Imagine being a part of company who loves seeing their employees succeed. A company fueled by a room full of hustlers. In the last 2 years, mHelpDesk went from a three man team in a living room, to a 50 employee company. We have also been recently acquired by HomeAdvisor. Yes, we revel in the culture we created, but we are also on a mission to change the way businesses operate.
I will be sharing the in-depth journey of how we’re building our company. Sure, the entrepreneurs who are trying to do something similar will find this appealing, but this story will apply to anyone trying to reach a goal. The purpose for sharing our story originates from our culture, as we believe that a great team is the fuel for building an incredible company.
When we first started building mHelpDesk, we always spoke about surrounding ourselves with like-minded people. Now, almost every employee here is a former entrepreneur. In perfect alignment, our customers share that same mentality, making it only logical to tell our story from the perspective of our team.
We wish the struggle portion of the story was more interesting, but it has your typical ‘rags to riches’ plot. The only spin, is that we strategically put ourselves in a ‘rags’ position. Yes, we bootstrapped our way to a series A round, but it doesn’t involve any financial backing. How we hustled our way to an awesome company took nothing but hard work. In the early stages, Ryan put himself in a position where he was either going to make it, or be homeless. He literally rented out every room in his condo to buy himself more time to work on mHelpDesk. Khoa even quit his 6 figure job knowing he’d have to support his wife, mother, father, and a new born baby.
Why is that an important part of the story? Because we learned this lesson — until someone only has one option, they can’t reach their full potential. In fact, all of us went all-in with this company. We had our hearts set on building an incredible product, backed by insurmountable service and support.
By the People, for the People
When it came to developing our product, we had a simple process: build quickly, wait for customer feedback, iterate based on suggestions. There wasn’t much structure, we just built what customers asked for. Khoa and I were former senior software engineers at Lockheed Martin, which made the product development portion of our company fairly seamless.
Once the product was launched, we spent significant time (4-6 hours per day) just talking to our customers. We learned that field service companies had something in common — most were long-standing, owner-operated companies that employed family members. Literally, we would see the mother as the dispatcher, father making calls from the field, with sons/daughters working. Since our primary customer base was so family oriented, they were our best resource. Honestly, they are the ones that told us what features the product should have.
If you’re delivering a service or building a product you won’t want to miss our story. We’ll share everything we’ve learned about building a great company by leveraging our own customers.
There Was No Financial Backing
When you’re small or just starting out it’s easy to get discouraged by the lack of funding. When I first started out I wasn’t comfortable borrowing money. Risking someone else’s money for something I hadn’t proven would work, didn’t sit well with me. I also had no idea how to raise money and to be honest I was ignorant about the entire subject. I remember Khoa and I both chipping in $400 each month to get started, and that was it.
Being constrained by a tight budget forced us to build our company with discipline. We built, iterated, and didn’t give up until we finally had a product that customers were willing to pay for. We focused on all the right things.
When you focus on all the right things, the money will follow. Our product started to gain traction, customers were talking, and money was listening. We were blessed with two 8 figure acquisition offers and several term sheets from investors. The abundance of money actually became a distraction and we eventually turned off all talks with investors. Even some heavy hitting top-tier VCs.
I don’t say this to impress you, but to impress upon you that there is a right way and a wrong way to fund your company. We’ll share everything we’ve learned in hopes someone else can find some take-aways.
“We had no financial backing. It wasn’t like we come from a family of means backing this thing so we could try our little startup. We had everything to lose! All of us were going all-in to make this work. Honestly, failure wasn’t an option.”
“If You Are Not Selling, You Are Being Sold”
While we spent a lot of time focusing on the right things, we also spent a lot of time on the wrong expectations. A lot of entrepreneurs believe that “If you build it they will come”. We spent a lot of time building a great product, but we spent very little time selling it. We thought that if the product was so great it would sell itself. The thought of asking someone for their money made me cringe. I was uncomfortable. To me, sales felt dirty. This is a common mistake that too many small businesses make, and I knew I had to get over this. The day I realized that, was a game-changer for the business.
You can’t wait for a sale to fall into your lap. You have to go out there and ask for it. We learned how to look at each customer as an opportunity to help them become more successful. We learned how to deliver value so fast, that paying for our service was a no-brainer. Making things repeatable was also a huge mile stone curve for us. We learned how to give our customers the service they deserved. We increased our sales by tracking the right numbers. When it came time to ask for the sale, we learned how to create a win-win proposition for both the company and the customer. To us, this made sales honorable.
In future posts, we’ll share everything we’ve learned about the art of selling.
We Made the Perfect Acquisition Deal
After two years, the time eventually came to seek financing for growth. A few months ago, HomeAdvisor reached out about potentially participating in the raise. HomeAdvisor is owned by IAC and has been around for 15 years. They have a network of 85,000 active home improvement contractors — the same type of businesses we sell our software to. They also have a sales floor of 700+ reps. A deal with them would allow us to leverage their network and sales team, which would help us grow exponentially.
Through a number of preliminary calls and meetings, we realized our vision was aligned. They eventually they told us they wanted to be the only ones in the round and wanted to buy a significant stake of the company. Without blinking an eye, we were onboard. HomeAdvisor/IAC brings incredible value to mHelpDesk, and we didn’t have to sell the entire company. It was August 2014 when we officially brought them on as our first outside equity stakeholder.
Why You Should Stay Tuned
It’s hard to believe that just 2 years ago we were running the business out of my house, and now we’re moving into a 9,000+ square feet of dedicated office space for 50+ employees. I don’t consider myself smarter nor do I come from an impressive background. However, I am grateful that I seemed to have stumbled upon a formula that may be helpful to many small businesses and start-ups.
It doesn’t matter if you are offering a service or building a product. If you are doing either, there are a lot of parallels to what we’re doing at mHelpDesk. Business is business and there are the common denominators that we all need to get right. We started from the bottom and built our way up the good old fashioned way. Yes, starting a business is hard, but growing a business is even harder. One thing is for sure — it’s a great story.
We will continue to figure things out and we’ve got a track record of figuring things out fast. Our goal is to give back by sharing our wins, our losses, and everything in between. We hope you will come along for the ride.
Last modified: November 28, 2016