Mike Evans fixed something we didn’t even know was broken when he brought Grubhub into the world in 2004. Sure, everyone knew you could call Dominos for 30 minute delivery of prison-quality pizza, or maybe there was a great Indian restaurant that delivered in your neighborhood, but the idea of instant delivery of almost any cuisine was a value proposition that led to an $8B company.
Now he’s turning his immense talent for building local, logistically-demanding businesses to a pressing need — the lack of skilled handymen and women. Fixer is home repair service that allows customers to hire a skilled professional to mount a flat screen or fix a leaky faucet in a few taps from your mobile — no need to call three vendors and hope one calls you back. Pricing is a flat rate (down to the minute) and all of the “fixers” are employed by Fixer, meaning everyone who comes into your home has been vetted and trained.
The training part is particularly notable.
A Trade School Disguised as a Startup
Fixer has been established as a Public Benefit Corporation, meaning it aims to deliver a profitable service while also doing a public good. In this case, educating workers in remunerative careers who do not have to pay for that education. To give you some sense of the need for Fixer, during the financial crisis, and subsequent housing crash in 2008, over 1.5M residential construction workers left the field. That exodus means the median worker is now over 40 years old. A survey by the National Association of Home Builders, the largest industry trade association, recently found that 82% of members say the availability of skilled labor is a critical issue.
In theory, the solution is simple — more vocational education — but as with most things, it’s the execution that’s hard. Our current trade school model only works if you identify people at high school. There’s no Codecademy for caulking and no online course that explains the difference between neoprene and nitrile O-rings.
Fixer will teach basic skills in the first week and start sending their student fixers into the field with mentors. Over the course of a few years, they have the opportunity to advance their skills in over a dozen specialty trades as well as soft skills like customer service and communication.
In addition to getting more people into the skilled trades, Fixer has an ambition to improve the gender balance of the industry. Construction might be one of the few labor markets that makes software engineering look gender egalitarian — as of 2016, only 9.3% of the construction labor force in the US were women. As it stands, 20% of the Fixers are women and the Fixer team has ambitions to advance toward parity over time.
Respecting the Skilled Trades
“Somewhere along the way, the promise of high salaried, upwardly mobile careers was offered at the mere completion of an undergraduate degree, making the trip to the hallowed halls of academia the presumptive default.” — Mike Evans
The US has over 30 million jobs that pay $55,000+ and don’t require a bachelor’s degree, moreover it’s possible to make six-figures in the skilled trades without a college degree. I’m still a big believer in higher education, but it’s clearly not the right investment for everyone. We also need to stop thinking of and talking about the skilled trades as a sub-par career track. The average college grad leaves with $37,000 in debt, while trade school graduates can land jobs out of high school that pay as much as a college graduate, but without the debt.
I can think of a hundred startups that are innovating on the delivery of online education, test prep, in-class support, financial aid delivery and repayment and so on, but Fixer is the only startup that has pitched us that is building a better trade school.
What makes Fixer special
You can build a case for Fixer based purely on its business model and mission, but it is Mike Evans, and the team he’s assembled, that give Fixer potential to become a masterwork.
The home repair market has been well explored by startups, but almost all of them have sought shortcuts. Half are directories that are just online iterations of the phone book business model and the other half rely on 1099 model which is aligned with the startups’ needs, but not the homeowner whose ceiling is caving in or the tradesperson trying to build a career. Mike and his team are trying to create something audacious and are willing to do the hard work to make it a reality.
Mike and I met working together on the board of a company called GiveForward. I was also fortunate at that time to work with two other Fixer co-founders, Josh Evnin and Susanne Dawursk. GiveForward didn’t work out for a number of reasons, but not for lack of dedication on anyone’s part — Especially Mike’s. Mike offered the company financing in its darkest days and served as a steadfast member of the board through that difficult time. Even when the writing was on the wall and his investment was clearly in jeopardy, he spent his precious time helping place employees in new jobs and helping to find a landing place for the GiveForward community. Grubhub’s share price may be a testament to Mike’s skill as an entrepreneur, but, for me, it was his conduct during the GiveForward’s closure that demonstrates his character.
I can’t wait to see what Fixer builds over the coming years.