High maintenance with HammerHeads

The problem: things break down all the time in our properties

It can be a huge headache when things break down at home. Maybe the air-conditioner stops working, and you live in Dubai where the heat is scorching. Or maybe your roof starts leaking and, to your utter dismay, you can hear the thunder begin to sound. You call a handyman, but they take their time to come.

We wish it was easier to maintain our properties, and HammerHeads was created to grant this wish. It was founded by Abdullah Jassim (INSEAD 15D) and co-founder Mohamed Saif.

The solution: on-demand property maintenance

HammerHeads is an online marketplace for property maintenance services. Just tell them what job you need to get done on your property, and this startup will connect you to qualified service providers. They also manage the customer experience from end-to-end.
By managing the job, they aim to make the experience less frustrating for customers.

We focus on professionals who value their time. The biggest complain we heard from them is that the maintenance guys come in 2 hours late, or 3 hours late. They hate it! We solve this problem, and this is a large reason why 40% of our requests are repeat customers.

This is not an e-commerce website because the customer does not get to choose between different service providers. Instead, they will be assigned a service provider who has been vetted. From simple handyman tasks to complex projects such as

interior renovation, HammerHeads provides customers a one-stop solution for all their maintenance needs.

In this interview with Abdullah Jassim, he shares 10 practical nuggets on how he built and scaled his startup in Dubai.

Identify a concrete problem you want to solve

It was not immediately obvious to Jassim where to focus his ideas. He initially wanted to create a marketplace for any kind of service for freelancers to provide from accounting to dog-walking, but “if you do a marketplace for all kinds of things, no one will remember you. Amazon started with books.”

“if you do a marketplace for all kinds of things, no one will remember you. Amazon started with books.”

Instead of philosophizing about problems to solve, Jassim pounded the streets of his neighbourhood and handed out surveys to the residents. He asked them to share their biggest pain points. What did they want on-demand? Beauty services? Car washing? Accounting? IT?

It turned out to be maintenance. This was a lightbulb moment for Jassim. “It goes with the booming property market in Dubai!”

This is how the seeds of HammerHeads flourished into a concrete business idea. Once they launched, they were able to measure which services had

more demand, and which ones had higher margins. This way, “we scaled down further from 16 maintenance services to 9 services.”

Start simple: create a website and test demand

To test the idea, Jassim launched a landing page using Wix.com to see how many people would respond.

“In the first week, there were no hits. So we started promoting it and learned SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing). When the calls slowly started coming in, we realized there was actually a healthy demand for these services.”

Instead of philosophizing about problems to solve, Jassim pounded the streets of his neighbourhood and handed out surveys to the residents. He asked them to share their biggest pain points. What did they want on-demand? Beauty services? Car washing? Accounting? IT?

It turned out to be maintenance. This was a lightbulb moment for Jassim. “It goes with the booming property market in Dubai!”

This is how the seeds of HammerHeads flourished into a concrete business idea. Once they launched, they were able to measure which services had

more demand, and which ones had higher margins. This way, “we scaled down further from 16 maintenance services to 9 services.”

Be willing to outsource the operations

In the beginning, Jassim personally learned how to code, and transferred the HammerHeads website from Wix.com to WordPress.com to strive for better SEO.

He has no regrets learning to do code. “I could have hired someone to create the website for USD $5,000,” he says, “But I would not have gained insights into the inner workings of website. Now, if a developer says it is a 1 hour job, I can say: no, it’s a 5 minute job. Same for digital marketing.”

Eventually, he accepted that the CEO needs to focus on bringing the highest value to the company, and he needed to outsource some of the work.

“In the beginning, we outsourced as little as possible to maintain strong profitability metrics. Now, we are able to use these profits to hire our web developer and digital marketing team.”

Stay close to your customers and get their feedback

“It is so easy to get real-time raw feedback!” Jassim enthuses:

“One way to improve customer service is to call the customer and ask for their rating. They will say 4 stars, or 5 stars. The next question we ask is: what would it take to move from a 5/5 to a 6/5?”

The responses were illuminating. “They might say, I want a 10% discount on my next service. Or, I want a checklist. And we say: okay, consider it done.”

This feedback is used to improve their services. They also take it into account when creating a storyboard for the customer journey. “When we bring service providers on board, we share these expectations. They should arrive on time. They should show a checklist. They should be clean.”

This lends their service more consistency, and strengthens their brand reputation.

Figure out “why” you do it, not just “what” you do

It can sound mundane and ordinary when you describe what you do. The magic is when you describe why you do it. HammerHeads has released a comic series on their website about tools that bring ideas to life, and this mission is their company manifesto. “This is the message that Simon Sinek proposes: people go to you for what you believe in. These tools will bring your ideas to life, whether you want to build something new or

People go to you for what you believe in.”

reshape your environment. This is what we help you to achieve.”

Focus on the right customers

Jassim tells a strong story about focusing: focusing on the right problem, focusing on the right solution, and focusing on the right customers. “Our biggest mistake was targeting everyone because we thought everyone needs maintenance. But, that’s the worst attitude! It led to highly inefficient spending in our digital marketing. So we started with housewives, then professionals. This was a big learning curve: to observe who was using our services the most, and using that as our working hypothesis.”

“Our biggest mistake was targeting everyone.”

Who are their customers today? They are mostly

property managers and landlords, real estate agents, general offices, and residents. Almost all their calls come through their website, and word of mouth.

Don’t just build a business. Build your reputation.

Sales will rise and fall, but your reputation is a long-term asset. “We have a regular customer who found us on our Wix.com website, but decided not to proceed because he thought we were too expensive. Not long later, he came back to us, because his other providers were too unreliable.”

This customer first gave them small handyman jobs, and then, pleased with the results, he contracted them to fix 40 air-conditioners. After this, he trusted them with his roof tiling, and let them manage the project when he was building a swimming pool. Now, he is building a house, and he has gladly put them in charge of managing the whole development.

Sales will rise and fall, but your reputation is a long-term asset.

Balance growth with sustainability

We all want to grow as fast as possible, but this does not mean our business will be sustainable. Jassim is acutely conscious of this dynamic. “Venture capitalists are looking for lifetime customer value, so they are not that concerned whether you are profitable right now. But, I need to be profitable to survive.”

“It is easy to spend a lot of money on AdWords to grow, grow, grow, but not a lot of people know the best way to spend their costs per click.”

They put this principle into practice with Google AdWords. His strategy is rooted in business basics. “Balancing the customer’s acquisition cost (CAC) with the customer’s

lifetime value (LTV) is how you create a successful business model. If customer LTV is larger than the CAC, your marketing efforts are working and you have a sustainable business model.”
The bottomline, Jassim says, is that you don’t want to get a lot of leads that aren’t profitable.

Build your wings while you fly

How did this startup take flight? Their strategy was to build it gradually while harnessing the demand.

At first, the process was manual. “We used to get all our jobs on the website, and replied with an email to ask the customer for more information, and then emailed the service provider to see if they could take the job. This was averaging 15 to 20 emails and calls a day. It was very time-consuming.”

Now, the process is more automated. “Within seconds, the customer will get an email that summarizes what they need, and what time the service provider will meet them.”

Their next stage is to create automatic and intelligent matchmaking between the job and the service provider, eventually leading to a mobile app as well.

Persevere and focus on key metrics

“People at INSEAD are smart and talented, but what makes you different as an entrepreneur is your perseverance and thick skin,” says Jassim.

“You cannot throw down the towel when no one calls you, or when you run out of money. The journey is littered with obstacles, and the journey is lonely.”

This loneliness is hard to combat unless you have dogged perseverance. “No matter what pressures you face in corporate life, your pay check is guaranteed. For us, the pay check is not guaranteed, and this leads to incredible stress.”

What does Jassim do to keep pressing forward? “I go to the gym to destress, and I do a lot of visualizing.” He notes that people who are starting out in business make the mistake of asking for a lot of feedback from many different people. His advice is to stay focused on solving problems, listening to feedback from your own customers, and building a sustainable business.

“In other words, entrepreneurship is a lot like stand-up comedy. You shouldn’t be afraid to find your authentic point of view. No expert can tell you whether you are good. Like the market, the collective laughter or hush of the audience will determine if you need to improvise or continue pushing forward.”

“Revenue is the ultimate metric of a sustainable business model,” he stresses.

The INSEAD community

Jassim tips his hat to the INSEAD MBA program. “INSEAD gives you the confidence to put method into madness to deal with uncertainty. I wouldn’t have started this business without my classmates such as Sawan Shah, Akshay Goel, Younes Rahmoune and Moe Nsouli who helped me with all my queries. They gave me the chance to bounce ideas around, and gave me the confidence to execute and go!”

“They gave me the chance to bounce ideas around, and gave me the confidence to execute and go!”

Moving forward, Jassim is looking to the INSEAD community to be a part of his growth. There are four ways to get involved:

  1. Opening B2B partnerships on a local and regional scale with property owners for HammerHeads to manage their facilities
  2. Attracting the best human capital such as high-end developers
  3. Expanding the start-up geographically where people have on-the-ground networks
  4. Accessing international investors who can bring in their own networks
  5.  Providing tactical and strategic feedback

How investors can get involved

Now that the business foundation is stable and growing with strong revenue and profitability, Jassim is finally looking into partnering with the right investors to accelerate his growth. He will use these funds in four ways:

  1. Hire a team to have more control over the branding and content
  2. Establish the mobile app to include features such as geo-targeting
  3. Design marketing campaigns to serve more customers
  4. Office space for the team

Currently, their sales is in six-digit dollars USD and they aim to reach a million in 2018.

You can explore the HammerHeads website and connect with Jassim by emailing jassim@hammerheadsuae.com.

Nazish Zafar

PhD Sociologist who writes for INSEADERS VC

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By | 2017-07-15T17:36:32+00:00 July 11th, 2017|News|