Danial Ahchow Service Central


established 2005;

100 employees;і


$4.7 million turnoverS'




One day, when ServiceI

Central is worth billionsf


of dollars (as I've no

doubt it will be) and founder Danial Ahchow is a squillionaire (which he most certainly will be), somebody will say: 'What a simple idea, why didn't I think of that?' So simple, in fact, that the chances are many of us have had a similar idea.

But picturing a simple idea and having the

determination and vision to make it a reality are two very different things. And simple though Ahchow's idea was, implementing it has consumed the last five years of his life, eaten millions of dollars in investment capital, and only recently made the thirty-two-year-old entrepreneur a millionaire—on paper at least.

But millionaire status is just the beginning. Global domination is also on the company's agenda, and Ahchow has appointed Australian business legend Shaun Bonett, the property developer (and, with a fortune of more than $200 million, a regular on the Young Rich List), and Cliff Rosenberg, former managing director of Yahoo! Australia & NZ, to help steer the company's growth.

It is a testament to the potential of the business that both were so keen to get involved. 'I wanted the experience and credibility of these guys and I was so happy they wanted to get on board,' Ahchow says. 'They're easy to get along with and have so much experience, it's been fantastic.'

So what is this amazing idea?

As I said, simple: a quick and easy way for people to find reliable and competitively priced tradesmen instead of flicking through the Yellow Pages in blind faith. 'Looking in Yellow Pages or even scanning online can feel like doing the lottery,' Ahchow says. 'I was trying to find con-tractors for my dad's cleaning business when I had the idea—there was just no way of telling how good people were or whether they wanted the work.'

Initially, Ahchow thought everything could be automated.

'I had this vision of a black box that could do everything, match all customers with tradesmen, and we'd make millions,' he says, waving arms in the air enthusiastically. 'But since those early days, we've spent about $4 million on IT and we still don't have any little black box. And we probably never will.'

The main reason is that human input is needed to establish who is good and who isn't. A black box just can't give Ahchow the unique selling point that underpins Service Central's business. 'There are review sites for almost everything, but you can't just ask people for reviews of tradesmen. Companies have tried that, and they've had firms giving themselves great reviews, or rubbishing their rival across the road.' Ahchow's vision was of a site that 'had to be independent and be able to prove its independence'.

So Ahchow took on the leg-work himself. Service Central now employs almost 100 people to visit tradesmen and rate them on four indicators. First, they need to be properly registered with their trade association. They also need to be fully qualified and able to prove it. Third, they must have insurance—which happens to be where about 75 per cent of businesses fail Service Central's eligibility test. Finally, Ahchow applies what he refers to as 'the granny test'. 'It's quite subjective, but we ask ourselves: "Would you invite this person over to Gran's for tea?" ' Perhaps unsurprisingly, many companies also fall at this final hurdle. 'We don't want to be recommending people who are swearing every other sentence—it's not the image we want to convey.'

The tradesmen are then profiled and sorted by fee ranges and job capabilities: 'We don't want to send a handyman to build a skyscraper, and we don't want to send Multiplex to repair a gate.' Each company selected can register for an annual fee averaging $3000, and a per-job kickback of $7.50 for small tasks and $30 for bigger ones. With more than 3000 businesses now registered, the site's turnover is over $5 million a year and rising fast.

The business didn't really get going until 2005, yet Ahchow made his first million in 2007, when the company was raising capital for further expansion and his 50 per cent stake was valued at $3 million.

'It was weird,' he recalls. But after it happens, 'You don't behave any differently. I still act like I don't have [the money].' Well, almost. 'I've bought a house in Melbourne and a BMW Z4, which is a nice toy. Other than that, I really don't go spending money wildly.'

Ironically, rather than reducing the company's revenues, the global financial crisis helped it become more profitable.

'It resulted in us taking a long hard look at our costs and really cutting back,' Ahchow says. 'We have been reducing staff numbers and radically cutting overheads. Not that it's been forced on us—it's more pre-emptive. The business has continued to grow, but we are preparing for a worst-case scenario. Anything above that is a bonus.'

Ahchow has found more tradesmen applying to get on his books as the crisis has shaken business confidence: 'They want to source as much work as possible, so suddenly we're get-ting swamped by more and more tradesmen. It was such a struggle at first, but I suppose it's no surprise that in a recession we're getting more applicants.'

In addition to laying off some staff, Ahchow has cut back on some of his marketing costs and focused more on online advertising, which is easier to monitor.

'I use the 80:20 rule a lot,' he says. 'Eighty per cent of your business tends to come from 20 per cent of your customers, so focus on that 20 per cent. Similarly, 80 per cent of your success with marketing will come from 20 per cent of your spend, so concentrate on those elements. It's common sense, really.'

Service Central is getting around 10,000 inquiries a month—and that will jump substantially after Ahchow signs a deal with a national hardware chain to provide tradesmen to its customers. Other big companies also want to get involved: 'We're now speaking to AGL and TruEnergy [about how we can help them] manage their workload to get their [excess] jobs out to tradesmen as well.'

Ahchow says the downturn has also made businesses more open to partnership deals.

'It's a great time to look around to see who you can partner with to strengthen your business.'

To help ensure consistently good service, customers are invited to rate tradesmen when they have finished their work, much as sellers are rated on eBay. If a tradesman falls below three stars out of five, he must explain to Ahchow and his team why he shouldn't be kicked off the register.

Tradesmen may be queuing up to get involved now but in the early days it was a struggle, Ahchow

says. 'I had to call 600 plumbers just to get a meeting with one of them, and even then it took four hours to persuade him to pay a modest $80 annual fee to join us. People kept saying they'd heard it all before. It's difficult to keep the faith at times like that, but I had such confidence in the idea—I knew it would work if only we could get enough tradesmen.'

who helped finance the project—to stick with the idea. And a slice of luck. 'We advertised on radio. It cost $16,000 a month, which felt like a huge gamble. Then the radio station had a competition where the major sponsor dropped out, so we accidentally became the major sponsor of

It took a great deal of faith not only for the tradesmen but for Ahchow and his father—

^ I had to call 600 plumbers just to get a meeting with one of them, and even then it took four hours to persuade him to pay a modest $80 annual fee to join us. People kept saying they'd heard it all before. It's difficult to keep the faith at times like that, but I had such confidence in the idea—I knew it would work if only we could get enough tradesmen. ^

this Melbourne-wide promotion.' It was the stroke of fortune they needed, he says: 'It got us started.'

The service is now available right up the east coast, from Melbourne through Sydney to

Brisbane, and it's expanding on the Gold Coast. Overseas is next. Ahchow says that while the US does have a similar service, that doesn't mean he can't go there. 'First-mover advantage isn't every- thing—it depends how you tackle the market. But there is nothing like us in the UK or Europe, and that's a huge market.'

There is still work to do before Service Central dominates Australia. But judging by his success so far, you'd have to say that Ahchow has a very bright future indeed.

Nick Gardner

golden rules

Keep communicating with your staff. They need to know you're in control and they need to know what is happening. Keep them informed.

It's not just about finding smart people, it's about empowering them.

Don't promise anything you can't deliver.

Use economic downturns to cut costs.

Focus on the 20 per cent of your customers who provide most of your business.

Never deceive yourself—assume the worst and build your business model accordingly.

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Источник: Nick Gardner. How. I made-.my first million. 26 self-made millionaires reveal the secrets to their success. 2010

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