Hassle free: We meet Alex Delpedge and Will Herrmann from Hassle.com
29 July 2015
Hassle.com is a free to the consumer, destination web site that puts together buyers and sellers of home based services. For our latest Fast Growth Founder's story, we interviewed Alex Depledge (CEO & Co-founder) and Will Herrmann (Finance Director) from Hassle.com to ask them about the challenges facing fast growing companies, the advantages and disadvantages of operating in London and any advice they had for their peers.
We launched the short video below last week, but you can now also read the full interview below.
What was the initial inspiration behind your business?
Alex: How we came to be where we are and what inspired us is a very long story. The short version is that Jules (Coleman, co-founder) wanted to start playing the piano again. She bought an electronic piano and went out to try and find a tutor for refresher lessons. She spent about four hours killing herself on Google and in the Yellow Pages and she just said this has to be easier. That led us on a two year journey before we ended up at cleaning!
But the kernel of the idea is that there are local providers in your neighbourhood that are searching for customers and there are customers in the neighbourhood that need local providers and what we tried to do was open that up in a transparent and safe fashion that benefitted both sides. And that all came from a piano tutor!
What makes you passionate about being a private business?
Alex: I think it’s the autonomy that you get when you run a private business and the thing with start-ups and the success of start-ups is being able to be quick and dynamic and take decisions and if they don’t work, change them quickly, if they do work do more of it. You only get that in a private company because you don’t have to go and get authority or approval from somebody else. And so we will turn on a nickel overnight if that’s what is necessary. I think when you are private company, you really get to execute your passion. It’s something that you don’t need to try and sell anybody else on, it’s what you believe and for me this is hopefully just my first of several businesses, if I’m blessed enough to get another good idea and a great team to execute it with.
Will: It’s the exposure to different things every day, you never know quite what’s going to happen in your own business and that’s what makes it exciting.
So what do you feel is the value of that entrepreneurial ethos to the UK economy?
Alex: Firstly, the value of the entrepreneurial ethos has really come in to its own over the last three years. I think when we started, there was no social media, we were just some kids that wanted to start a business and it ended up being a technology focussed business. But what I see now is a real paying it forward culture. It’s what we run here at Hassle as well, which is where you help those that are coming up through the ranks behind you and that really has driven some remarkable results.
Secondly we have a motto here: it’s that we just get s*** done - and that’s the antithesis of corporate culture. What that allows you to do is to move quickly and not be afraid of failing and I think corporates need to start looking at that and realising that you don’t need to polish your presentation for ten hours before you deliver it. That’s actually not what makes or breaks you, the product or the deal and injecting the UK economy with a bit more of that zeal is a benefit to everybody don’t you agree?
Tell us what the challenges were that you faced going from a start-up to where you are now?
Alex I think they are mainly two-fold: firstly it was definitely access to financing. I think once you get past a certain stage, particularly in Europe, of around the kind of £5 million raise, until you get to the £20-25 million raise there’s not a lot going on in that space. It makes raising capital quite difficult and challenging.
Will: Secondly, the challenge that we face on a daily basis and looking forward is growing a team. It’s difficult to find people that are comfortable working in an environmental that is so changeable and where everything moves at such pace, finding those people that can be flexible and deal with that is challenging.
What do you also think are the biggest challenges faced by all fast growing companies at the moment?
Alex: I think space is definitely a problem in places like London. I think landlords and property are very outmoded in London so you have to sign five to ten year leases in which time most start-ups will either have died or grown out of it by the time they get to that level. It’s also very expensive and very difficult to find the right configuration. That’s generally what CEOs moan about when we’re having drinks together!
What are the other advantages and disadvantages of running a business in London?
Alex: I think the advantages of building the business in London is that it does its own marketing for you in the sense that this is where people are moving to in Europe and even the Americans like to move here so the talent pool, although its thin, is bigger here than you might find it in somewhere like Paris or maybe even Berlin, although those two are obviously growing at pace.
Will: I think the disadvantage that brings is the war on talent. There’s so many start-ups, particularly in the tech space, always poaching and pricing roles out of the start-up market, it is definitely a challenge.
So how are you able to attract and retain the talent you need to grow?
Alex: I think we’re quite individual in our culture, put it that way. We look for talent in unique places. I don’t think we look for skills or what university people have been to, we look for whether they fit culturally and if they're hungry?
Will: As somebody who has joined... how did you attract me? I think it’s very important to build the right culture in the business and we’ve definitely done that here. It’s a great working environment. But the other thing is about selling the dream and getting the people that are joining the company to be on board with that dream as well.
What’s at the top of your agenda, what’s the next challenge for you?
Will: The next big challenge is the same challenge that we always have and I think all start-ups have which is growth. We need to continue to grow so we need to work out where that growth is coming from. Is it in our existing markets? or is it expanding to new markets?
Alex: And also we’re moving offices in the next three months which is always fun and challenging.
With rapid technological innovation, how do you see the landscape changing for your business over the next five to ten years?
Alex: I think the way that people work is fundamentally changing. I think that more and more people are going in to becoming self-employed because the advantages of flexible working and being your own boss are what millennials enjoy. I think this will drive wholesale legislative change in the marketplace and things will become fairer like self-employed people being able to pay into their pensions much easier. Right now the burden falls on the employer and that necessitates these really high operating costs and I think you are going to start to see that melt away a little bit more and the workplace change beyond all recognition.
Will: To give another example, there are some great fin-tech companies out there that are doing some good stuff and hopefully they can drive down the price of some of the things that banks have been doing in the past like cash handling, payments processing and it will be a new era of how things like that work.
What does the future hold for you and Hassle, where do you see yourself in five years?
Alex: That’s a tough question as I couldn’t have predicted anything so far. I think in 12 months we will have gone deeper in to the markets that we are already in so currently across four countries and I think we will be looking at experimenting with other verticals and beyond that I can’t really say because we literally get to plan in three to six month horizons because things moves so fast. From a personal point of view, hopefully Will and I will be sitting here doing the same thing but who knows.
Can you talk a bit about what you’ve learned so far on your journey and what advice you can give to someone founding a new business in the future?
Alex: I think the biggest learning for me and the piece of advice I’d offer to any other founder would be that don’t pretend that you’ve actually spoken to your customers actually go out and do it. So a lot of people that you talk to with sort of smaller businesses will tell you that they’ve done their market research, they’ve spoken to their customers and this is definitely the product. When you dig into that they haven’t really, they’ve had a few dinner conversations with certain people.
You need to be aggressive and it’s the only thing you need to focus on in the early days which is talking to anyone and everyone that will listen particularly your target audience about what their problem is and don’t sell your solution, ask them. If it’s a transportation solution, how do you travel now, what are the problems with that. Not leading questions because you often find the single biggest failure is that people build a solution that they’re in love with for a unique problem they may have that actually many other people don’t.