The challenge of fixing a leaky sink and delivering groceries might sound like two very different problems, but Will Gordon would tell you that’s wrong.
For close to three years, Gordon worked at Amazon, focused on product delivery and leading an international expert team that was tackling last mile planning and execution. In any logistics or fulfillment process, he said, “it’s all about getting the right information to the right people at the right time.” That’s true whether it’s an Amazon delivery or property management emergency.
Now Gordon is applying this wisdom to Latchel, a Seattle-based startup that he co-founded in April 2016. The business helps property managers nationwide solve emergencies including broken toilets, flooding, failed heating systems and other building woes. Their tenants have round-the-clock access to a hotline for reporting and troubleshooting problems, which sometimes results in sending out a contractor to make repairs.
The apartment and building managers are kept in the loop through messages and photos, but don’t have to play a direct role — which might be most appreciated for troubles that strike in the middle of the night.
“The property managers are only woken up for the really severe cases,” Gordon said.
The 11-member Latchel team includes Gordon, who is chief operating officer, and fellow co-founders Ethan Lieber, CEO, and Jullian Chavez, engineering lead. Before Latchel, Lieber was director of product at One Planet Ops, creator of websites including Contractors.com and HomeGain. Chavez has built mobile and web apps, most recently at Picmonic.
The group is finishing a session with Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley accelerator. Their “Demo Day” pitch is next week.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s really intense,” Gordon said. The coaching has focused on growth and making sure you’re working on the right problems, he said. Latchel has doubled its overall business since starting the program three months ago. The team blazed through more than six months of a business roadmap in that time.
Latchel has skyrocketed from serving 2,000 units a year ago to 33,500 units today. The business follows a model akin to Lyft or Uber drivers for its troubleshooting hotline: qualified experts can pick up shifts whenever they’d like to help customers. Latchel has 25 troubleshooters and 3,000 contractors in its system.
Latchel offers a free, basic plan that handles maintenance requests and coordination. For more complete services, the startup has two subscription plans that are $25 a month, plus $1 or $10 per unit, depending on the range of services needed. Gordon said there is competition in the space, particularly for 24/7 emergency service, but the other options are focused on call-centers and lack their digital solutions.
Gordon’s Amazon influence is integrated across the business, including Bezos-esque leadership principles that include “continuously improve and customer obsession.” He’s also a fan of Amazon’s fundamental approach to building platforms that can be readily scaled and applied to slightly different problems. With that in mind, Latchel’s vision is to one day expand beyond property owners to anyone needing home maintenance.
We caught up with Gordon for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Latchel is a 24/7 maintenance department for property managers and landlords. We take tenant calls, screen them for potential emergencies, troubleshoot the issue and send contractors if necessary.
Inspiration hit us when: My grandfather retired from managing our family properties (at age 92!). While I was working at Amazon, I also tried to help with the family business. I quickly saw that the day-to-day problems were mostly maintenance related. I also noticed the maintenance fulfillment processes were surprisingly similar to the Amazon delivery processes I was building for Amazon Fresh, PrimeNow and Amazon Logistics. I looked for an existing solution to solve this problem but couldn’t find anything on the market, hence Latchel was born.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Angel — I had a strong network of mentors from Amazon who helped get the company off the ground.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Our process — but it isn’t a secret! We publish it right on our website. The secret is we can reliably execute on our process better than anyone else.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Turning on 24/7 emergency maintenance service. This went against conventional wisdom in the space, which said this service is already saturated, but is the reason we’ve been able to grow from 2,000 units to over 30,000 in less than a year.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Hiring a sales team before we had product/market fit. We had a lot of early demand for our product and we thought we needed more salespeople to keep up with the demand. Our product wasn’t mature enough however and we ended up losing a lot of early customers. We learned our lesson and have maintained an incredibly lean and nimble team since then.
Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Jeff Bezos. He has built the world’s most customer-obsessed operations and technology company. The culture he has built has enabled his team to act autonomously with the customer’s best interest in mind.
Our favorite team-building activity is: We’re a fully remote team and we haven’t met most people in person yet! We send silly GIFs to each other on Slack. As we grow we’re rolling out more fun ways to keep the team connected.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Culture fit. We look for team members who embody our leadership principles. A couple of examples that are vitally important to us: continuously improve, customer obsession, ego is the enemy.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Pick a problem you can absolutely obsess over. You’re going to be living and breathing this problem for years so make sure you’re solving a problem you’re passionate about in an industry that you love.