Percy Wegmann, a techie turned enterprenuer is now helping local services providers and their customers find each other. His latest venture Bidtective.com is an online comparison shop for local services which provide buyers with access to comprehensive market data about prices, features and service providers so that they can make informed purchases.
Here, Percy talks about his venture and challenges of starting a business.
Tell us a bit about yourself – your background and education?
My name is Percy Wegmann, and I am a recovering computer programmer. I started experimenting with computers at a young age on a Commodore C64 with the BASIC programming language.
By the time I reached high school, my experimentation had turned into a full-blown addiction that I fed with early IBM PC compatibles, Pascal, various CAD software packages and a job maintaining the computer equipment at my father’s civil engineering firm. While earning degrees in Political Science and Economics at the University of Chicago, I continued to feed my addiction, though only in private and work life, not academically.
After graduating, I joined various communities of similarly addicted individuals and worked together with them on building billing and CRM systems for telecoms (at Accenture), risk management software (at ROME, now Triplepoint), content management systems for financial services firms (at Razorfish) and most recently prepaid transaction processing and mobile banking systems (at MPower Labs).
What is Bidtective and how did you come up with the idea?
As a Millenial who has grown accustomed to being able to conduct a lot of my purchasing and other business online, I grew frustrated with my inability to purchase local services through the web. Lots of websites provide me with the ability to find local services providers, but when it comes to finding out prices and comparing features the way that I would with an IPod or an automobile, I’m left in the dark.
My experience is usually something like this – I get an introduction to handful of businesses, I end up having to take time off work to meet a salesperson from each at my house, I hope that the offers and recommendations I get from these individuals are reasonable and fair and I usually pick the one whose salesperson I liked the best so long as their price isn’t too far out of line. I usually find this experience deeply unsatisfying, even if the final service may be good. By shining a light on the service-based commerce happening in my town and beyond, I hope to give consumers the information and tools that they need to understand what they should be paying, what features they should request (and avoid), and to conduct as much as possible of the buying process from the convenience of their computer.
You come from a technical background, what has pushed you to make this change and start a business?
As with most of my decisions, this one involved multiple motivators. That way, no matter how it turns out, I’m sure to get something out of it! Primarily, I’m passionate about empowering consumers of local services to be informed shoppers and bringing open competition to this market–no one else seems to be doing it, so that leaves me to carry the torch. Secondly, as a technical contributor, I have often been far removed from what matters most to any successful business – the customer. Finding my own customers is a very effective (though challenging!) way to remedy this. Lastly, programming really is an addiction for me, and I find it healthy to involve myself in business activities outside of the technical realm from time to time.
Encountering and overcoming the difficulties faced by marketers, product managers and executives gives me a perspective that makes me a more productive member of any team, no matter what hat I choose to wear.
What makes Bidtective different from those of your competitors?
Bidtective aims to put consumers in the driver’s seat by combining accurate and detailed pricing information with ratings and reviews, all provided within a simple and satisfying online user experience. Some of our competitors give you ways to find highly rated vendors and some of our competitors give you ways to find bargain-basement prices, but we know that most people are looking for good value–which means a good product at a fair price. By bringing together prices and ratings, we hope to give consumers a tool that they can use to find the balance between price and quality that’s right for them.
What is your business model? How do you plan to earn money from your site?
Since Bidtective follows a very inflexible core mission of exposing market prices in the local services sector and helping customers find good value, we have to be somewhat flexible in our business model until we find something sustainable. We believe that businesses that already focus on providing their customers with a good product at a fair price will do well in the Bidtective marketplace, so we can become an important source for new customers. Some of these businesses face surprisingly high customer acquisition costs, so it’s not a stretch to think that there’s some value to be extracted here.
What is the single piece of advice would you give to someone planning to start an online business?
Make sure that you launch with great content and then keep that content fresh and useful. Unless you have an astronomical marketing budget, performing well in organic search results is absolutely critical for a web-based B2C offering, and the tried and tested way to do that is to make sure you’ve got content that speaks to what people are seeking. Great design, great functionality, great product, great price, great name – none of these matter if people can’t find you.
Thanks Percy. Good luck with your venture.
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