In 2014, after Grubhub (TKWY.AS) co-founder Mike Evans took his groundbreaking food delivery business public, he famously quit and headed out on a three month bike trek across the U.S. But the M.I.T. grad's entrepreneurial journey wasn't over — nor were his business-disrupting ways.
Some three years later, Evans launched Chicago-based Fixer, an on-demand handy-person enterprise. Only this time, instead of delivering pizza and General Tso's chicken, Fixer tackles things like broken light switches and leaky faucets. (By the way, Evans said almost half the employees are women, so the term "handyman" is out the window.)
Fixer, which unlike Grubhub hires folks full-time—and with benefits—is now in markets like Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis, and Seattle, with New York coming online by the end of 2023, at the latest.
To coincide with the publication of his book, Hangry: A Startup Journey, Evans talked with Yahoo Finance's Andy Serwer (video above) in a wide-ranging interview that covered ground from abandoning the gig economy and Fixer's business model to how growing up eating Domino's Pizza (DPZ) in Georgia influenced his life's work.
Some edited highlights from the conversation:
One big difference between Fixer and your handy-person: "If you call a plumber ... they'll (open) the wall, they'll fix the pipe, they'll walk away. And what we do is we cut a nice hole in the wall, we fix the pipe, we fix the wall, we paint the wall ... The whole thesis of the business is we can deliver a really high quality product to the customer in the home."
Why Evans now, at Fixer, hires employees instead of contractors: "The reason we picked that path is because highly-skilled workforce retention becomes the most important factor ... the quality of the work is a really important factor. And you just can't control that within the contractor marketplace."
Training workers from scratch: "The supply of skilled tradespeople in the U.S. is insufficient ... And so that's the reason why it's so hard to, like, get a guy to come in and fix your stuff. It's hard to book them; and it's so hard to get them to call you back."
A business lesson from Grubhub: "It's hard to get somebody to pay for your product...even harder to get them to pay for your product a second time. Our philosophy was that if we deliver the best product [and] we have the best best customer service ... we'll beat the competition. And that's what worked all the way up through the IPO."
Dealing with the pandemic at Fixer: "In March of 2020 we lost 80% of our business because we have a business that goes into people's homes.But one of the pieces that came out of that was we started thinking about policies of re-entering people's homes. We were very conservative in terms of testing and vaccines and mask wearing. But we were very firm on customers had to follow [the CDC mandates] too. It's a difficult message to deliver that like, you know, as a customer you have to wear masks in your own home. And yet everyone appreciated that."
Gender blindness: "How are [we] reaching out to women? First of all, the name Fixer is non-gendered on purpose. [And] we don't just go to the traditional places that construction companies would hire...We hire online at Indeed, Facebook and Craigslist...so [the] mix of applicants [in] our training programs is [a male to female ratio of] about 50/50."
Advice for Grubhub, Uber, and Lyft on employing contractors: "One of the things I would argue very strongly for is that your best drivers should actually be your employees...so you can deliver a differentiated product to the customer. [It would help ensure] the food gets there hot, it gets there quick and gets there safely ... These things matter to the customer."
Why Evans always says "thank you," even for bad advice: "Because you look like a real jerk when someone's trying to help you and you tell them you are wrong ... People will stop trying to help you if you are a jerk to them."
Georgia influences: "I was a somewhat feral child of four, and I had a single Mom who worked two jobs. And so there was no energy left to make dinner ... And so we had Domino's, like four or five times a week. That definitely influenced my choices about starting Grubhub. I'm very, very comfortable with delivery food."
The bottom line: "At some point, if your customers hate you, your business will fail, unless you have some sort of monopoly power. [But] that's not the right way to go about building a good business."