Zaask is a service marketplace, helping consumers easily find services online. I talked with their CEO, Luís Pedro Martins, to find out more about the company, their plans and the future.
In a nutshell, what is Zaask and how did the idea come about?
At the time I finished my MBA, when I was working in a telecommunications company – which obliged me to travel regularly – I realized that it was very difficult to get local services in the short time I spent in Lisbon and that there should exist a single place where anyone could do it easily and quickly.
In this way, I have finally merged the characteristics of my professional path to found a business that is, in my view, indispensable today in any developed society. Zaask is thus a local service marketplace with a value proposition both for demand (end customers) and for supply (micro and small local service companies).
What have you learned in the years the company has so far?
Being an entrepreneur is a difficult task and it is necessary to have a certain profile to withstand all the difficulties that happen along the route that is, summarily, putting a business standing. It is a constant game of obstacle and overcoming. It is the obstacles that make us learn and grow but also make us go through bad times. We had several. From the fact that we realized that the unemployed people (our initial focus on the supply side) did not want to have clients, but a job, until our initial model (win commission), that worked well for everyone except for us.
Setting up a business from scratch is a path full of learning, obstacles and challenges. In the case of Zaask and any other marketplace, one of the major challenges has been to achieve a balance without much oscillation between supply and demand. If, on the one hand, there are many registered professionals but the number of applications is too small, those professionals will stop using the platform sooner or later. The same will happen with customers who post requests for budgets and do not have any professionals to meet their needs. During these five years, one of the learning has been to know how to make this balance effectively.
Another aspect that I emphasize in terms of learning throughout Zaask’s life is the adaptability that the team has had over time, whether due to external (market) or internal changes. To do this, we must be able to work cooperatively in a team and with flexibility and at the same time be able to develop projects and their implementation in a planned, organized and analyzed way.
Of course many actions involve a certain risk that must be clearly assumed, but if it were all easy it was not so funny… So far we have managed to overcome the challenges and that is the reason for our success. May the next come!
What are the main advantages for the final user of your service?
For consumers (customers), they can – through Zaask – for free and in a few hours, collect multiple budgets from qualified professionals available to perform the service when and where they need it. In this way, the client can access the profile of the professionals that contains enough information to guarantee the maximum confidence, such as the history of evaluations of real customers and information verified by Zaask, such as professional license, liability insurance, data identification, driving license, address, NIF or criminal record. Gathering all this information without Zaask was a process that could take weeks and even cost some money.
I give you an example. How many of us, when we need to paint the house, solve an electrical problem, or even find a photographer for a company event, did not we have to spend time looking for who could do this job for us? And the problem does not end here. Once we have some names and contacts, we have to start contacting you for proposals, which are not always answered in a timely manner. If we want to know the prices and proposals of different companies, it will take exponentially more time.
Finally, there we have the proposals but then we have to subject ourselves to the availability of the professional to carry out the service. However, this is quite limited because it usually works on its own and can not serve many customers at the same time. Often, for fear of losing customers, there is a tendency for overbooking, which will make the experience even more unpleasant. In conclusion, the experience of millions of people, every day, who need local services is highly frustrating. This is the problem we solve on the client side.
How can the platform help local businesses?
On the local business side, service professionals can have a greater focus on their core business without having to worry and waste time using complex marketing tools to get new customers. Every day, Zaask ships hundreds of new customers with real needs with all the detailed information of what the service is, where and when. Then, professionals only respond to the opportunities they want and are available and only pay for them, so they do not have to pay for clicks or leads that they do not want or can not respond to.
For example, a yoga teacher, a painter or a lawyer have one thing in common: they are not experts at raising new clients and often rely only on word of mouth. Although effective, word of mouth can often be limited, particularly for those who want to grow their business. However, if they need to raise more customers they will have to spend time and money. Zaask enables them to increase their business volume effectively without having to waste time and money finding customers. Every day we send hundreds of customers looking for services in specific geographical areas, with a match with professionals from these regions who only respond to those who want and have availability without having to spend money on clients that can not respond.
You are present in Portugal and Spain. Are there plans to expand?
At this moment we are present in more than 20 cities in Portugal and Spain. In terms of numbers and taking into account that we have been operating in Portugal for 5 years, this market continues to be the one with the highest expression in the Zaask universe. In Spain, on the other hand, growth has been exponential, even as it is a country with much greater dimension and, consequently, demand. In the last 18 months, we have seen customer orders growing at 30% in this country. In total, more than 300 thousand users have already used the platform.
At the moment, we are more focused on making Zaask a brand recognized by the general public in Portugal and Spain than properly growing in other markets. We have, however, a big bet on product development, which gives us competitive advantages and that will facilitate our growth in other markets when this happens.
How do the several investment rounds help you develop?
Zaask is today the result of the daily work of all those involved, a self-sustaining and profit-making startup. What the investment rounds have allowed us to do is to implement faster – in terms of both quality and quantity – the work we have been doing.
What’s your take on the Portuguese startup scene?
The Portuguese startups ecosystem is flourishing based on real cases and an unequivocal ability to attract talent, much fruit of the conditions we all know that Portugal offers to all who come here to live, such as climate, location, gastronomy, people, etc. This, coupled with the ease of communication new computing technologies provide, means that we have many hubs and startups today with a strong relationship with entrepreneurs, investors, partners and potential talent.
However, as they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” that is, it must be understood that a powerful ecosystem is not created in a few years. It takes time and resilience. Know how to handle your failures and learn. The world’s greatest ecosystems have been around for decades. In our case, only 5 years have passed… I hope this does not discourage those who have supported the national ecosystem… we will see.
What would you like to have known when you started?
I would like to know from the outset the challenges of building and how you can scale a marketplace, which is perhaps the most difficult things on the internet. Unfortunately, here in Portugal there aren’t many marketplaces, so there were few people to turn to at the national level. Therefore, I would like to have noticed the importance of contacting and bringing to the project people with these skills.
Find out more about Zaask at https://www.zaask.pt/
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