Mike Evans | Shifts in Consumer Behavior and Strategies To Mitigate Competition

Mike Evans 10:52

I think, I think one of the things to understand about culture is that it can’t be static, it’s always changing. And if you’re not intentional about the way it’s changing, then it’s changing, without you paying attention to it for the worse, right. And so you know, what, one of the things that we did is, we got everybody together. And we all decided what our values were going to be, we all decided, like, like who we were going to be as a company and what we valued from a from a moral perspective, right? The the core values of the company, I didn’t just make them up. And then by fiat, say, these are the things we value, it was a group effort. And so then everybody owned it going forward. And culture gets more diffuse as a company grows. And as you pass 150 or 200, people, it gets really, really hard for everybody know each other. And so these these sort of cultural 10 touch points that you decide as a team, they become incredibly important. And so we ended up hiring a bunch of foodies, like, there’s a lot of people who were conservative, so a lot of startups to choose from, we attracted people who were really into food, right. And that helped a lot, because that’s what we did, right? And, and over time, you know, we reinforced those ideas by putting them we wrote them down everywhere, they were on the start of almost every almost every presentation we did we put them on the walls, we talked about them, we hired with them. But we also had this understanding that we didn’t want carbon copies of ourselves, we wanted people to challenge our culture and help it grow at the same time. And that helps, it helps us be a cohesive team for a decade, you know, as we grew through 500 people and even 1000 people at the organization, it helped a lot. Obviously, it wasn’t as strong as 1000 people that wasn’t 150. But those initial efforts carried through for a lot longer than you might think they would

John Corcoran 12:38

I want to ask you, Mike about some of the technological or logistical hurdles that you face along the way. I interviewed the one of the co-founders of OpenTable, which I think started around 1999, of course, online reservation system

Mike Evans 12:51

was not Templeton, or was that another?

John Corcoran 12:54

I forget what his name was one. It wasn’t Chuck Templeton, though. One of the it was one of the I think there are three co founders that one, but there was one of their challenges was that back in the day back then, you know, reservations were held in a book paper and ink book that was on a hostess stand that didn’t have a computer on it and didn’t have an internet line and there wasn’t Wi Fi. And so they actually went around San Francisco with computers on the back of a moped and dropping them off and running internet lines, like talk about a crazy logistical challenge in order to just even make their solution possible. For you, the iPhone came along. You know, after your inception, what were some of the bigger logistical or tat, you know, technological hurdles that you had to overcome over the years there?

Mike Evans 13:42

Yeah, I mean, the most obvious one is like, how do you get an online order to a restaurant that doesn’t have a computer? That’s, that’s a challenge.

John Corcoran 13:50

And you started in faxes, right? Yeah, a

Mike Evans 13:53

fax machine. So. So the system I built like, it would fax an order to the restaurant. And then on the bottom of the page, and it’s important that it was on the bottom of the page, there’s a code. And so then a phone call would follow the facts and would say, hey, typing the confirmation code, if the whole fax didn’t print, they didn’t have the code. So they could so would try and fax again, right. Which was great. Except in certain situations, there was like this one fax machine that just would only print half the page. And so we just kept three faxing the orders, like hundreds of times while I was on a camping trip. So that restaurant was not pleased with that. Right? Yeah, to say the least. But that kind of stuff. I mean, you know that that will we’re just gonna use the fax machines then eventually ended up with some of our salespeople, were doing tech support, you know, some of our best salespeople, they would go into a restaurant that that a previous salesperson hadn’t been able to sell. And they’d be like, Hey, how about I come back and like install a phone line and I’ll buy a fax machine for you like, they bill it to the company to grow up and I’m like, we’ll just give you a fax machine. And all we need is to use this phone line that you have We hear that you’re using for one of your phones, and they would literally just do the tech support installation. And that’s how they like this one particular person, I think the reason he got such good commissions is he was willing to go after hours and just install fax machines. And it’s to some degree, it does take that approach, when you’re, when you’re trying to build something from nothing, you kind of have to just do whatever it takes to remove the barriers to growing the business. Yeah,

John Corcoran 15:26

I want to get to Fixer, but which is your current company. But before we get to that, I want to ask a bit about competition, this became a just a crazy competitive space. You know, Uber Eats, and Groupon got on the space, all these different big companies got in the space, there must have been moments where you’re like, Oh, crap, this is it. Like the equivalent of like Microsoft, Microsoft, moving into your space, there. Were there moments like that for you, where you’re just like, Alright, that’s it, we’re done.

Mike Evans 15:53

I think it’s really important to not overreact as competition for entrepreneurs there, there’s already this anxiety, this anxiety, terror, that the 800 pound gorilla is going to come in, and just like, take over your business, and it just doesn’t happen, right? If you’re building a product, that’s great for your customers, then you have to pay attention what your competition is doing. Because if they if they build a better mousetrap, you have to copy it. Right. And so ideally, you’re in a plus position where you’re constantly, you know, I, I talked before about this idea, I didn’t know what I was doing. But really a culture of experimentation and trying things and being willing to quit the things that aren’t working. And to double down on the things that are that like that is actually a really good competitive differentiator a lot more than any individual thing. And so most people don’t know this, because they’re, it’s ancient history. But there was over 100, online ordering companies that came and went, you know, prior to the IPO, quick order and order up and just 100 of the Groupon and LivingSocial. And they all get into Amazon got into competing with us for a moment,

John Corcoran 16:58

talking about heart attack. Yeah.

Mike Evans 17:01

I mean, almost. But then it’s like, you know what, this is the one thing we do, and we’re good at it. So anybody who’s trying a bunch of things, we’re going to beat them. Right. And that’s why I actually wasn’t even worried about Uber Eats. Now. DoorDash was a different story they they came on, but that was after really after I left. And so yeah, the competition did did become an issue. But as long as you’re differentiated, and as long as you’ve got the best product for your customers, competition is not necessarily something you have to worry about. And then there was another, there was two other companies campus food and seamless, who we merged with. And so we grew as a result of competition, because we were willing to go and have these conversations and make the tough decisions to bring the companies together. So it can be a benefit as well.

Roger Hurni 17:45

You know, and we, when I’ve worked with companies that talk about mitigating their competition through just being different, and being better, this is where like my podcast, from personal personal starts to launch on, it gets into that level of personalization, when you can make your product better, and someone can recognize, through that experience, that you understand who I am and what my needs are, and you’re able to solve those for me. That’s where you can really keep competition at bay, no matter how much they try to copy you. Did you have those kinds of conversations with how how can we bring people in? I know you’re not a marketing person, per se. But did you really have any kind of conversations around personalizing the experience and getting that that individual to really recognize how much we understood them? Um, you know, the,

Mike Evans 18:43

the most of the conversations around competition, were around the idea of me, telling people to calm down. was fair enough know what, it’s fine. They’re gonna there’s going to be competition, what what should our response be? Are we going to just be anxious about it? Are we going to act on it? And so let’s decide how we’re going to act. And then once we do that, let’s not think about it anymore. Let’s not dwell on it. And is it? It was easy for me to say because we beat all the competition, right? By the time we got to the IPO, we were by far the largest, largest organization doing online ordering. And so, you know, there’s yes, you differentiate you did, but different differentiation for startups and for businesses is about what do we do that’s going to be hard for somebody else to copy not impossible. And then by the time they copy it, how do we make sure we’re two steps further down the road? Like you can never stop innovating when you’re when you’re in a huge space like that, and it’s huge startup space.

Roger Hurni 19:45

Well, I mean, competition is also validation of the market. You know, when you’re doing something new like you’re doing competition just says, Okay, this, this proves that there’s a market out there and an opportunity for growth, and you can win. Nobody else has to lose In order for you to win, there’s a lot of fish out there.

Mike Evans 20:03

Yeah, I agree with that the there’s, there’s a whole sort of track of like business advice that sort of follows military lines. And there’s this idea of winning or beating the enemy or 16. And it’s I don’t, I don’t agree like, what one of the things that happened as a result of these online ordering, companies that that came into existence is, the number of times people ordered delivery increased by seven or 8x, in the United States. So like, it wasn’t just about market share, it was about actually creating a market and multiple companies actually can be more effective at doing that. In fact, one of the things that really made it a lot easier to sell restaurants was when Groupon started competing. When Groupon came into existence, and they just started hammering the phones, and calling every small business that existed, they opened up the possibility of calling restaurants and selling them over the phone instead of having to walk in the door. And so that competition actually helped us in terms of accelerating our sales.

John Corcoran 21:05

I want to get to walking away after the IPO. So you you kind of achieved the entrepreneurial Nirvana your company grows, its successful, goes public, and then at some point, you decided, this isn’t for me, I want to walk away. What was that decision process? Like? Yeah,

Mike Evans 21:29

I did. I rode off into the sunset, it was great. Everyone should do it. And, and, you know, I’ve had people say things like, Oh, were you tired? Or like, you know, did you did you get enough wealth that you didn’t have to work anymore? Like, you know, what, like, what was it that that? Why did you leave. And I think it’s a really important point to say that, like, the energy we put our things towards, and the effort that we put, put our put our life, our lives towards our time on this earth towards, you need a reason to stay at things, not a reason to leave. And so for me, you know, I really wanted to build a business that helped independent restaurants thrive, especially against chains. And as the company went through its transition to becoming public, it became clear that that was not the path that the most of the people in the company wanted to go go. They wanted, they wanted to get as much scale as possible. And they had other goals than what mine was, which was really sticking to the independent restaurants. And so once those goals diverged, I thought, well, this isn’t really where I want to be putting my energy. So I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go do something else. Also, I’ve always wanted to either do like the Appalachian Trail or a long bike ride. And it turns out that I had back and shoulder issues and a long bike ride is a lot easier to do than long backpacking trip. And so I, I quit, and like rode off into the sunset, it was great, have three months to just decompress, think about what I had accomplished and think about what I was going to do next.

Roger Hurni 22:51

That’s the you know, that’s, that’s the shift. That’s great advice. And I don’t think people recognize in your answer, that it’s not that you actually walked away, you walked towards something else. And, and that’s really what you want. You want to put yourself in that position, everybody wants to be in that position, not to walk away from something, but to have the opportunity walk towards something new.

Mike Evans 23:15

Yeah, I talked about this in the book about the you know, when you if you walk away from something, and you’re not headed, you don’t have any goal in mind, that’s, that’s a lot of times that’s giving up. But when you when you’re walking, when you leave something to go do something else, I call that quitting. But like, in a good way, like it’s a good thing, you know, being having a dual commitment to work really hard, the things that we choose to put our energy towards, but then also, to quit the things that aren’t working. It’s incredibly freeing, it allows us to, to be experimental allows us to take risks, because we know we’re not going to get stuck somewhere just by inertia. Yeah. Yeah.

John Corcoran 23:53

And obviously, you started another company. So on that journey across country, you probably were thinking about your future. At what point did you decide that I’m going to do something else? And I’m fascinated to know, how you decided on it would be Fixer, which is a very, you know, a marketplace business also, but a different format, the way you structured it? Yeah,

Mike Evans 24:14

it’s Yeah, so I, you know, I wrote across the United States on the, on the Adventure Cycling Association’s, TransAm, you know, using their maps to take that path across, across the United States. And, and it gave me a lot of time to think, you know, I wasn’t I wasn’t necessarily like thinking, what am I going to do next? But, you know, as I went through small town, America, and as I went through, you know, individual, rural and suburban towns. You I just saw, like, a lot of vibrancy in those places that had a lot of independent, like, independent. We owned small businesses, you know, the things that weren’t big chains, basically. And I was like, I’m like, There’s something about this. There’s something about the individual was ability to like, create an economic power that like creates vibrancy in the economy. And so as I was thinking about like what I wanted to do next, I wanted to create a company that actually created economic mobility for people. And like, was helpful in the communities that we that we operated in, but then also turned a profit. So I didn’t want to create a nonprofit or you know, not for profit organization, I think they’re great. It’s not my jam. It’s not what I do. You know, businesses are huge levers for social change, whether you want them to be or not. And so being intentional about it is really important. So I created it. So what ended up so that was, all that reflection came on the bike trip. And then what I ended up doing with that is I ended up creating this company called fixer, which is an on demand handy person service. So you can use your phone as a remote control for your life in most areas. And so now you can use it to get somebody to come to your home, you it’s a couple clicks, you scheduled somebody we show up on time, we do great work, we clean up after ourselves. But the difference between this and most marketplaces is that we actually employ all the workers their full time employees with benefits, and we train them from scratch. So we build a whole training program, we build curriculum, we train people how to be handy people, and we created an entry path into the trades that’s gender inclusive, and really easy to access. And so that’s what we’ve created. And so we’re creating this great economic mobility for individuals who want to enter the trades as a career. And they don’t either don’t have to go to trade school for two years, they don’t have to have an uncle that taught them you know, it’s like, they apply to the training program, and we accept them and then they start start making money. It’s it’s a great for everyone, right? So that’s the business I created this time. It I expect it to be, I expected to end up being larger than GrubHub is.

Roger Hurni 26:39

So that was really my follow up question. Because you with GrubHub, you had a place that you wanted to go for all these independent restaurants you got there. And then you saw oh, here’s this other opportunity. It was it was right across America. What does done for you look like with Fixer?

Mike Evans 27:02

So the point at which I feel like I’ll be able to be like this is it this is the legacy I wanted to build is when we have 40 50,000 trades people working at the company, and 10 to 15,000 of them every year go on to more lucrative trades like being electricians or plumbers, or Masons or roofers, or whatever the case is, you know, this is like a stepping stone to get into the trades. And then we hire and train another 10 to 15,000 people to like, come into the trades and stay with us for a few years. And it’s a bit of a revolving door, but like in a positive way we’re creating this entry path. But then, but then you know what comes out of it, it’s just enough people to do the work because the supply of skilled trades, people United States is simply insufficient relative to the demand, and the problem is getting worse. And so this is what I want to create, by the way, that is a highly profitable activity that I just described. I’m not it’s it is both good for the communities we serve. But it also generates a lot of a lot of dollars for the owners of the company. By the way, all of the employees are part owners of the company. So there’s equity for every every trades person that’s in the company. And so they it’s beneficial to them too. And so that, like that’s what I’m trying to create, I’m not I made enough money to to be comfortable. This is about like, what do you do with it? Like, okay, that’s great, I can’t take it with me. I’m gonna live another 40 50 years, and what am I going to do but make the world a better place while I’m here, right. And so that’s what I’m trying to accomplish. I don’t know that I’ll ever actually retire, I’ll probably just keep going until, until I can’t anymore. But that’s that’s this is the plan is to do it with this business. Right now.

John Corcoran 28:38

I’m fascinated by entrepreneurs who start in a later company that’s kind of in many ways a reaction to the previous company. So I’ll give you an example. A friend of mine, Adam Zbar, is one of the co-founders of Sunbasket, also in the food space. They do organic meal delivery. And you think about all the different challenges that it had logistics, perishable food, you know, tech problems, all that kind of stuff. And then his next company was completely digital online money, payments across borders, like and I thought it was so fun to make fun of them. Because it’s like so different. And it just overcome all those challenges. So for you, as you’re thinking of structuring this, you’ve got all the employees training, you didn’t have to do that you could have done independent contractors. What are some ways in which you decided deliberately to structure this as a business that was different from the previous one?

Mike Evans 29:23

Yeah, I think I think what I learned in the first one was, you know, how to do marketing, how to how to run a large organization and how to do financing. There’s like a bunch of things that I was able to take with me, but then with this business, you know, there are marketplaces that exists in the trade space, thumbtack, Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, Yelp, you know, they all help with these kinds of things. But if there aren’t enough tradespeople to actually do the work, then then I couldn’t have created a business that was just contractors like there, I had to somehow train people from scratch. And so what I really did is I was I was taking the social benefit that created the first company and then trying to double down on that concept make a business even more socially beneficial. But then I picked like the hardest business model, I probably could have could have thought of, like w two employees were were at risk, if they’re idle, like in terms of their we pay them regardless of whether or not we have the jobs. And so we’re at risk, we have to keep them busy. It’s our job to be effective with our marketing tactics. And that risk is not on the tradespeople. And there’s the technology and there’s the we had to become educators, which was the thing I’d never had done before.

Roger Hurni 30:30

But I thought

John Corcoran 30:32

as simple as just a meal, right? Yeah, to educate people.

Mike Evans 30:34

Yeah. Yeah. But I also had an advantage because I built this business for I had the capital from the previous exit, I knew investors already. And so, you know, to my mind, I was like, great, I want to dive in on a really hard business that’s like operationally, operationally just really challenging. Because if we can figure it out, then we’re so differentiated than it from everyone else in the market that’s take years or decades for somebody to catch up to us. And I have the advantage of, I can do the hard thing, because I’ve done I’ve done a hard thing already. And I have the resources and the people to do it. So to some degree, it was like, challenge accepted. But what’s the next thing like what’s the harder thing I can do? That’s even more impactful?

John Corcoran 31:12

Cut to 15 minutes later? What did I do?

Mike Evans 31:15

Yeah, and what’s the line from Arrested Development? I made a terrible mistake. No, I have felt like that, but only like one day out of five the other four

John Corcoran 31:26

times no big deal. Yeah.

Roger Hurni 31:29

Yeah, you know, the, when you get into a pattern of thinking, it becomes easier to think, through problems, you’ve, you’ve now had two opportunities to invent and prove broken customer experiences. And it may not be you, but do you see other areas out there that need that level of attention? Whether you’re involved or not? Yeah,

Mike Evans 31:56

airlines and health care. I mean, you know, with airlines, you can blame anything on security or safety. And therefore you don’t have to drive a good customer experience, which I think is, which is chicken way out. Like I like Virgin and Virgin Airlines is trying to do this, where they where they tried to create a good customer experience, in spite of the security or safety challenges in the industry. And then anything related to health care, you know, when when you go into an office, it’s very clear that the most important thing is the doctor’s time, not yours, and you’re not a customer, you’re, you’re simply you just have to be thankful that you can pay a fortune for a bad experience. And you have to you don’t have any other choice.

Roger Hurni 32:35

Well, hopefully, hopefully, there’s some other you know, rich gazillionaires out there who recognize that problem as you do and can pick up the baton since you’re already working on fixer.

Mike Evans 32:45

Yeah, healthcare, like I don’t know, too hard. I’m sorry. I know hard like I can, I can try and reboot trade education, the United States in a gender inclusive way. But health care, that’s a beast, I don’t even want to touch with a 10 foot pole. Like I had no idea how you would go about solving those problems.

John Corcoran 33:01

Yeah, absolutely. I want to move on. Before we run out of time, Hangry, the book, tell us about what inspired you to put all your time into writing a book while building a startup?

Mike Evans 33:13

Yeah, like I said, maybe it’s a terrible mistake, but actually, I really loved it. Yeah, the whole point of the book is this that. That being intentional about about one’s personal definition of success is incredibly important, because we affect those people that are around us in lots of ways. And if you’re in a startup, that successful you effects, you can affect the whole effect the whole society. And so I sort of explore what it’s like to emotionally go through what what it is like to just start something because I wanted a pizza and then suddenly to be, you know, be driving 60 70% of the business for 60,000 70,000 restaurants in the United States. And what the responsibility that comes with that, and how that changes a person personally, and so my hope with the book is that 10 people will change their minds about am I going to try and be thoughtful and intentional and proactive about the impact that I’m creating as I go through my work life, whether that’s starting a startup or being a doctor, or whatever the case is, if I can influence 10 people to like be intentional about that, then the book will be a success. And so that’s why I wrote it. Okay, great.

John Corcoran 34:26

And then the also the kind of the, the mission for you is kind of inspire people to have that courage to walk away even if people say you’re crazy. But if you decide that it’s just not your passion is not for you anymore, to be willing to go do something new,

Mike Evans 34:46

right? Absolutely. I think inertia, inertia and fear of rejection, keep us from a lot of really great stuff that will both make us happy and make the world around us a better place and so I’m very, I’m very pro, like, quit the thing that isn’t working and go try something new, even if it’s risky. I mean that. Obviously, I can say that because it worked out for me. But like, but when I when I did quit my job like I was I had a check for 140 bucks from that first restaurant when I quit my I quit my job and and when it certainly paid off, right, and so I, I think, I think the idea of like being risk tolerant, as we think about, like, what it is we could do with our lives leads towards a lot of satisfaction and happiness.

John Corcoran 35:35

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I think it was amazing what you built, I delivered ribs in college, in high school and college, going around delivering ribs and parking, double parking, and running inside and all that kind of stuff. And to think back that you made this phenomenal business, in an area that just, you know, at the time seems so disorganized, like take these different restaurants pattern together is truly amazing. Roger has a great question. Roger, I want you to

Mike Evans 36:02

ask it. Well, the

Roger Hurni 36:04

I’ve end my podcast with an advice question, because people give advice all the time. You’ve given amazing advice during this conversation, that whether people realize it or not, there are great lessons there. Everyone’s always telling me get advice, give advice. I always ask what’s the worst advice you’ve ever gotten? Because that’s a learning opportunity as well. Yeah,

Mike Evans 36:31

I’ve gotten a lot of bad advice, a lot of bad advice. And, and I literally and I literally say this in the book, that it is really important, when you get bad advice to say thank you to not correct to the person who’s giving you bad advice. Because for me, a lot of times I would be in the sort of powerful position of the power dynamic and and someone is, is taking a risk and stepping outside of their comfort zone, to tell me something that they think will be helpful to me. And whether they’re right or wrong, the appropriate response for me is, is gratitude and, and to experience that with a like level of grace, instead of being a cranky asshole. Which is, which is kind of what I can be a lot of times, and so. And so I don’t, because of that framework, I literally can’t give you a piece of bad advice, because I appreciate the effort in which it was given to me. And so my piece of my piece of positive advice is don’t jump down the throat of people who give you advice. Even if it’s even if it’s wrong, especially if it’s wrong. You just say thank you. Right. So anyway, that’s my opinion on advice. And I try not to give too much myself. Although I literally wrote a book so I’m guessing

Roger Hurni 37:48

that was Nicely played you turn to eternity. What’s the worst advice into good advice again, yet?

Mike Evans 37:55

It’s like that question in an interview like what’s your? What’s your the worst quality about yourself that you’re supposed to answer positively instead? But I really mean this. I didn’t prep that that response to that question.

John Corcoran 38:07

Well, the book is Hangry: A Startup Journey. Fixer.com is the company anywhere else people should go to learn more about you, Mike or connect with you or get check out the book?

Mike Evans 38:17

Yeah, I would say a great place to get the book is just on Audible. I did the I actually recorded the the audiobook of it. And then if you’re interested in this bike ride thing, check out adventure cycling, the Adventure cycling Association. That’s the other thing I’d say is is if you have any inkling to sort of go on an adventure like that they’re the place to start.

John Corcoran 38:37

I know Roger, and I will definitely be checking that out. So thanks for putting in that plug, Mike. Mike, thank you so much.

Mike Evans 38:43

Thanks for having me.

Outro 38:44

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at smartbusinessrevolution.com. And while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast.