involved an initial sales pitch) to an external call center, but two weeks after the results were zero. We then hired our own sales rep and three days after he was our sales star. Lesson learned: it’s risky to outsource a mission-critical process when you can’t oversee the team working on it.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’m really fascinated by the potential of blockchain-based computing platforms, such as Ethereum. These are clearly bound to disrupt our lives in many different ways. One blockchain application I would consider building is a decentralized interbank payment network, to eventually replace the current incumbent, SWIFT. Another class of blockchain applications I would seriously look into is DAO (Distributed Autonomous Organizations). I would begin with something relatively small, such as a homeowner association (or even a small municipality) that is run directly by its members according to transparent rules, with no intermediaries (management or board) required. Any intermediary is a trusted party who is supposed to represent interests of members who elected or hired them, but often that’s not the case. So DAO with its inherent “direct democracy” can eventually fix that flaw of the “representative democracy” at many levels of our society.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
An escape room quest called The Portal in St. Petersburg, Russia. That was a whole lot of fun for our family!
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
We use a ton of them. To name a few: Google Docs for all team docs (can’t imagine our life without it), Slack for team messaging, InspectLet for user session recording, Skype and RingCentral for voice calling, Olark for customer support, and Join.Me for demos. We feel that each of them is the best in its class.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The one book is definitely The Startup Owner’s Manual by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf. It can prevent one from making a lot of common and less common mistakes.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
ServiceWhale on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/servicewhale
ServiceWhale on Twitter: https://twitter.com/servicewhale
Dmitri on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dsaveliev135
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