Finding local service providers -like dentists, computer repairmen, and movers- should be easy. Unfortunately, in many parts of the country it isn't. Good news- for those who live in one of the nine cities covered by Seva Call (including DC, Boston, and Philadelphia), it is.
Providing this convenience was enough to earn the DC-based marketplace the honor of DC's Hottest Showcasing Startup at last night's Tech Cocktail DC Mixer.
We caught up with Manpreet Singh, co-founder and president at Seva Call, to learn more about the inspiration behind the business, how they compete against Angie's List, and when it's appropriate to say no to funding.
Tech Cocktail: Who does Seva Call target?
Manpreet Singh: Seva Call serves small to medium businesses in over 50 industry categories and the people who need their services.
Tech Cocktail: What was the inspiration behind Seva Call? What do you enjoy most about working on it?
Singh: My brother and co-founder Gurpreet Singh has this other business called Geeks On-Site, an IT firm. He’d often get calls from prospective customers that he couldn’t help because he was booked or didn’t provide the service. Naturally, the customers would get really frustrated. We had all those frustrated customers, sometimes on their 2nd/third/millionth phone call, in mind when we, along with our friend Amandeep Bakshi, began work on Seva Call.
What I enjoy most about this business is the people. A weight must have been lifted from their shoulders when they stumbled across our site and call/complete an online service request because they’re so funny and jovial- especially for someone with a busted pipe, toothache, or some other urgent need. It really breaks up the monotony of building the company when you hear the laughter of someone you’re helping.
Tech Cocktail: Who is your greatest competitor, and how do you differentiate yourself?
Singh: Customer review database Angies List is our biggest competitor. Consumers typically spend 30 minutes reading consumer reviews, calling various companies, and they visit about 10 websites before settling on a service provider. Angie’s List does little to nothing by being merely a starting point for the same old hassle.
We offer a smarter service because our algorithm quickly considers consumer reviews, social media interactions, as well as job details and scheduling availability and then offers customers the very best professionals their community has to offer. We also connect customers and businesses in real time by phone to 3 top-rated businesses who know exactly what the customer needs and are ready to help them at the time convenient to them. That way, they can compare companies and finalize any plans to get the help they need.
No other referral site offers real time communication by phone.
Tech Cocktail: What is the biggest advantage and disadvantage of starting up near DC?
Singh: Starting up in our hometown of Potomac, MD is ideal for us. We even passed on a funding offer that required us to move to Silicon Valley.
Most of the team went to University of Maryland and we have a lot of ties to the area. Since we’re essentially a tricked out referral company, the connections we already had in the community were essentially in getting started. We’re in 15 cities now, but the DC metro remains our most important consumer base.
The country may not pay as much attention to us because we’re not coming out of a tech-based metropolis, but DC is full of talent- especially coming out of the government sector- and together we’ll put the DC metro on the map soon enough.
Tech Cocktail: Describe a challenging moment or a crucial decision for Seva Call. How did you deal with it, and what did you learn from it?
Singh: There was the decision to say no to an investment offer. People don’t get a lot of practice saying no to money, especially when they’ve just asked for it. Typically, we just say thank you. So, saying no to the right funding under the wrong conditions, (we had to move to Silicon Valley to get the funding), took a lot of restraint. We had to believe in the quality of our product and know that the right opportunity would come along.
We learned that something is not always better than nothing. The right nothing can be full of greater possibilities. We’re so glad we had the courage not to settle.
Tech Cocktail: What’s one quirky fact about you, your team, or your office culture?
Singh: We’re located in a pretty upscale community so a lot of the interns are afraid that their hoopty starter cars are being down property values. The neighbors never complain though.