The following is a condensed version of Jon’s recent podcast interview on Out of the Box. To see the whole interview, check out the link at the bottom of the page…
SB: We’re so thankful to have Jon Clifford here, CEO of ServiceBox software. This is a special guest we’ve been saving. Jon, there’s so much ground to cover, but let’s start with the origin story of ServiceBox software.
JC: I had an inclination that I genuinely wanted to create something. Create a tech company. And it’s funny…when you have an epiphany like that, you don’t exactly know the destination. You just know you have the desire. So the origin of it was a desire. I’m a guy who has a lot of ideas, and earlier on I would get an idea, then talk myself out of it. But then what I started finding is that my ideas…six months later someone would do my idea, and succeed with it! And it was starting to bother me. I realized I was afraid of taking risks, so I decided I wanted to start taking risks. And again, I didn’t really know what that meant exactly, but I knew I wouldn’t talk myself out of ideas anymore. So I dabbled in things, webpages, some software consulting. And then the iphone came out. And you saw people making a million dollars off a farting app. So I started working with a friend of mine and we began building iphone games, and I would say it was one of the best learning experiences of my life. We didn’t have the financial success we wanted, but we learned so much about creating products, and working with a team remotely, and listening to the market and customers. It was a real eye-opening experience.
Fast forward along and one of my friends from high school is an HVAC technician and he was managing a successfully company…he runs a tight ship…and he was telling me about his challenges in the business with managing all his ongoing maintenance contracts. With big companies And he basically said “I need help solving this problem.” And as we talked and I started googling, I realized there really wasn’t much out there…there were no market leaders, there a few names, but when we first started we couldn’t really find anything. So I began creating a design, specifically to help him with work orders, ongoing maintenance contracts, timesheets, customer interaction. And we created a good product for companies that do exactly what John’s does. But in order for it to be a full-fledged product for all the trades, there were a lot of gaps. Mt co-founder, Mike Schudel, used to work together years ago at a consulting company, and he was the head developer and coming up with all these cool ways to develop software…like, he would build things to help himself build things…he was almost notorious in the company. I was always intrigued by his ability to continue to be a rockstar year after year. So I started asking Mike if, from a development perspective, he could build it. And he said “of course.” And then he said “how about we be partners? I do the development and you handle the business side and we’ll go from there?” And that was probably the quickest, smartest decision I’ve ever made. And that spurred on what eventually became ServiceBox and we started out on this journey.
SB: Going back a bit, I find it interesting that you were having this experience of seeing other people succeed with ideas you had rejected, and this whole ServiceBox journey really started with you basically saying “yes” to yourself.
JC: I’ll say this, failure sometimes isn’t as bad a thing as we make it out to be. Financially, the risk that we took to make those iphone games wasn’t a successful decision, but we learned so much. And one thing I learned that we implemented with ServiceBox, is we listened intently to our customers. And when they said “this is a gap in your product” we filled those gaps as quickly as we could. Our mindset has always been we don’t want our customers to ever have to do anything twice. Efficiency. And simplicity. We want it to be easy and intuitive to use. And it took us a while, but we’ve reached what I call “the 90%”, where the product is comprehensive enough and has enough built in options that 90% of all Service companies in North America…hvac, electrical, plumbing, you name it…could use our product tomorrow. All the capabilities are there.
SB: And where a company has an individual need that isn’t common, ServiceBox addresses those needs, right? That’s part of the…
JC: Right. So that’s part of what makes us unique, is we’re willing to work with individual customers to make the software what they need it to be. And so if a company says “we need to be able to print a report that does X Y and Z, we’ll create those special functions for individual companies as a custom development. So at the end of the day we’re solving business problems. If a customer says “when I close my workorder, I want this thing to happen.” Even if it’s not in ServiceBox we can make it happen.
SB: So in theory there can be as many versions of ServiceBox as there are customers. It’s so malleable. Interchangeable. If there’s a functionality needed that isn’t already available in the settings options…which are already innumerable…you can just build it for individual customers.
JC: Yeah. And it kind of happened by accident, that’s the funny thing. Early on we would roll out a new feature, and think it was really great. And a customer would say “what is this new thing? I don’t want that.” And we’d be like “Oh. Ok.” So we essentially made a decision that we would create flags on each feature that allowed you to turn it on or off. Which was great because it aligned with our core value of simplicity. So if you don’t need a function just turn it off. If you want to get to the point where the only thing you see on the dashboard is a customer list, then you can do that.
SB: Sounds like that “saying yes’”thing again. They brought you a need, and you said yes, and now you have this unique, interchangeable platform. I’m seeing a theme here of the importance of going with the flow, and accepting these challenges as gifts, and running with them.
JC: It’s the old hockey analogy. Wayne Gretzky says you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
SB: Right. Right, exactly.
JC: Sometimes when you’re an ideas person, you struggle with the “how”. But as you push forward and do it, it gets easier. And with me, I had that determination. I knew the outcome I wanted, but I wasn’t sure how to get it. And I made a lot of mistakes to get where we are now, but frankly a lot of it was just learning. But that mindset of what you want can help, and if you can get past failure so it doesn’t defeat you, and use any sort of failure to help yourself grow, well then the next time you go to do something, your chances of a successful outcome are going to be better.
SB: And speaking of outcomes, that’s a nice transition because one of the reasons I wanted to corner you right now is…ServiceBox is just kind of blowing up. There’s so much happening right now. The new Marketplace add on. The new Payments program. New mobile app. The French language version. There’s this surge of development happening. It kind of feels like a shock and awe campaign. Can you briefly take us through some of these new releases and why they’re important to the company?
JC: The new mobile app is kind of a precursor to some of the things we still have coming. The old app was…ok. It worked. But with new android devices coming out we wanted something that better supports newer technology, so we re-designed a new mobile app from scratch. This app will support our coming offline mode…so if people are working in a basement or up in the mountains, the info downloads to the phone so the access and functionality isn’t interrupted even if the wifi is. And whatever changes are made while the app is offline will automatically upload to the cloud when the wifi is re-established.
SB: And this app will support alternate language modes as well, right?
JC: Right. So we have a basic French version of the software that meets legal requirements in Quebec, and are hoping to expand to other languages, and this app is constructed to support those languages as they get added.
SB: Ok so what else? Tell me about Marketplace.
JC: One of the consistent things we get told is that our tradespeople like how professional ServiceBox helps them appear to customers. A company can have 3 employees and look like they’re a multi-million dollar company with 50 employees. Slick work orders and invoices, and everything electronically. So with Marketplace we’re taking that same thing to the next level with their online presence. We now have a powerful tool that essentially can take a snapshot of their overall online presence…their google listings, their webpage and traffic, their facebook page and social media, their search engine visibility…and really see what their strengths and weaknesses are. And we can take the burden off their hands of increasing their online visibility and traffic, so they can concentrate on doing what they do best.
SB: So, a listing builder, to make sure they have profiles on all the different online sites where people might be searching for their type of service. And a mechanism for getting all of that company’s best reviews onto each site where they’ll do the most good.
JC: Yes. And a mechanism for generating more, real quality reviews from previous customers. You send a template to satisfied customers that they fill out, and then the Review Generator in Marketplace will send that review to all the different webpages where it can help you. Again it’s just another way of simplifying. It streamlines the task of increasing their professionalism and improving their online reputation.
SB: And there’s a social media dashboard in Marketplace…
JC: Right. They can enter their various social media credentials and track engagement, and post to multiple platforms from one place. Marketplace in general is a way to track and improve all your different metrics. Figure out where your gaps are and fill them.
SB: I’ve had several chances to look over and test Marketplace, and I think my favorite aspect is the Search Engine Optimization. Because in the old days, using phone books, if you wanted to be the first option people see you just name your company AAA this or that, and boom, you’re the first thing people see in the book. But in the digital age you can’t do that. When people type “electrician” into their search engine, it feels like you’re powerless to make your company the first thing that pops up. There may be 30 pages of results, but usually the customer is only going to look at the first page, so how do you get onto that first page? But SEO helps with that. You can actually get some control over that.
JC: Yep. Exactly.
SB: Let’s talk about Payments. Because the new ServiceBox Payments system is now in place. You’ve always been able to take payments with ServiceBox…how is this different?
JC: As we’ve moved ahead, we’re constantly pursuing that perfect ease-of-use experience. So we sought out a new payment partner. We’ve teamed up with Payroc, and it’s allowed us to expand our offerings to our customers, so they can take payments from customers in a bunch of different ways…whatever works for them. The most obvious change is that we can now send our partner companies physical handpoint devices. You can actually take one of our devices to swipe a credit card or a debit card and complete the transaction right there on site. And these devices are synced to ServiceBox, so when they complete the transaction, the information is entered automatically right into your ServiceBox data.
SB: So take the device to the site, take the payment, boom. Done.
JC: Yeah. But the real benefit is that normally when you process a payment, that data has to be entered manually into your accounting, noted on the work order and wherever else. But these handpoint devices do all that for you automatically. There’s no duplication of tasks. That’s a huge benefit. And the rate is actually cheaper than our old payment partner, so that saves our customers money. And the other thing which I actually think is the number 1 benefit, is that you can create a direct payment ink within ServiceBox, and include it on your invoices. So the company receives your invoice, clicks on the link, and they can fill in the info and process their payment right there. And again, once they hit “submit payment”, the information is automatically registered in all the appropriate places in your software. People using Payments will get paid more quickly.
To hear the full interview, including Jon’s vision for the future of the company, check out ServiceBox’s podcast channel, called Out of the Box! Jon discusses APIs, the coming ServiceBox offline mode, the coming new desktop interface, and more. Check out the interview here: https://youtu.be/t8L8cW_UTAM