About My 11-year Old Startup That Hasn’t Launched Yet

Move Fast and Break Things?

First, let me make clear, ironically I’m actually a very big believer of the old Facebook mantra for developers — move fast and break things. And I think startups should launch early and iterate — better to launch too early than too late.

A Little Background

I graduated from the University of Virginia in 1997 and the University of Virginia Law School in 2000. I am a lawyer by training.

The first time I truly thought about starting my own company was in 2005. I thought at the time that there had to be a better way than the old-fashioned word-of-mouth method to connect clients with professionals for high-skilled work. A way that harnessed the power of the Internet to create a more efficient market for services.


The Traditional Online Professional Marketplace Model

Sure, there were (and still are) countless online marketplaces connecting service providers with those in need of a service. However, most of these marketplaces were (and still are) generally designed in one of two manners.

  1. The closed system — one type of “marketplace” is, in fact, a closed system where the website controls the access to professionals and/or projects— not really a marketplace harnessing the power and efficiency of the Internet.
  2. The low-end marketplace — the marketplace uses a system whereby a buyer of services posts a project for service providers to bid on. Bidding low is rewarded. In addition, these systems generally don’t provide a useful method for potential clients to easily compare service providers on the basis of expected performance. As a result, under this marketplace model, the cheapest service providers generally win the gig. This works fine for certain low-skilled, commoditized services (although this model is not even ideal for all of these types of gigs). Then, of course, there is also Fiverr for very low-level commoditized set price services offered by service providers.

Needless to say, these existing models do not provide an ideal marketplace for connecting clients with professionals that offer the type of high-skill, value-added work that many professionals in the U.S. offer. As a result, 11 years ago (and even today), most connections for high-skilled work were made through inefficient personal referrals. Even in the Internet Age.


HireTrade

So in 2005, I founded HireTrade, a company that attempted to create a marketplace connecting professionals and clients on high-end work (actually, the company at various times had other names, including IndependLance and WageScore). However, there were a number of problems with my approach back then, including the fact that I hadn’t quite nailed down a better model to connect professionals and clients, harnessing the power of the Internet. Also, I didn’t know how to code!

I hired several groups of outside development shops to help me build a website. Eventually, a site was launched using a system similar to that of most sites — post a project and have professionals offer to work on the project, but with a unique ratings system to better compare service providers.

Nevertheless, not knowing how to code, and not having totally nailed down the business model, I burned through money with very little to show for it, other than the lessons I learned (which, in fact, proved to be very valuable). The point of not knowing how to code cannot be overstated — among other disadvantages, even for minor text changes on pages, I had to contact the developers and have them spend their time (and my money) to have them make edits.

Perhaps more importantly, I didn’t have a good sense of how the site was designed and developed from a programmer’s perspective, which made it hard for me to communicate exactly what I wanted. And I did not have a good grasp on really how hard and time-consuming the coding would be to implement the desired functionality. I finally put HireTrade out of its misery in 2008.


Learning to Code and ProfectMarket

After HireTrade, I started a family (complete with 3 little munchkins), and worked as a lawyer. All the while the inner geek in me was still interested in the tech industry.

At the same time, the proliferation of MOOCs and the myriad of other free (or, even when not free, very cheap) online coding courses made it far less costly for anyone to learn how to code. And the proliferation of frameworks made learning to code easier.

So, beginning in 2013, I decided to learn Python and Django on my own, working through books on Python and Django and countless online tutorials and classes on nights and weekends. And, when I felt I knew just enough coding to be dangerous, in my spare time I started building my own website connecting professionals and clients.

In 2014, I launched a beta version of my new website, ProfectMarket, built entirely by me. ProfectMarket used a unique peer and expert ratings system to recommend professionals for projects. ProfectMarket was a side project, launched out of 1776, the startup incubator in Washington, DC. Besides being invaluable to learn the perspective of a coder, it was extremely rewarding to do all the development work on my own this time.


A Better Marketplace for Services

Then, in the fall of 2014, several months after the launch of ProfectMarket, which was starting to get some traction, I had the proverbial “a-ha!” moment. I finally realized the answer to the problem I had been trying to solve for 9 years at that point. What if, instead of professionals bidding on gigs, consumers bid to hire professionals? And what if what was being bid upon by a consumer was a block of the professional’s time?

This system has a number of advantages, including working better for high-skilled work, standardizing what is being bid upon (discrete blocks of time) to more easily allow competing bids, permitting the reservation of a block of time on a professional’s calendar when a bid is accepted, and providing for a standardized unit of performance (time) for purposes of measuring both output and ratings.

These are just some of the advantages of the new system for which I filed several provisional patent applications beginning in the fall of 2014, and ultimately a nonprovisional patent application in the fall of 2015. In addition, combined with a unique ratings system and other unique aspects of the patent-pending system (not all of which I’ll disclose at this time), I knew that I was on to something unique and powerful. Something that had never been created before (recognizing that there have been sites in the past, such as JobPic, that used a system for professionals to auction off their services, but which were otherwise fundamentally very different from this new system).


Hire.Bid Beta v1

So, in addition to working on the patent applications, in the fall of 2014, I went back to work coding the new website, now called Hire.Bid, still based out of 1776. The lessons and coding skills learned building ProfectMarket were invaluable in coding Hire.Bid. The beta version of Hire.Bid launched in winter 2014–2015 and was well received.

For example, even this very limited-functionality, amateurly-coded version of Hire.Bid made it on Product Hunt and the first page of Hacker News. Honestly, it was a POS, although the underlying outlines of the system were there and, once again, the experience of coding, launching, and testing this version of the site proved invaluable.

In addition, users loved the concept behind the site and were very patient with bearing with us through our growing pains, and these users have told me how eager they are to use the new site.

And industry experts such as prominent attorney and legal blogger, Carolyn Elefant, recognized the potential power of Hire.Bid — Convert Time and Expertise Into Money With Hire.Bid. As stated by Ms. Elefant:

So how is Hire.bid different from the myriad of on demand, auction or legal consults on the spot platforms cropping up ever day? Well, for starters, Hire.bid though started by a lawyer isn’t limited to lawyers — so you can find web developers, financial analysts, graphic designers and other professionals. Second, service providers set the price for their services rather than the platform setting rates or extracting discounts.
But in my view, the Hire.bid’s unique selling proposition is that it facilitates the buying and selling of discrete blocks of time, and in so doing, removes the transaction costs to these micro-projects. For example, I frequently field calls from community organizers, municipal officials or even other attorneys who want information on how the FERC pipeline certificate process works. Many of these callers are willing to pay a few hundred dollars for my insight — yet by the time I draft a retainer agreement, send an invoice and take the call, it’s almost not worth it so instead, I wind up giving away advice for free. A system like Hire.bid removes those transaction costs (at least I think it does by processing fees through the site). I could include the scope work in the description of services, a customer would click and I’d be paid. Plus, I could offer the time in blocks that doesn’t interrupt my day (which is also an added cost).

In addition to providing a superior marketplace for in-demand professionals, Hire.Bid has the potential to work much better than existing online marketplaces for many other types of gigs — for example, on-demand work. If you are short-staffed and you need a few extra hands to help at the last minute with a landscaping gig, a catering gig, a contracting gig, a moving gig, etc., the Hire.Bid model will, in many cases, work better than other online marketplace models.

And, of course, it also has the potential to work well for individuals who have full-time jobs and just want to make some extra money with their free time on nights and weekends.


The New Hire.Bid

Nevertheless, in early 2015, I realized that the site needed a ton of work from both a design and development/functionality perspective to truly be more closely aligned to my ultimate vision. For example, the design needed to incorporate the use of actual calendar views for bidding on available time slots on a professional’s calendar which is, after all, a key component of the Hire.Bid model. And I realized at that point, after launching the initial version on my own, that it made sense to explore hiring some outside help to truly realize my vision for Hire.Bid, rather than attempting to code it all on my own.

However, armed with all the knowledge and coding skills that I had learned, this was a far different process than when I was blindly having others build my website almost 10 years earlier.

My being more knowledgeable from a coding perspective has enabled the relationship between me and Josh and his team to be more collaborative and more like we truly are a single team. And, not to mention, Josh and his team are great, and very good about client feedback and fostering a collaborative environment even with their non-technical clients. So, for the past year we have worked together to develop a brand new Hire.Bid from the ground up. And I’m happy to say it is very close to launching.

So, while it has taken 11 years to get to this point, the journey has been worthwhile and the company never would have reached this point if all the struggles that occurred over the past 11 years hadn’t happened — from the initial versions in 2005, the many iterations, the learning from failure, the changes in technology making it easier to learn to code and build a website, the launching of ProfectMarket, the pivot to Hire.Bid, the launch of the beta version of Hire.Bid, the hiring of Chop Dawg to truly help me realize my vision for Hire.Bid, to now.

And by bootstrapping and not seeking outside funding throughout the long process, and by doing many of the recent iterations on my own, I was able to withstand all the learning and iterating.

And while it has been 11 years, the journey is, in fact, just beginning. We are excited to show the world the new Hire.Bid very soon — it is launching in early 2017. If you are interested, feel free to join the many others that have signed up on Hire.Bid to be notified of our upcoming launch.

Post Script: While Chop Dawg did deliver a product in late January 2017 (after 2 years, and more than a year behind schedule), it was not in a launchable state, was very unpolished, lacked some basic things, and didn’t look like a product that was worked on for so long.

Here is a screenshot of the product delivered in late January 2017:

Hire.Bid in late January 2017

Despite that, we launched Hire.Bid 2.0 on Product Hunt in late January 2017 and made the top 10 list for the day. Over the last few months, I’ve personally rewritten thousands of lines of CSS, HTML, PHP, and JavaScript code so that the website is in much better shape, although we continue to constantly improve the site. Stay tuned for a major new re-launch coming up in early May 2017.


About Neil Sandhu: Founder and CEO of Hire.Bid, based out of the Washington, DC startup incubator 1776. Follow me on Twitter @neilsandhu and the company @hirebid. And feel free to email me at neil@hire.bid.

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