Interview with Oliver West (Servango)
Servango is a community of task posters and doers.
I interviewed Oliver West, Servango founder to find out more. This is the hundred and ninety fourth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Oliver!
How would you describe Servango in under 50 words?
Servango is your local, mobile marketplace and the place to come to get things done. You can outsource those tasks, errands and jobs you can’t or don’t want to do, supplement your income using your skill-set or simply find new customers for your business.
How did you meet co-founder James McAloon?
James and I have been friends for along time. He joined the school I was attending at 11 years old and we became friends pretty much straight away, the friendship was further strengthened when he joined the golf club I grew up playing at. So we ended up learning together, golfing together, socializing together and eventually doing business together. I think our friendship means we can be a lot more candid about our business opinions which ultimately leads to more fruitful discussions and decisions.
What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch Servango?
It was borne more of personal circumstance to be honest, rather than the identification of this space as a hot topic in the tech start-up industry. I met James for a coffee one lunch time and he basically said that he had too much on his plate and would love it if there was some way of outsourcing certain tasks on his to-do list, some way of paying others to help lighten the load. After all there are only so many hours in a week. We got to talking about it in more serious terms and only after we’d started out on the path to making our idea a reality did we think, “hey, there are a few other people taking this on too”.
How long did it take to put together Servango?
The concept phase lasted a little while, the constant brainstorming, exploratory research, the summing up of our options for example, but once we’d decided on a course of action the time from the first day of the build to launch was around 3 months a good part of which was fine tuning everything to make the experience of using the application as good as possible with the resources at our disposal.
How many users do you currently have?
We’re currently at about 2500, which has exceeded our expectations thus far. We’re pretty grounded in understanding the development life cycle and that we can’t all expect to be Instagram, Angry Birds or Draw Something. The most important things for us are realistic goals and ensuring that we learn from every result we get.
Do you have any features in the pipeline?
Absolutely, but if I were to tell you I’d have to kill you! On a serious note, we are very excited about the features and functionality we’ve got lined up and we’re looking forward to getting it all out there. Some are fairly basic changes, such as allowing the use of photos in messaging and on listings, others are fairly detailed.
How different is the current version of Servango compared to your initial launch?
We’ve made a couple of adaptations to our model that allow a user to create two different types of listing, one that is either Needed, or Offered. We found through analyzing our initial usage that there was a distinct demand for both of these types of interaction. It helps create a far more synergistic user base.
You launched in 2012, a boom for mobile applications yet a time surrounded by economic difficulties. Have you seen the growth and feedback you expected since launch?
Yes, we’re pretty happy with the way things are going. We knew that 2012/13 was going to be touch economically but our application is actually a good fit for these economic times. There’s a dearth of under and unemployed and those who are in full time employment are having to work twice as hard. This is fairly complementary to our model. Our feedback has been very good also, we worked hard to ensure that the user experience wasn’t compromised, even in our 1.0 version. You see too many apps go for grandiose entrances to the market, trying to do too much too soon, its not an efficient way to do things and the user experience suffers as a result.
With the knowledge you have today, would you do anything different if you were to start-up Servango again?
Good question. The short answer is yes. Haha. But seriously I’d say the one thing we didn’t properly account for was adaptability. Not in terms of the initial product’s ability to be worked upon and improved, but from a business perspective. The business was set up to initially do “x” we didn’t properly account for “x” + “unexpected”. Of course the main reason this happened was because budgets are pinched right now, globally and that can’t be avoided, but one piece of advice I’d give to anyone starting out on their own start-up would be to expect the unexpected and budget for it. These cliches exist for a reason!
Where do you see Servango in 5 years time?
We’ve always seen Servango as the place to come to get things done and we are doing everything we can to make this as ubiquitous as possible. In 5 years time, if you need anything, from your local community, be it a task completed, new business for your business, to find local businesses, find someone for some advice or a game of tennis on a summer’s day we are endeavoring to make Servango your go-to for that need.
Facebook and Twitter have the space nailed for social type networks with the people you know. Servango is aiming to be the go to network for all the local people that you don’t know, but at some point inevitably need.
Which site or app do you check first when you wake up?
Servango of course! Beyond that it’s a pretty regular morning routine, I use Reddit, so have a pretty well customized front page, devoid of memes and jokes but packed with relevant news (alienblue is great for this by the way), I also check BBC News, CNN and of course Facebook.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
Funding. I’ve seen a good chunk of the economic pinch on both sides of the Atlantic first hand and it’s not pretty. Yes there’s still a lot of money available but not like there was 5-8 years ago, back then all you had to do was pitch a half baked idea to a room full of seeders and you’d probably walk away with enough to see you through MVP and 12 – 24 months of trading. These days you need to prove so much more before you can realistically expect any significant investment.
That said though I do think it has made the products and companies that make it through a lot stronger than they might have been.
Based on your own experiences what advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?
As mentioned, definitely expect the unexpected. It’s a cliche for a reason, beyond that I’d say you need to focus on a few key things: get a good team together – this is so important, understand your limitations – even if you have a grand vision for a product it doesn’t mean you are the best person for every job, task or role, be lean with your spending – consider how to get the most out of every dollar or pound you spend, set goals and have realistic expectations – it’s very important how you measure success, and lastly have fun.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
The future. I think we are in a really interesting time right now. Within the next 5 – 10 years, we are going to see the emergence of an entirely new ‘worker’ and as a result start to see an even bigger and faster shift in the way we do business. You know, we first become aware of the ‘real world’ at about 14 – 16 years old – the workplace and its relevance to our life. When you consider that the mobile web movement has really only been going for about 6 years, it was in its infancy when those who are now entering the workforce became aware of the workplace as a whole.
Fast forward 5 – 10 years and you’ll have a whole new wave of people entering the workplace who are in the 14-16 year old bracket now who are growing up with with mobile technology at the forefront of their lives. I think there is a big difference between adapting to a technology and growing up with it, when you grow up with it, it’s more natural and intrinsic and as a result you will naturally know more and want to do more with it.
Can you convince the reader to start using Servango in under 50 words?
Do you have enough time? Do you have enough money? If you answered no to either then download Servango and either find some nifty new earning opportunities or find someone else to do what you can’t or don’t want to.
Finished reading? Check out Servango!