Start-up of the week: Fixlist

27 Jun 201662 Shares

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Fixlist founders John Farrell and Sadie O'Hara

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Our start-up of the week is Fixlist, a platform for the booking and completion of services like plumbing, electrical work, and boiler and appliance repair.

“Fixlist.ie is a simple idea, yet this service was not available in Ireland. You couldn’t book and pay for the services we provide online, so we decided to change that,” explained Sadie O’Hara, co-founder of Fixlist.ie.

“Fixlist.ie is a platform for a range of different jobs that fall under ‘handyman’. In truth, this is basically everything on your household or business ‘to do’ list with regard to repairs or maintenance – all those things people avoid on a daily basis.

‘In five years time, we would like to be a well recognised national brand with a presence in the UK market’
– SADIE O’HARA, FIXLIST

“We started by saying Fixlist.ie is simple, and it is. Our online Instant Booking Service gives you a quick and simple solution with just a few easy clicks, but the benefits of using Fixlist are endless: all jobs are priced upfront on our website/app, you can book a service on a day that suits you and pre-authorise payment with a credit or debit card, and we even clean up after ourselves, leaving your home or business just the way it was, but with the problem fixed. All our staff are directly employed by us rather than just a directory service, and all our service engineers are certified, qualified and fully insured.

“Fixlist.ie, in short, is a portal for all your home and business maintenance needs,” O’Hara said.

The market

There are 1.6m homes in Ireland. Those homes spend on average €1,300 a year on maintenance, giving this country a total yearly spend of €2bn.

“Our 3-year projections for the company are based on getting only 0.2pc of the industry, and this doesn’t even include commercial business maintenance, which really has as much potential if not more,” O’Hara explained.

“The commercial sector wasn’t our main focus when we set this company up. We were, at the time, focused on the residential market, but that has proven to be short-sighted and we now provide the service to both residential and commercial sectors.

“This company has proven itself in the north-west of Ireland – a primarily rural area – so we feel that in urban areas this service will really reach its full potential.”

The founders

Company director John Farrell has been in the industry since 1999. More than 17 years’ experience in all aspects of the building industry have given him extensive knowledge on commercial, industrial and residential plumbing and electrical contracts.

He currently owns and manages an industrial plumbing company, which employs 15 staff members and completes works for various pharmaceutical and medical device companies, nationwide.

Fellow company director Sadie O’Hara’s background is in QA. She has a BSc in Quality Management and Technology and has been self-employed since 2008, working as a validation engineer in that time for various pharmaceutical and medical device companies nationwide.

Most recently, she was working on a greenfield biological site in Singapore, travelling over and back from Ireland every three weeks.

Se has now decided to focus all her efforts on Fixlist.ie and put more emphasis into its advertising and marketing strategies.

The technology

Fixlist_2

Fixlist technicians on the road

FixList’s app can be accessed either through the Apple App Store or on Google Play.

“We engaged with a software engineer who developed the bespoke website and database using Microsoft technologies,” O’Hara said.

“We as the business owners came up with a list of business requirements and had workshops with the engineer which led to us agreeing on functional requirements, which make the site and database what it is today. As the system is fully bespoke, it easily lends itself to future enhancements. An example of this is that when we engaged with our smartphone App developers they were able to easily connect to our database so our App could talk to the same database as the Website.

“In short, the website and database is a bespoke design built from the ground up using Microsoft technologies and hosted on the Azure platform.

“All orders, quotes and invoices are stored in a central repository which leaves admin tasks as easy as possible, which allows us to focus more on our customer requirements. The website and app pull from the same database to ensure both are synced.”

Basically, an order is placed on the FixList website for a specific date. It is stored in the backend admin section as an order. There can be multiple jobs to an order.

Each job in the order is flagged, whether it needs parts or not. Customer service determines what parts are required and contacts the customer to verify.

Additional comments can be added to the order by customer service so they can take notes. Customer service assigns an engineer to the job. When the job is complete, customer service charges the card or account for the job, as no payment is taken until the works are successfully completed.

“We currently operate in the north-west and Galway city and our main aim is to bring this company nationwide and make Fixlist.ie a household name. Yet, in doing that, we want to maintain the standards of customer service,” O’Hara said.

“In five years time, we would like to be a well-recognised national brand with a presence in the UK market, having a partnership with leading appliance suppliers and, as this company would work best in highly populated areas, this means it could be rolled out in any major city.

“The long-term goal of this business in relation to the customer is to grow the customer base by providing a consistent, reliable and cost-efficient service to its customers.”

Progress so far

Fixlist recently appeared on Dragon’s Den, which attracted huge exposure for the company.

“In general the company is doing well. We’re very aware that this is a new service and so we need to educate people on how the process works.

“We recently appeared on Dragon’s Den, but unfortunately we were unsuccessful in securing investment, although the show did serve a purpose in that we received huge exposure overnight, and the publicity we gained on the back of this has been fantastic. We were very glad that we weren’t on Dragon’s Den with just a concept or idea – it was great to be able to sell the business as a fully functioning proven opportunity.

“We felt the Dragons were very positive, although their main issue with the company was really with the model. They felt that the business should be franchised from day one, whereas we feel that we need to train our service engineers initially and that, eventually, this company does lend itself to the franchise model, albeit when it’s more established and we feel the time is right.

“Since Dragon’s Den we haven’t been actively looking for investors but, because of our appearance on the show, we have been contacted by a number of investors. But we’ve yet to see what will come of this.

“From an investors’ perspective, this an attractive opportunity, as there is a gap in the market. It’s a hugely scalable business and this company can be marketed towards both residential and commercial customers, so the prospects are open ended.

“Brand recognition is very important to us. We have a vision for where this company can go given the right leadership, coupled with investment and a holistic marketing strategy. Our continued investment in the technology behind the business will set us aside from competition in the market.”

Making geography history

Despite the geographic challenges of having set up in Ireland’s west and north-west, Fixlist has been focused on ensuring the website and app were developed in accordance with customer feedback.

“This company has so many facets – it’s a tech company, but we also carry out a service and employ tradesmen directly.”

O’Hara admits time is a challenge, and the challenge was complicated by the fact that the owners had other businesses to run. “But, realistically, without those other businesses we wouldn’t have been able to start the company.

“Social media was a challenge, as neither of us even had a Facebook account. But now I find I spend a lot of time on social media. It’s worthwhile, but you have to be relentless to have any presence. “

Ambition and realism

O’Hara describes the start-up scene as exciting, with a variety of entrepreneurs focused on a range of different business types.

“Before we started, we listened over the years to people talking about all the help that was out there in relation to start-up grants, funding, etc. Let me say up front that we didn’t start this business on the basis of whether we would get help or not – we were always going to continue on the same path regardless – but we feel that we didn’t get the same level of support in comparison to other business sectors because we provide a trade service this makes us ineligible for nearly all funding allocated by the various state bodies.

“I feel it’s unfair, really, as our core business is our website and app. The fact that we employ tradesmen (after a recession) seems to be a negative for those bodies, but we’ll keep plugging away on that front. On the upside, we are delighted to win the Optimise Fund 2016 in association with IEDR, as this will help us to improve the customers’ experience on our website and ensure we convert clicks to customers.”

‘There are a lot of talented individuals out there, most of whom don’t reach their full potential, but I personally believe hard work beats talent all day long’
– SADIE O’HARA, FIXLIST

Her advice to other entrepreneurs is, if you have a vision, then go for it. Learn from your mistakes. Think of solutions, not problems.

“That sounds about right, but let’s be realistic – an idea is all well and good, but it’s really how you implement that idea. Be honest with yourself about what you and a small team can really achieve in the short term. Obviously we all know where we’d like to end up, but knowing that it will take time, buckets of energy and a sizeable amount of cash to get there is important.

“I think you have to be very resourceful as a start-up. At the end of the day, we feel that hard work and a motivation to continuously improve are key.

“There are a lot of talented individuals out there, most of whom don’t reach their full potential, but I personally believe hard work beats talent all day long!

“Be ambitious, but realistic!”

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com