Running a small business is hard. But when you’re in the service industry, running the back end of your company while you’re up on a ladder or under a sink? That’s even harder. In 2012, friends Ethan Wirt and Jon Hill teamed up when Ethan’s house painting business was growing, but he was having trouble finding software to help him manage his business. They realized that what small business owners often needed was a “back office” to help them with administrative tasks they were simply too busy to take care of. Hourwise was born and the two set off to help other service industry businesses experience growth that wasn’t overwhelming.
Hourwise supplies an on-demand workforce for businesses who need assistance with their administrative tasks but don’t need or want to hire full or even part-time employees. We sat down with Hourwise co-founders, Jon Hill and Ethan Wirt, and COO, Jason Bello, to talk about the rapid growth of their own Richmond-based business and how the startup community works and plays together.
Who plays what roles at Hourwise?
Jon: Myself and Ethan are the co-founders, but Ethan focuses on sales and marketing partnerships. Jason Bello is our COO that we brought on last year. We convinced him to move out here from San Diego to be our big thinker. He’s a process driven guy who has worked for Accenture as a business analyst. We all met at UVA and we’re happy to be working together again.
Ethan: I think of the three of us as three legs to a sturdy stool: Sales(Ethan), Process(Jason), and Technology(Jon).
What’s the status of growth at Hourwise?
J: A year ago we had 10 full time employees. Today we have 25 full timers and 5 part timers. We now have folks we call “pro-assistants” who are exceptional and experienced at helping small business owners and therefore take on a heavier load or larger businesses. The rapid growth we’ve seen is partly due to an exploratory partnership with Thumbtack, which is a lead generator and has been great so far.
We are really able to pull in some young, fresh talent thanks to our “startup” status. Most employees on the floor are in the 22-26 age range. They have to be tech savvy and excited to help small business owners succeed.
The youthfulness in the office definitely makes the environment more fun. Everyone hangs out after work, supports each other's bands and creative ventures. In general, everyone respects their peers, and there’s a level of authenticity from that culture. They are motivated to move forward and we are working toward getting them to unlock their creative potential.
E: I completely agree! Coming out of Lighthouse Labs, we really felt like we had a strong BETA service, but we still hadn’t cracked the nut of how to sell the service to our contractor base. The partnership with Thumbtack drives consumer leads to contractors, so we had a steady supply of fresh consumer leads to PROVE our value to contractors. Once we learned to stop saying, “give me some of your leads and I’ll prove it to you” to “let me introduce you to new clients and prove it to you,” signing up new contractors wasn’t the issue anymore, rather scaling the platform, processes, and people become the new challenge!
What types of services does Hourwise offer through your pro-assistants?
J: Our clients can redirect inbound leads to us. We will answer their phone calls and white label the service. We can then set up appointments or do follow ups. Follow ups are incredibly important and there are statistics about how many follow ups it takes to get a job. So our platform includes a follow up process that takes a huge amount of work off our clients’ plates.Clients can pay for our services by the minute, or they can pay us based on a percentage of the jobs they win - whatever works best for their needs.
Technology wise - we’ve built a scalable communications platform where we can switch from brand to brand instantly and our assistants can focus on 10-15 businesses at one time. We’re building some exciting things on top of that engine that will really enable us to scale. Right now we are covering 97 businesses in 19 states. We are actively hiring and adding on to our team so that we can offer 24/7 coverage.
E: Different studies have shown that 80% of non-routine sales occur only after at least five follow ups. Think about that - it takes at least five continuous follow up efforts after the initial sales contact before a customer says yes. Five! That’s a lot of time for someone running a business to be pursuing leads. In fact, 44% of sales people give up after one “no,” 22% give up after two, 14% give up after three and 12% give up after four. That means 92% of sales people are giving up after four no’s and only 8% are even asking the fifth time. When you add into that the fact that contractors are not even salespeople, you can see how a business like ours can help service professionals generate and get more leads in the long run without using up their time doing sales instead of their actual work.
How do you keep your team motivated?
J: Every other week we try to do something like a creative competition for top performers. We are working on becoming more intentional and really getting everyone striving to do their best work.
E: The real motivation comes from the very real connection between the work our Pro Assistants do, and the meaningful, tangible impact it has on the business owners we service. But it doesn’t hurt when our top performer gets a Hoverboard or a flight around Richmond in an open air WWII plane either.
Talk to us about the challenges Hourwise faces.
J: Growth is the real challenge, and finding the right people to help facilitate that growth. None of us have grown a business like this and you have an idealistic approach when you start but then you realize there is a necessity for structure. We are learning the hard way that good quality communication is key, but I think we’re doing a good job.
Tell us a little bit more about being a part of the startup culture in Richmond.
J: We are pretty involved in the startup ecosystem, and that has helped tremendously. Jim Ukrop with NRV, and Will Loving with Altron Capital are in our corner and have been instrumental in our success. We were also fortunate to partake in Lighthouse Labs two years ago. That mentorship network continues to be supportive to this day. Really, the entire Richmond ecosystem has been invaluable.
What’s in your startup library?
J: Lean Startup, Running Lean, Good to Great
E: E-Myth, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Where do you see Hourwise in 5 years?
J: Hourwise will be THE platform people rely on to get work done and save time. We want to revolutionize the way trade services are done and elevate expectations in an industry that hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years. In that process, the technology we are building will open up remote job opportunities to support the tradesman across the country. We’ve always had a personal mission to connect the unemployed and underemployed with meaningful work, and believe that we are on a path to do that.
E: I believe that Hourwise will be THE brand that Pros go to for all things “Business”. The Hourwise platform will support pros through all aspects of their brand - providing tech, tools and connections for marketing, sales, financial, administrative, compliance, purchasing power, to name a few.
How does the team spend Happy Hour(wise)?
J & E: Starting an afternoon right with a nice glass of grapefruit moonshine on the rocks from Belle Isle. Duh.