As I wrote previously, “Humans as a Service” or HaaS, is looking to become one of the biggest cultural and economic phenomenon of our time. As the internet and e-commerce drove big change in the 90’s, HaaS is a major driver today. On-demand, many of us can get drivers from Uber and Lyft, a warehouse-full of goods from Amazon.com Prime Now, restaurant food from Favor, Uber Eats, and groceries from Burpy, Instacart, Google Express, or Amazon.com Prime Pantry. But what about home improvement or home fix-it services? IAC’s ( IAC/InterActiveCorp ) HomeAdvisor, who I wrote about previously as I introduced HaaS, is now jumping into the on-demand marketplace with home services by adding the ability to instantly book a contractor. IAC/InteractiveCorp HomeAdvisor led the charge for home improvement HaaS and I believe their new Instant Booking feature solidifies their lead.
HomeAdvisor’s new instant booking system is a huge improvement to the ease of use for their platform because it reduces worry about “when” or “if” a certain contractor will be available. Users get to pick the time that fits their schedule best while still having HomeAdvisor’s engine pick the right person for the job, improving the chances that both parties are happy with the outcome and not left waiting to hear back from one another about a ‘good time’ to meet. HomeAdvisor is simply removing another point of friction in the process of finding and hiring the right person for a job and by doing so, they also increase user satisfaction and likelihood that someone will complete a booking. Here is a simple example that hopefully can illustrate this.
|Before||With Instant Booking|
|Monday night||I have found the right contractor for the job||I have found the right contractor for the job. Checks contractor availability, sees Monday lunch, selects and books.|
|Tuesday morning||Contractor email: when did you need the job done?||Scheduled|
|Tuesday night||Consumer email: on Thursday||Scheduled|
|Wednesday morning||Contractor email: I’m booked all day Thursday. I’m open Friday.||Scheduled|
|Wednesday lunch||Consumer email: I can’t do Friday. I can do next Monday and Tuesday at lunch.||Scheduled|
|Wednesday evening||Contractor email: OK, I’ll be there Monday lunch.||Scheduled|
Hopefully you can see in this simple the time savings and angst this can save. Having a home built in the 1940’s in need of a ton of random home repair, I can see the benefits here.
Image Credit: HomeAdvisor
Google calendar scheduling for the contractor
The new Instant Booking feature isn’t stuck inside some walled garden within the Home Advisor contractor infrastructure and supports Google Calendar. This doesn’t mean consumers can’t use Instant Booking if they don’t use Google Calendar, they can. This is about the contractor. If the contractor uses Google Calendar, the consumer can check what times the contractor has available, and it will even suggest to the consumer times the contractor has available. This is handy to eliminate a lot of telephone tag for scheduling. I expect that this contractor feature will also be added to iCal and Outlook in the future.
Image Credit: HomeAdvisor
A matching engine, not just a list
When you are a home improvement HaaS company, it’s one thing to have a fancy feature like Instant Booking, but it really is a “garbage in- garbage out” scenario. An intelligent search engine is only as good as its data and algorithms as we have learned from our own search experience. I talked about the data quality requirement in my previous column, but I never touched on the methodology. I had the chance to chat with HomeAdvisor’s CTO Brandon Ridenour to run me through some of HomeAdvisor’s process and features.
I would be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone that the home improvement industry is comprised of a very wide variety of contractors. One of the biggest issues, like in retail, is churn rate of contractors. In fact, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, between 2003-2004 and 2009-2010, one out of six “remodeling companies” fails every year. Just think of what that means to the quality or lack of quality of a contractor database or directory without some serious manual intervention. This, to me, is another benefit that HomeAdvisor brings to the table. You can be pretty sure if a contractor has nothing scheduled on the calendar, it’s time to check and see if they’re out of business.
From my experience and analysis, many of HomeAdvisor’s competitors like Angie’s List, Amazon.com, or Thumbtack simply do not provide the accuracy, flexibility and ease of use that HomeAdvisor offers. To be fair, I haven’t personally completed 100 projects with all of them, but I have put features side-by-side plus my own personal experiences and don’t think it’s even close. It makes sense, too, given that HomeAdvisor has been doing this the longest amount of time, they are the largest, and have a very sophisticated process for continually improving the data quality capped off by algorithms with a matching engine that uses multiple, non-obvious weightings to make recommendations.
While HomeAdvisor is a leader in the home improvement HaaS space, they still need to play a strong offense and defense. Pure-play niche players look appealing but need the scale needed to get off the ground. I think Porch.com realized this and knew they had to move from porches to everything else. Porches just didn’t pay the bills. Then you have giants like Amazon.com and Google looming out there with what looks like limitless funds. But seriously, where have these two companies been successful where they needed a diverse group of real people, not robots or self-driving cars, to be successful? Never say never, but I just can’t see an army of home fixit robots in the near term. Google would probably be better off buying HomeAdvisor.