Starting a successful business isn’t easy. In fact, it’s probably one of the most difficult things anyone could do in their lifetime. People say the hardest part is getting that one brilliant idea but what a lot of people don’t realise is that that is just the start of the hard work that you’ll actually have to put in to get your idea off the ground.
And that’s even before you inevitably come across complications that are well beyond your technical capabilities. Building an internet startup, for example, means that you will have to deal with all sorts of behind-the-scenes tech like data centres, servers and more which even I’ll admit I’m far from an expert on.
There is good news, though. As ServisHero CEO Karl Loo explains, the solution lies in cloud computing and in his case he’s talking about Amazon’s Web Services (AWS). This is how it helped him build Asia’s fastest-growing mobile marketplace for services.
You may have heard of ServisHero before. They’re a marketplace (available on Android, iOS and web) for professional services like cleaning, air-conditioning repair, electrical, and plumbing among others.
“You can kind of think of us as a Grab for services,” explains Karl. “We are a platform that connects consumers with local service providers such as cleaners, plumbers or electricians.”
But they don’t only provide services for household maintenance, they also have more creative services like writing, copywriting and photography. ServisHero is currently available in three different countries — Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore — and has over 4,000 vendors on their platform.
Considering the scale that they’re at right now, it’s pretty amazing then to find out that Karl started ServisHero out of a coffee shop because he didn’t have a home with a working internet connection.
“AWS was a natural fit for us when we decided about a hardware infrastructure because we didn’t have anything to house anything so a cloud solution was relevant to us,” he said.
Companies like Karl’s ServisHero are commonly known as companies that are “born in the cloud” which basically means that they started with cloud computing and never had any kind of legacy systems or hardware that they needed to transition from. Because of that, Karl explains that they’ve never really had any challenges adopting this technology. In fact, he says that their experience with AWS has been great.
It scaled with the company as it grew and provided a whole bunch of new functions and features that ServisHero could experiment with. Two features that ServisHero was most excited to explore was AWS Lambda — which allows them to move towards a serverless architecture — and AWS Redshift which was their data warehouse solution.
However, beyond nifty functions and features, perhaps the biggest strength AWS provides its customers is to take out all the complexities of running and maintaining your own data centres internally. Karl says that AWS’ solution lets them focus on the most important aspect of running ServisHero: Building a great product.
And when you look at some of the challenges ServisHero faced when they started out, you start to realise how important being able to focus on their core product was for them. Karl says that the two biggest issues that they face when they started out — or even when they’re entering a new market — is finding vendors and educating them on how they can use the technology behind ServisHero.
Solving the first problem required a lot of on-the-ground work. Karl recalls the long days his team had to spend out and about walking the streets, looking and lamp posts and trees for service providers (because, as we all know, that’s where the signs are hung from).
“Everyone on the team has a smartphone, when they’re walking down the street and they see a lamp post or a tree, they’ll snap it.
“It goes into a group chat and then it goes to our lead generation team and then they start processing those leads,” he says, adding that at their peak they had about eight people on the ground sourcing vendors.
Education, though, was a little trickier. Karl tells us that a lot of their vendors aren’t the most tech-savvy of people, which makes a lot of sense since household services like cleaning are mostly pen-and-paper or at most WhatsApp.
“Transitioning them to use an elite management tool or scheduling tool that is ServisHero requires a lot of education,” he says. Education which they deployed through WhatsApp by sending stuff like infographics and videos to their vendors. They also held workshops and seminars to not only teach them how to use the tech, but also the basics of marketing and customer service.
This is all in part to ensure that the vendors and service providers under ServisHero were up to their standards. Vendors are also vetted thoroughly and undergo corporate document checks, interviews by the team at ServisHero, reference checks, testimonial checks and even P2P reviewing.
Karl says that it’s very rare for them to get a complaint on the platform but when that happens ServisHero will get involved to provide dispute resolution.
It’s definitely a tough job and ServisHero isn’t done yet. They’ve got plans to enter yet another market soon and have recently released a big revamp of their application. The new app’s UX is a lot cleaner and more modern (or, in Karl’s words, beautiful) and contains a whole host of new features. Key services can be scheduled instantly now and with ServisHero’s vast data regarding market pricing, the app can now set a fixed price depending on your job. Customers can even make payments within the application.
A lot of these improvements and features come from AWS’ suite of services too. Karl says that ServisHero themselves haven’t developed a whole bunch of proprietary technology but instead utilise the vast majority of AWS services. 19 different services, in fact.
Karl himself was always sure that being born in the cloud was the way to go and that AWS was always their first choice especially since they’re a startup. In part, he attributes his faith in them to AWS’ startup support team which provides a lot of support, incentives and credits to their clients.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that AWS does have a pretty solid reputation.
However being born in the cloud is probably one of the best ways to kickstart your internet startup company because there’s no high upfront infrastructure and administrative cost that you otherwise would if you had your own physical servers hosted at a data centre. With AWS, it’s a plug-and-play solution where you only have to pay for what you use.
Of course, there’s also scalability where AWS can scale much better and more seamlessly with your business than if you had your own hardware. You don’t have to buy extra just to act as a buffer for particularly heavy days.
And that’s not all. Remember ServisHero’s new application revamp? Karl says that the fact they were able to do so was in no small part due to them having all their functionality already in the cloud. Since they were already on a serverless architecture, upgrades to their app were a lot faster and also a lot smoother because it was a cloud solution.
What Karl has accomplished so far with ServisHero is no small feat and from what he tells us, a lot of their success can be attributed to cloud computing and the benefits it provides. Well, that and the hard work and dedication that the team at ServisHero put in, of course.
Thinking of starting your own internet startup? Consider checking out Amazon’s Web Services. Though it’s nice to have all these fancy features and tech, know that nothing beats good old fashioned hard work.