How MiNeeds, a Local-Services Startup Run by Software Guys, Softened Up for Weddings

When the ex-Microsofties behind local services site MiNeeds thought about expanding their business, they got what seemed like weird advice. They had built their company as a resource to help people connect with service providers like plumbers, painters, accountants, and more. But when they looked to expand into wedding services, they found a niche that didn’t think it should be lumped in with all that other stuff.

“The feedback was very strong, very consistent, and clear: I love this experience, but I need it to be beautiful and I want to feel it,” co-founder Raed Malhas says. “I’m planning my wedding. I don’t want there to be a carpenter there.”

Like typical guys, Malhas and co-founder Deniz Erkan thought that was nuts. We’re trying to build a strong brand name here! Why would we fragment our audience?

Raed Malhas

“Then we said, ‘You know what? We’re very data-driven,'” Malhas says. “We have a philosophy in this company: It’s not my opinion or your opinion. Let’s let the data decide.”

So they tested the idea with a wedding services site that had a special look and feel, and the results were basically a slam dunk. Conversion rates of people coming to the site for wedding services doubled, and MiWeddingNeeds was born. Even after a very quiet debut in February, some 5,000-7,000 brides per month are coming to the site to help plan their big day.

If MiNeeds does its job right, a good chunk of those brides-to-be could become repeat customers. More than a quarter of them are already searching for honeymoon packages to add on after the wedding, Malhas says. And it’s obvious where things go from there.

“Suddenly, she starts to think about the mortgage,” Malhas says. “When she comes back from the honeymoon, she starts looking for home-related services.” Baby-related services might not be too far behind. “The lifetime value of that bride is massive,” he says.

That success is a big part of why MiNeeds sees a bright future for its twist on local services search. The startup lets consumers post the services they want performed and gets professionals to bid for the business, offering up reviews and ratings to help make the choice. Outside of the wedding vertical, the startup still maintains its standalone site for all kinds of services, from photographers to house cleaners to lawyers. Investors include Paul Thelen, founder of Seattle’s BigFish Games, and former Yahoo chief data officer Usama Fayyad.

The company is definitely not alone. There are several other players in the sector, including membership-based service reviews site Angie’s List, which just raised more than $100 million in its public stock-market debut. Other companies like San Mateo, CA-based startup Redbeacon or ServiceMagic, a unit of media conglomerate IAC, use a similar mechanism of letting professionals bid for consumer jobs.

MiNeeds claims more than 50,000 service providers have signed up so far to bid for jobs through its website. Servicemagic claims more than 80,000, and Malhas says Yellow Pages has in the neighborhood of 800,000. But MiNeeds seeing strong growth and should have more than 100,000 professionals signed up by early 2012, Malhas says.

“Once we go over six figures in terms of professionals, we’re no longer a small player. Even today, I’m sure people are eyeing us and thinking, ‘Who are these guys?'” Malhas says. “Once we’re over six figures, it’s at a point where they can no longer ignore us.”

MiNeeds, which has offices in Seattle and New York, is generating revenue but focusing on growth over profitability, Malhas says. The service is free to use for consumers and free to join for service providers, but MiNeeds requires a paid subscription from the skilled professional to actually communicate with possible customers. Prices are tiered, from about $25 to $100 per month.

As for the possibility of other verticals to follow the wedding example, Malhas says MiNeeds has hedged its bets by securing domain names and doing some preliminary research. So far, shopping for home or legal services, for instance, may not require a special site. But they’ll keep their minds open this time.

“Looking at the data there, it does not seem that we need to have a white label for each of those industries,” Malhas says. “Then again, I might be completely wrong, and it might be worth launching it to see the conversion rates.”

Trending on Xconomy