Here at PulsoSocial, we hear a lot about serial entrepreneurs – risk-taking individuals with the drive, creativity and, frankly, gall needed to give it a go with new startups and projects time and time again. Less often do we tell the stories of entrepreneurs who, in their previous professional lives, were well-established individuals who have taken the risk with a single endeavor and who are unable to define the road ahead. Earlier this week, I had the fortune of coming across such a case: Eduardo L’Hotellier.
L’Hotellier is the co-founder and CEO of GetNinjas, a Brazilian online marketplace for offline services, much like Fiverr in the United States. The company has received funding from Monashees Capital and Kaszek Ventures and, in doing so, has been recognized as a sort of a rising star in the Brazilian startup ecosystem.
A Startup Shift
When we opened our conversation, we touched on a most intriguing element of L’Hotellier’s trajectory: his shift into the startup world. L’Hotellier has a solid background in business and finance, having held important positions at McKinsey & Company and Angra Partners in the past. With what we can only assume was a wealth of opportunities in the same line of work, why do this? Why now?
L’Hotellier explained that he has always been interested in technology and holds a degree in Computer Engineering. But as he has felt an inclination towards business as well, and he thought the arena would be a better start for a career. As time went on, L’Hotellier became concerned that his professional life wasn’t facilitating the creativity he desired. He enjoyed consulting, but his day-to-day activities consisted of PowerPoint presentations and giving advice – not actually doing things, taking risks. With this realization, he also recognized the possibilities represented in the one-two punch of his background in computer engineering and business. Two years ago, he set his sights on starting his own company, at the same time recognizing the opportunities in Brazil.
Arriving at an Idea
Of course, it is one thing to decide to start a company and another thing to figure out what company to start, and the creation story of GetNinjas is manifold. L’Hotellier recognized in his work the banality of performing the task of research. Likewise, he also noted a market barrier between consumers seeking services and the individuals who perform those services – emergency plumber, design, electricity, you name it.
After examining models in the United States, the prototype Cidade de Bicos was born. And following encounters with executives from Monashees Capital, L’Hotellier pivoted his idea towards GetNinjas and the business model the company maintains today.
Currently, GetNinjas boasts a network of 20,000 professionals for users to search and select, having concentrated a hefty portion of its opening efforts on solidifying a sufficient supply for what is sure to be increasing demand.
The Power of Funding
Thanks to the GetNinjas’ highly successful seed round of funding, it has enjoyed the privilege of an extensive pre-revenue business model that allows the team to refine the platform, receive feedback from users and nurture customer loyalty. Eventually, the platform will charge users per transaction and per quotation or bid.
L’Hotellier explained that there is still a lot to learn about the service marketplace GetNinjas is looking to attack, which largely exists offline in Brazil. The company is counting on the mentoring and networking of its investors for guidance as well as, interestingly, the competition.
Though competition is generally viewed in a negative, or at least problematic, light, L’Hotellier doesn’t see it that way. Brazilian consumers need to be educated on the type of service GetNinjas offers and learn to trust in the idea of hiring providers online. In three years, L’Hotellier projected the prospect of tough competition, but for the moment, GetNinjas benefits from the consumer education similar platforms offer.
One important challenge is to convince users of the safety of the GetNinjas platform. The company ensures that all of the professionals featured on the site are vetted, and feedback from other users is readily available to the public at large. GetNinjas has had to work hard to ensure the safety of its users – something that yellow ads publishers don’t do. The question now is how to demonstrate this to users.
Beyond the issues surrounding consumer education, L’Hotellier admitted that there is still a lot to be learned about the service market in Brazil, especially when it comes to how it will function online. The opportunity is huge – over US$50 billion – but the question is how to penetrate it. GetNinjas continues on its quest to find the secret of the service sector in the country.
That said, the GetNinjas team has its sights set far beyond Brazil. Within a year, the company will expand into Chile and Argentina. Moreover, it is now looking to develop mobile solutions to allow users to hire service providers in just a few simple clicks. GetNinjas will wait a while with its mobile apps, though, as L’Hotellier explained that he prefers to hold out until smartphone technology in Brazil has improved. GetNinjas will also be looking to open up a new round of investments in roughly nine months.
GetNinjas seems to be well on its way to success, especially considering the vote of confidence represented by the economic backing it’s received. That said, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if the company is sold or moves in a different direction. When faced with the question, L’Hotellier was candid. The next step would either be to start a new business or work in the venture capital and private equity field. While L’Hotellier, like most young professionals, was undecided on the path he would take, what was undeniable was the fact that this world of startups and entrepreneurship had sucked him in. One way or the other, L’Hotellier will likely be a mainstay in the Brazilian and world entrepreneurial ecosystem for a long time to come.