Handybook Hopes to Simplify Booking for Household Services in Boston & NYC
Most entrepreneurs don’t cite laziness as the inspiration for their business. But Oisin Hanrahan, founder of Handybook.com, says he and co-founder/roommate Umang Dua hated doing things like cleaning up their apartment or putting together Ikea furniture, and really hated the existing means for finding people to do those tasks. (Those means include Google search, Craigslist, Angie’s List, and services like Zaarly and TaskRabbit that require the consumer to put out a request for work to be done and sift through the responses that come in.)
“We always thought the request-for-proposal model was stupid for those services,” says Hanrahan, who moved to Boston from Dublin last fall to attend Harvard Business School. “Inevitably you end up compromising the time you want to do something else to wait for them to show up and do the work.”
So the pair started developing Handybook.com last February as a destination for simply and quickly hiring someone to do things like clean your apartment after a party or put together furniture.
“The idea is to make it possible to book really simple services in the easiest way possible,” says Hanrahan, who previously founded a real estate development business in Budapest and had plenty of contact with handymen.
Consumers input their zip code, the type of service they’re looking for, and when they need it, and Handybook.com quotes a price and enables them to book the service within about 90 seconds.
On the back end Handybook works to recruit service providers—going so far as to conduct interviews, background checks, and reference checks—agrees on a price for the service, and texts its enlisted handyman and house cleaners to find someone available for the requested time. Sound like a quick turnaround time for a text message? Hanrahan says his startup has developed algorithms determining how many service providers to contact to get a response in the necessary time. The average time to first response from a text is 36 seconds, he says.
Previous high ratings play a big part in influencing which service providers get notified of an available job. But the startup is also fine-tuning an algorithm to help newer service providers get their first gigs, Hanrahan says. If a job gets less than a four-star rating out of five, Hanrahan says Handybook gets on the phone to talk to the customer and provider. “We’re not in the business of delivering three-star services,” he says.
Handybook is focused not just on getting tasks done more simply for consumers, but also on bringing the handymen and such a better flow of work and greater flexibility over their schedules, Hanrahan says. “They can adjust their lives so they have work at a time that suits them, rather than suits their boss,” he says.
“Taking that friction out of the labor market unlocks a whole lot of value,” he says. You could compare it to Uber, the transportation startup that allows consumers to schedule car services on the fly, thereby reducing the amount of time professional drivers are waiting idly between jobs. And like Boston-based Rentabilities, which is building out an online marketplace for searching and reserving rentals for things from tools to party gear, Handybook is trying to streamline and modernize a previously very offline, ad hoc process.
Ultimately the startup could create a marketplace that allows premium service providers to charge more, but its mission is not driving costs down to the lowest possible amount for a given job, Hanrahan says.
Handybook opened up its website to the Boston market about two months ago and Manhattan about two weeks after that. It currently works out of Highland Capital Partners’ office at the Cambridge Innovation Center, and participated in the Summer@Highland incubator program. Handybook has received about $50,000 in funding from the venture firm. And Hanrahan and Dua won’t be returning to business school this year.
For now, Handybook.com caters to cleaning services and handymen, but eventually sees itself connecting consumers with any household service providers, like plumbers and electricians.
“In the short term, we’re going to keep pushing into the cities we’ve got already,” Hanrahan says. “We think there’s a whole lot of growth in Boston and Manhattan.”