The Entrepreneur: Rune Sovndahl, Fantastic Services
The founder of the £28m domestic services franchise on organic growth, how "easily" entrepreneurs get funding, and becoming the "Amazon of services"
Founder: Rune Sovndahl
Company: Fantastic Services
Description in one line: Fantastic Services provides cleaning, gardening, handymen and other services to both the domestic and business markets – online, via phone or app.
Previous companies: LocalFame
Turnover: £28m in 2014
12 month target: £36m
Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:
- Fantastic Services is the largest domestic services company in the UK which offers a vast portfolio of services and continues to grow year on year.
- We are a business that has been established to provide an excellent service, using a set of technologies that make the whole process simple and effective for customers searching on any device.
- We are known for our top-class customer service which is something we pride ourselves on, given that the cleaning and domestic services industry is not known for this.
What is your greatest business achievement to date?
I met my business partner Anton at a party, we got talking, I needed a cleaner, and he was running a cleaning business. We quickly realised we shared a vision of a better way to deliver services, like cleaning, so we started to build it. We had two laptops and a sofa to work on, and shared a mobile phone. Our goal was to build something that was simple but which delivered the best service, both to clients and the cleaning crews. We have a turnover of £28m this year and the smiles on the faces of our staff is something I’m proud of everyday.
What numbers do you look at every day in your business?
Our client satisfaction numbers. We create services people love because, in many cases, they don’t want to do them, or don’t have time to do them themselves. This can range from cleaning, to odd jobs, to gardening and removals. We have an extremely low complaint rate and we focus on improving this. We also have unique systems that track how a service is performed as well as a review system that allows us to give cleaners direct feedback.
To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?
As well as the UK, Fantastic Services is already established as a leading cleaning company in Sydney, Melbourne, Australia, Las Vegas and Atlanta, and we have recently entered the German and Scandinavian markets.
Describe your growth funding path:
Fantastic Services is completely self-funded. We are looking into funding in the near future to assist with continuing our international expansion plans. We are a profitable company with a proven model and can easily develop in more countries and services. We are currently looking at profit margins and which services we can best fit into our motto of making them truly ‘fantastic’.
What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?
Smartphones and our custom-made mobile workforce Fantastic CRM which has enabled us to provide easy access and better service for our customers. Fantastic Services’ booking process is done online and we are launching a customer-focused app in July. Our teams are equipped with smartphones, enabling them to take instructions remotely from customers.
Where would you like your business to be in three years?
We want to continue to grow. I’d like to see Fantastic Services become the “Fantastic Amazon of services”with the largest share of the domestic services market and the ability to perform any job.
What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?
Maintaining our service level across multiple services. We want our removals to be as good as our cleaners and our handymen to be as good as our electricians, and to deliver a consistent service across all the many services we provide. We have very high standards and customer satisfaction levels are at the core of everything we do.
What was your biggest business mistake?
The biggest mistake I made was thinking this was an easy task; that everyone could use an app, and that it would be easy to remotely manage a company which expands internationally and grows substantially every month.
Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:
I think there is a huge issue with how entrepreneurs get funding and assistance. We launched during the recession and grew organically through hard work and now it seems that competitors are receiving money quite easily. Allocation of funding seems random as well as valuations of current companies and that puzzles us. However, we just focus on doing what we have to do to make a company that is successful.
What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
Some entrepreneurs think turnover is income and think that the business account is their personal account. They forget to build up reserves and often think ‘experts’ can solve everything. For venture capital-backed companies, they think that the algorithm of customer retention is everything and that you just need to acquire clients as fast as possible and at almost any cost. This is a completely different model from what we call the sanity of profits and building value.
How will your market look in three years?
I’m confident that we will still be leading this continually disrupted market, some mergers are inevitable and consolidation will also happen. We will also see changes in legislation on how self-employed people and minimum wages are paid and we may see more government intervention.
What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?
Build a personal network and ask lots of questions, find mentors, and don't forget to change if your hypothesis for the company isn’t right – don’t be too snobbish in your business plan to not change for your customers. We wanted to do online booking via mobile phones in 1999 but it was too early so we knew the path to success would take longer. We worked to build up skills in other areas to ensure that when the time was ready, we had all the skills required.
The biggest luxury is that I get to try out our services! This means I can have my flat painted to test out new contractors and I can have my carpets cleaned to test new machines, so I live in a very clean home – which is great as personally I am horrible at keeping things clean at home!
Executive education or learn it on the job?
Having worked in a corporate company for two to three years teaches you a lot when it comes to scale but for a start-up the only true value is to work hard – and this can mean 20 hour days. There is no easy path and I find that companies that have been funded often overlook this and spend money on training and consultants, where you can actually do a lot more yourself.
What would make you a better leader?
I have huge admiration for Tony Hseih’s book Delivering Happiness which is about his growth as an entrepreneur, company culture, and creating a workplace which you enjoy going to every day. I think he proved something that we have always known; that happiness and good service comes from the inside.
I also like The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar, and have read many books and biographies by authors such as Jack Welch, Duncan Bannatyne and Robert Slater.