service-direct-team-2011
April 09, 2018 by Raquel Phillips

The History of Service Direct, As Told By The Co-Founders

 Service Direct was founded in 2006 by four friends who met in grade school and have now built a successful bootstrapped company that is thriving. Service Direct has such an interesting past, that we decided to really learn about the history of the company directly from the founders themselves.

 

Meet The Co-Founders

Service Direct CoFounders

 

Q: How did the four of you meet?

A: Matt Buchanan

We met in grade school. Mike ate the same microwaved ham and cheese sandwich for lunch every day, Brian wore knock-off Doc Martin's called Dox, and John came along freshman year of High School and was maybe 5'2" at the time... so we mercilessly picked on him. Now he’s taller than all of us. I had a retainer with a fake tooth on it. We were pretty awesome!

A: John Turpin

The four of us grew up together and attended a math and science school that was small, challenging and competitive. It was all about hard work, self-sufficiency and preparing kids for the challenging education ahead of them. Looking back now, it was a big influencer in lighting the entrepreneurial spark in all of us. We went our separate ways for college. Matt went to Vanderbilt. Mike got his MBA from Stanford. Brian got his MBA and law degree from Texas Tech. I got an economics degree from Rice. We all ended up with a wide range of skill sets that were complimentary.

 

Q: When was the idea of Service Direct first born?

A: Matt Buchanan

When we started, we really didn't have a fully flushed out idea of what we wanted to do. We knew the internet was transforming the way business was done, but the adoption rates were still pretty low in certain industries. We decided to pick an industry where we knew the internet could help people who needed something connect with businesses who could provide that something. We saw a gap when it came to digital marketing for local service businesses, in particular, home and professional services.

We knew homeowners were looking online for service professionals, but many of the service providers hadn't figured out how to effectively get in front of those people online. That was the problem we thought we could fix, and the opportunity we saw. Hence why we initially named the business Contractor Marketing Pros. Last year we rebranded to Service Direct because we expanded into new verticals that also needed this kind of help with their marketing, like small law firms and CPAs.

 

Q: How did you go about starting the business?

A: Matt Buchanan

We started buying local web sites and driving search traffic to them. Once they were getting traffic, we tried to figure out how to monetize that traffic. We tried a lot of different things at first. For example, we tried getting the website to rank on the first page of Google, and then renting out that placement to a contractor that could service customers that visited the site. Then we tried putting lead capture forms on the sites and when a lead would come in, we would reach out to a few service providers to see if they wanted to pay for the lead.

We weren't seeing much success with our initial efforts, because that’s really what everyone else was doing. We needed a point of differentiation, so we decided to just start asking service providers what they wanted.

Over and over our clients kept saying 'if you could just make my phone ring with a customer, I would pay you for that.' That made a lot of sense to us, so that's what we did.

A: Mike Dorsey

At the time, the yellow pages was THE way that people found service providers, and we knew that was soon going to be the way of the past. So, we pulled out all of the full-page ads in the yellow pages and put them all up on our wall. We decided to start categorizing them by the industries that bought a lot of double-page ads, and we started seeing if we could build websites for those service providers. Once we decided that we would start by helping home service contractors, we literally started calling them and saying “Hey, we are good with the Internet. We can build you websites, would you like that? Would you pay for that?”

Even though we were cold calling random companies out of the phone book, some small percentage of them took us up on the offer. Some of them wanted graphic design, others wanted us to build a website that they could manage, others wanted us to do search engine optimization to their existing websites, and finally, we learned that at the end of the day, each business said, “I’d pay you if you could just get me good leads.” So, we built a bunch of websites dedicated entirely to getting homeowners that need a service to connect directly with our clients - and it worked! That was the real beginning.

 

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges?

A: Brian Abernethy

Being young, and bootstrapped. We were really young, and we knew it would be hard, but nothing can really prepare you for burning all the ships and starting a business. The biggest challenge was not having a lot of capital to start the businesses. But if I had to do it again, I’d do it the same way because it forced us to focus on what was monetizable by really listening to our clients needs.

A. Matt Buchanan

Not letting the fear and doubt creep in. In the early days, when you truly have no idea what you are doing or if it will work, you spend virtually all of your time making mistakes. It's just a natural part of the process, but it's an absolute beating. The biggest challenge for me was being able to take all of the self-doubt and fear of failure that creeps in and have those negatives help you stay focused. It can either paralyze you or make you more resolved to get better at what you're doing. Fortunately we were able to focus and had some early wins that helped us realize we could make some money with this and we kept pushing and learning from our mistakes.

A: Mike Dorsey

Building the technology our service offering needed. In the early days, it was really tough to build all of the software that we needed to manage all of the websites for all of our clients (hundreds) and to track all of the SEM campaigns we were doing on all of them - around the clock.

 

Q: What has been the best part about starting this business?

A: Brian Abernethy

Our growth, and seeing the opportunity that lies ahead. We made the Inc 5000 of fastest growing small businesses in the country for the past two years. We’re certainly in growth stage right now and while it’s challenging, it’s unbelievably exciting. We’re growing our client base, we’re hiring more people, and we’re expanding into new verticals like legal, financial and other professional services. And, we’ve had to really grow professionally through this change. What my job and focus area three months ago is different than what it is today. Learning to manage and lead through change has been exciting.

A: John Turpin

The people, and building an unstoppable team. Our people are our greatest asset, and we wouldn’t be where we are without the team that got us here. So, I’d say building and working with a team of awesome individuals that are curious, gritty and care about the success of us as a team. Also, learning about how to build a company culture, and trying to keep our core values intact as we grow. I am super thankful to have been able to do this so far. I have gratitude for everyone who has put in work and energy to help this business thrive. The opportunity for our impact is super clear and magnified because of the people that are here.

A: Matt Buchanan

Seeing the businesses we work with succeed. There are so many companies we've worked with where our service has truly transformed their business. That's an amazing thing to be able to be a part of. Knowing you have helped take a small businesses that was surviving turn into a business that is thriving.

A: Mike Dorsey

The fact that we are all actually still friends. At the base of the pyramid is the founding team and I was really fortunate to have a great one. The next best part is that we built it from the ground up ourselves to profitability. It’s gratifying to see that we have created a business that provides a wonderful career to many of our teammates, that provides effective customer acquisition for countless small businesses around the country, and helps people get the services that they need. It’s rewarding to have started something that is helpful to so many people while also being able to grow quickly and invest back into the business. To do all of that with my childhood friends feels fantastic.

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