Tag Archives: Home Advisor

“Hey Alexa!” HomeAdvisor, TalkLocal Are Customizing for Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo represents a new eco-system for commerce, and is arguably, one of the biggest innovations in recent years. By simply voicing a request triggered by a common command, (“Hey, Alexa”), users can tap into hundreds of apps that are being specially designed to link their Web info – from movies and music to medical info. The key to Echo’s success over Apple Siri or Microsoft Cortana is that it is hands-free. The speaker can “hear” across the room and very quickly respond.

Over the next several months, Echo is likely to go even bigger, as the original $179 hands free speaker is now being supplemented by Amazon Tap, a smaller $129 portable speaker. The software is also being built into various devices.

We’ve been wondering how long it would take for it to hook into local services. Last week, HomeAdvisor added its Instant Booking feature, which sends service pros out to a location. CEO Chris Terrill said in a statement that “Smart-home platforms are the next big growth accelerators for local home services, and no other player in our category has the scale or technology to unlock the power of the connected home for homeowners.”

TalkLocal is also being added to the system. That makes total sense to us. TalkLocal is a service that automatically captures user’s calls, transcribes the message for its request elements, and links it to local services as a lead.

Co-founder Manpreet Singh tells us that TalkLocal initially expects a modest trickle of leads – 12 or so – to come in via Echo. “Few people will anticipate their plumbing needs. You’d have to be very lucky to discover us while in the midst of a plumbing problem,” he says. “Over time, more people will discover us.”

Deploying for Echo has been an experience for TalkLocal, which has worked closely with the Echo team in Seattle. Singh notes that TalkLocal has had to adapt to Alexia’s unique linguistic needs. “Designing commands and rules for a voice-enabled AI can be like finding a powerful but very clever trickster genie,” he jokes.

Experimentation has also been required. While TalkLocal provides over 40 service categories, it will launch with just a few. “Each service category is a virtual paradigm shift in terms of relevant terminology and possible linguistic pitfalls,” says Singh. We also want to give ourselves the opportunity to learn more about how users interact with the current skill.”

Singh adds that TalkLocal plans to do beta testing “with a ton of users” before launch. “We need as many users as possible engaging with this new type of technology. We can only anticipate so much about what people will say and do, or what expletive or prank requests they might try to submit,” he says.

TalkLocal’s Manpreet Singh

Angie’s List Finally Drops Its Firewall

Facing pressure from declining membership revenues and a takeover bid from IAC’s Home Advisor, Angie’s List will end its paid membership this summer, allowing it to be in a better position to defend its leading 3.3 Million membership base against increasingly aggressive competitors in the home services referrals space, including Home Advisor, Thumbtack, Amazon, Google, Porch, Serviz and others.

While access to its reviews will be free, the company will offer paid tiers at $24.99 and $99 a year that will provide such options as its Fair Price Guarantee and an Emergency Services Hotline.

Paid memberships accounted for less than 20 percent of company revenues in the last quarter, down from roughly 50 percent of revenues just a few years ago. In a statement, the company said that it had concluded that the paywall “had limited our growth,” which it suggests will come from more advertising, direction transactions and premium services. The company ambitiously said it expects its moves to more than double its revenue to $750 million by 2020. It expects to make $345 million to $355 million in revenue this year.

In a conversation with me just after he came on board in November, CEO Scott Durchslag said he expects to build on the company’s “great base experience with advertising and service providers.” The business will see growth by building platforms with service providers and advertising partners, and becoming more of a marketplace. With a presence in 240 markets and 720 categories, and powerful data signals, “the company is ”poised on the final frontier of ecommerce,” he said.

While the basic service will now be free, Durchslag told me that he sees new opportunities in new premium offerings (which were not yet finalized.) The fair price guarantee strengthens value, while putting the company in a strong position to help direct bigger projects.

Should Angie’s List Merge with IAC’s Home Advisor?

Home Service leads is a hot space, with a new generation of players throwing hundreds of millions of dollars to get into the market(s), including Thumbtack, Google, Amazon, Home Depot, Pro.com, Porch, ReachLocal, Yodle, Serviz, BuildZoom and the list goes on.

The old leaders in the space – IAC’s Home Advisor (ex ServiceMagic) and Angie’s List — presumably remain on top. But they are seeing a lot of pressure as they strive for profits, brand recognition, and to keep their traditional merchant ties and consumer activity.

Indeed, the two companies have evolved their services considerably. Both have made marketplace adjustments to focus on features such as on demand leads, mobile-centric research and ordering, social-driven reviews (and in Home Advisor’s case, service cost estimates.) But there is always a sense that they are under performing, given the market’s growing acceptance of mobile comerce. Wall Street has certainly given Angie’s List a drubbing.

Now TCS Capital Management, a giant New York-based investor that has quietly amassed 9.1. percent of Angie’s List, is seeking to push the companies together in a merger. Would it be a good marriage that leads to new profits, customers and sustainability? Or would it be an unwieldy combination of two struggling companies with very different strengths?

IAC could probably buy Angie’s List at a discount, given its recent struggles. The two large players — ostensibly, direct competitors — could double up on national advertising; scale back duplication in customer service and merchant sales; re-focus the huge marketing costs that both companies have recently been taking on with TV campaigns; and perhaps attract interest down the road from a mega player such as Google that is not deeply rooted in the space.

But are Barry Diller and the IAC team ready to make such an investment? It has seen some positive activity with Home Advisor recently. According to CEO Chris Terrill, who was speaking at BIA/Kelsey’s SMB event a few weeks ago in Denver, the company is on pace to make $350 million this year, and has seen seven quarters of accelerating growth. It also has seen real success with a strategy of focusing on individual verticals, instead of a broad, Yellow Pages like, multi-vertical approach.

But it is an open question whethere IAC is “all in.” While we see the new TV branding campaigns – at last — and the new focus on on demand, we’ve also seen cutbacks overseas. IAC may also be distracted for some time by its just announced efforts to spin off its Match dating properties (Tinder, Match etc).

Angie’s List, meanwhile, derives a great deal of its value not only from its advertising revenue, but from its unique, premium subscription model; its behind the firewall reviews; and its ties to a devoted merchant base. Some services thrive exclusively on their Angie’s List activities.

It might be attractive for Angie’s List to get rid of its huge expenses supporting customer service. But would its appeal hold if the subscription model was dropped and it was made free? And what would be left for loyal customers if the brand was dropped? And would Home Advisor’s aggressive moves into social media and on demand serve the typical Angie’s List subscriber, which generally skews older?

In truth, Angie’s List may not have a choice but to seek a sale to a rival player: it doesn’t have deep pockets, and with so many choices out there, the market might be moving away from the premium subscription model. Advertising has become an increasingly dominant part of the Angie’s List business model. Still, a sale or merger with Home Advisor doesn’t really seem like an ideal marriage to us.


Source: Home Advisor

Home Advisor’s Chris Terrill: Poised for Growth, New Services

Almost two years ago, IAC was in a tough situation. It had a leading services referral business in ServiceMagic, whose main rival was Angie’s List, the paid subscription service. But the service wasn’t growing; had relatively low brand awareness; and seemed to be in danger of getting bypassed by a new crop of social media driven services.

In an episode of creative destruction, IAC, along with new CEO Chris Terrill, made the decision to rename the company to “Home Advisor”; and narrow its focus to home services. Terrill later refocused the company’s primary business model from pay per lead to monthly subscriptions that would include a variety of value added social media and directory services (pay per lead options remain available).

Today, the Home Advisor brand may not be as well known as ServiceMagic at its peak. It also remains under the radar in the business world. That is partly explained by the company not being VC backed or publicly traded as a separate company outside of IAC, says Terrill. “We don’t get written about as much.”

But Terrill says that the company remains one of the largest home service networks, with 80,000 service pros, two million reviews and 30 million home owner requests. It is also growing and profitable, and highly focused on “strategic sales.”

And it is focusing more on the awareness issue, conducting an ambitious TV campaign to reach more home owners. It will be spending even more on TV in coming months, with budgets that are in the “tens of millions” of dollars.

The picture looks bright going forward for Home Advisor and the entire home services space, says Terrill. Over the next couple of years, Terrill says Home Advisor will have a singular focus on growing its U.S. business.

“A lot of small entrants are coming into the space,” such as Pro.com, the service launched by former Amazon leaders (not to mention Amazon’s own entrance into the space.) “We see the local home space heating up,” he says. But Home Advisor remains a leader in the space – competing against players such as Angie’s List, Yelp and Home Depot’s Red Beacon — and continues to add building blocks, Terrill says.

Today, for instance, the company announced the purchase of Mhelpdesk, a 30-person Fairfax, VA-based company that helps service pros manage their businesses, and allows home owners to directly book services – especially over mobile phones. The service has over 10,000 service pros.

Terrill says that Mhelpdesk is a leader in a “rapidly growing space” that will prove increasingly important to the company. “It could not have worked 2,3,4 years ago,” he says, before the popularization of cloud-based mobile devices for SMB service providers. “It’s an important piece of the puzzle.”

Chris Terrill Discusses ServiceMagic’s Rebranding to ‘Home Advisor’

A few years ago, it became apparent that IAC’s ServiceMagic had stalled. While the 1,200 person company has continued to show growth, and had expanded to several international markets, it was clearly vulnerable to new challengers, ranging from Angie’s List and Yelp to new companies, such as Repair.com and RedBeacon (now owned by Home Depot.)

Part of the problem may have been that its assortment of services didn’t reflect how people look for service information. Part of it may have been that after 12 years, it was a tired brand to those in the industry, and unknown to those outside of it.

Now the company has pushed the reset button under the leadership of Chris Terrill, who’d served executive stints at Nutrisystem, Blockbuster and Match.com. Terrill’s been on board for 18 months now, and has extensively studied what he has determined is a “half billion dollar plus opportunity.”

“It’s about more than improvements and home projects,” says Terrill. “It’s all things in the service space.” Looking at the competition, Terrill sees a lot of potential to carve out a unique role for Home Advisor. “There is no go-to, ‘Trip Advisor’-like brand in the homes space,” he notes.

Rebranding is key to much of the company’s next steps. Home Advisor, the name of Microsoft’s real estate portal, was purchased from Microsoft for “less than six figures,” says Terrill. “It was the deal of the century.” The new name does a lot more for the company than the limited idea of “service” and the generic “magic,” he notes. Terrill adds that a major branding campaign, including TV, kicks off in January.

“We didn’t want to stop at the name change,” Terrill emphasizes. “We have completely changed the user experience.” New elements include a project cost guide, which users can use to project the actual cost for projects right down to local zip codes. Another new feature is Home911, which is an emergency service app. There is also content for home remodeling. Users can research it to “get beyond aspirational,” says Terrill.

What isn’t changing very much is the business model, although Terrill says it continues to evolve. There are basically two options. Consumers will still receive several qualified paid leads when they are looking for work. Different pricing is in effect for the standard lead or leads from Home911. What won’t change is that consumers will receive services for free. The company’s surveys showed that 90 percent of consumers would never pay for service information.