A long time ago, in a galaxy far away (or rather, in London in 2005), after parting company with his employer - not to mention a particularly unpleasant experience with his own builder - Andrew Skipwith decided to start a business which would match, and rate, trusted, local tradespeople with homeowners who wanted improvement work done. And so RatedPeople.com was born.
The most pressing task was recruiting the tradespeople to the site. 'We peddled like crazy,' he says. Another challenge was getting the technology infrastructure in place to ensure both that the website could cope at times of peak demand, and that the introductions were automated, and needed minimal human intervention. 'When there are 2,000 jobs a day coming through the website, you can't possibly sit on the phone and do it in a manual way. That's why technology's crucial and we've known that from the beginning,' explains Skipwith.
Yet, customer service remains vital. Skipwith says his staff in the contact centre in east London are the 'ears and eyes' of the business. 'For the most part they're cheeky and young, but, boy, do they know what's going on,' he says. 'They're talking to the tradespeople the whole time, so they understand what pisses them off. We don't always get things quite right, so it's important to listen to them.' Not least because it's the tradespeople who fill RatedPeople's coffers, paying a quarterly subscription of £40 and then a per-job commission.
It turns out that one thing annoying RatedPeople's growing army of trade members - there are now more than 30,000 UK-wide - was the option where home improvers could choose not to specify a budget on the online form. It became apparent that the clients who wouldn't cost the work they wanted done were the flakiest. 'That was a difficult decision because it meant knocking a load of jobs off the site,' recalls Skipwith. 'But we knew we had tradespeople who were getting annoyed so we said: 'We're not going to do that to you any more."' And who can blame him for wanting to keep them happy? No one wants an angry scaffolder on his doorstep - let alone 30,000 of them.