Akshat Khatri is the co-founder of ServiceLocale – a local community marketplace that lets you list, discover and book the best of local services that Melbourne has to offer.
For service providers, Service Locale helps to grow revenue, save time and reduce costs by supplementing a static website with an online booking platform, allowing customers to book services easily. For people looking to learn new skills or seek interesting services, it is really easy to discover and book your favourite service provider – from photographers to yoga instructors.
The team comprises three co-founders: Akshat Khatri (AK), Shiraj De Silva, and Tarang Patel (TP). AK is responsible for the platform’s Front End Design and Business Development. Shiraj provides overall strategic goals and direction. TP is responsible for Back End development and integration of the platform.
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Any small thought can be grown into an idea or even a valuable product/service that benefits the world and adds value. My advice is start small, tackle each issue in blocks and collaborate with your business partners.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
We conceived the idea back in early 2013 when we observed that the overall process for obtaining high quality local service was tedious. It involved websites with static price listings, postings and online classifieds and the traditional phone calls which resulted in client-supplier mismatch and lack of follow up. Moreover, businesses like Sensis and Google focus on advertising and leads generation, where only a small proportion of leads convert to an actual transaction. The more recent ‘Request-A-Quote’ models were also limited in terms of going back and forth between both parties, thereby delaying the process.
We decided to make it possible for the entire process, right from sale to transaction, to take place on one single platform. We focus on showcasing and demonstrating the quality of a service provider through their personal booking platform, called a ‘Service Desk’. This tool allows providers to add their profile photo, description, and showcase of items such as audio, video, images, text descriptions and most importantly, their custom packages that customers can purchase with a single click!
Our platform also includes private messaging to further distil the requirements of the task and amend booking details if needed. Lastly, we have a review system that accumulates on the provider’s Service Desk which further builds upon trust and value for the provider within the community.
Please explain your business model (How do you make money?)
At the moment, we do not charge for any transactions performed through our platform as our main goal is to achieve traction on genuine, high quality local services transactions. It is completely free to sign up as a user on our platform. We plan on accepting payments through credit card and Paypal whereby we would charge a small fee, currently 5% for each successful transaction. In other words, we only make money if you do! We would look to potentially offer memberships using a SaaS model but only once our business model has a strong list of users, transactions and a positive brand in the community.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
As mentioned earlier, successful transactions are the key to success for our business so we are currently stepping up on our marketing and sales activities. We have a beta solution currently in production with around 100 users, and a few successful transactions have already been made through our platform.
The next 3 months are crucial as it would further prove that our concept can gain traction within the Australian community with active users, successful transactions and solid reviews from customers. Our aim is to connect demand and supply in the easiest way possible and plan on sharing these milestones through our social media channels.
We have had minimal contact with investors as we are currently focused on gaining traction. We hope to give evidence to investors that 1. people are using our platform through increased signups, and 2. consumers are willing to purchase these bite-sized service offerings from high quality service providers.
How do you make your ideas happen?
In my opinion mind maps are very effective. Any small thought can be grown into an idea or even a valuable product/service that benefits the world and adds value. My advice is start small, tackle each issue in blocks and collaborate with your business partners. Don’t be ashamed of making mistakes, better that you make them now and learn from it, than at a later point where it matters the most in the future.
What does your typical day look like?
My typical day with ServiceLocale is to ensure our platform is actively engaged with our audience. Tasks involve researching articles and sharing them with users, checking out interesting meetups and social networking events to promote our business as well as stimulating demand and supply through online ads and phone calls.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
Well for starters, ServiceLocale is completely bootstrapped by the founding team, with the added hurdle of one of our founders being overseas and working with us remotely. I am confident in saying that given our obstacles and time constraints, we have managed to deliver a working prototype with users and hoping to convert this into a full time venture very soon!
Starting a business in Australia is promising but there are the common issues what entrepreneurs face such as limited access to VCs, smaller market size, and risk-averse nature of the economy in general. However, we have seen some successful Australian businesses, such as Atlassian, that have gained a name worldwide. Also, there are positive initiatives taken by some Australian bodies, such as the Melbourne University Accelerator program, that stimulates idea generation and the entrepreneurial culture in Australia.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Teaching and education – I am a strong advocate for open courses and organisations such as Coursera, and encourage that learning and development is crucial for any individual as it enhances their thought process, decision making and life decisions.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
I think PocketBook is doing an amazing job by categorising user spending habits through their credit card and bank purchases and showcasing these trends in an easy to use interface. It helps individuals in monitoring their spending habits, eventually allowing them to manage their finances effectively.
What about internationally?
I think green energy is the future for every industry, and the environment and I find the work done by Elon Musk through his ventures in Tesla Motors and Solar City is the future of the automobile and energy industries.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
Network effects i.e. providing a transparent eco-system where users can share their honest feedback (online, social media) and providing services that improve the livelihoods of individuals – be it financial apps to manage your debt, health care services, or streamlined services to get the job done in the most effective way possible.
Speaking of affecting social change, we’ve teamed up with Shout for Good to encourage readers to ‘shout a coffee’ to charity by clicking the button below. Is there a particular charity you’d like to support?
World Vision – I like the Sponsor A Child program.
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
We may soon be seeking interns for marketing help on an ad-hoc basis, depending on our financial budget. We would be keen to obtain assistance with marketing and fundraising should that be available.
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?
Any advice and tips on building a two-sided marketplace, which are notoriously difficult to scale.
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
Bar – Rooftap Bar, Swanston St