Passion for technology fires up business idea

Marcus Lim always had an interest in technology, but it wasn’t until he moved out and had to renovate his new apartment that he came up with a way to turn that interest into a business.

Lim started Pick A Quote, a marketplace linking tradespeople with customers, with a friend from university, and after rebranding to Oneflare, the company has gone from strength to strength.

Dynamic Business had a chat to Lim about what he’s learned so far in business.

How did you come up with the idea for the business?

Throughout the years as I went through high school and uni, I had ideas in terms of what kind of business to start but it never really eventuated until the end of uni in 2009, where I met my co-founder. Adam and I had a lot of ideas in terms of what we should start, and he was a good sounding board.

At the time I was also renovating my apartment, and a lot of the trade services I’d seen done before had been organised by my parents, but when I moved out I needed to get that done by myself, which is where I had the issue of trying to find someone to get stuff done around my house. I had this issue and then thought it would be great if there was a marketplace that creates efficiency when it comes to hiring local service providers. At the time I didn’t know where to start or who to be looking for when it came to finding a tradesperson. What was out there was the Yellow Pages, or just business directory listings. I mentioned in to Adam, the idea stuck, and we decided to start building Pick A Quote.

What prompted the change in direction to Oneflare?

There were a few things. The vision was that we wanted to cover all local services and the word ‘quote’ was synonymous with trades, so we wanted to move away from that. We thought, if we wanted to get into dog grooming – which we are in the moment – the word ‘quote’ isn’t really used in that context, as it’s more to do with appointments or bookings. It’s also because the name was very cumbersome and wasn’t very easy to remember. We looked at all the big internet company names, like Facebook and YouTube, and saw that a lot of them are two words, two syllables, so we wanted that too.

What was building a team like in the early days out of university?

It was really tricky. We originally hired programmers out of university, I remember one was here in Sydney and one was in Brisbane. With the one in Brisbane it was all phone conversations, which was very difficult. I also had to outsource a lot of programming to Singapore as well, which was quite challenging because there was no face to face. That was the hardest part, building the platform and coordinating everyone to do that.

What other challenges have you faced in developing Oneflare?

One of the major challenges was raising capital. The issue with that is it requires you to do a lot of selling and convincing, and I felt to a certain extent I did my best, but it’s very difficult to convince someone to part with a decent amount of money, especially if they’re not extremely wealthy, on an idea they’re not sure will really work. Going to investors was extremely tough. Australian investors really look for traction in your product before putting any money in, and it’s difficult to get there. That was the main challenge.

How did Oneflare gain traction?

After we managed to raise a very small amount of seed money, we had to experiment with what kind of marketing channel would work for us in acquiring users cheaply and effectively. We tried all sorts like radio, some flyers, we tried coffee cups, and then we looked at the online channels like SEO (search engine optimisation) and SEM (search engine marketing). SEM was great in terms of acquiring users because you could target certain keywords and pull the relevant users to your site, then it’s about converting them, and that’s up to the development team. What worked for us at the start with SEO to get us to where we are was being able to target the right keywords at a scalable manner, because it allowed us to get free traffic from Google, and it allowed us to get continued free traffic. That allowed us to monetise the traffic as people requested a job, which meant we could start charging businesses and invest it back into the business and into more SEO.

What lies ahead for the business?

One of our main goals is continuing organic traffic growth, to get as many users and businesses on board for the services we provide. The second thing is to create a market-leading product. We do have competitors out there, but we believe we have the opportunity to build a better product than they do. Not to say that we haven’t already, but we want to take it to the level where we’re clearly defining the market in terms of a platform for local services. The third thing is to grow revenue, so we can continue to sustain our business.

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