In January 2020, Rent Sons, a Rhode Island resource for finding people to do odd jobs around the house, had visions of growing. A company Facebook post announced: “20 markets in 2020!”
Then the pandemic hit.
Founder Pat Brown had to rethink his entire business. Who would want a stranger coming in during a pandemic? But as he saw people sequestered in their homes, he realized that, more than ever, people needed a hand from their neighbors.
“I think there’s just a lot of power in serving your neighbor and selflessly helping others and strong community and a good workplace,” says Brown. “I really wanted to provide that.”
The owners raised funds, revamped their website and changed the company name to Surv to better communicate its people-centered mission. Now, it connects locals (Local Workers) with customers (Neighbors) using its simple online booking system.
In each city served, we aim “to bring the convenience of technology with the personality of the kid next door,” says Brown.
Booking made easier with new digital functionality
Brown decided to use the rebranding as an opportunity to improve user experience. “With the new website,” he says, “we’ve made the online form a lot simpler and cleaner. Before, it was a little glitchy and not super mobile-friendly.”
Today, a customer who visits Surv can book help within minutes. They simply click “Job Request,” select a job category, provide their contact information and describe the job. Behind the scenes, the automated process creates a ticket for Surv’s team to assign to an available Local Worker. The online functions are easier for employees, too. They set the days and times they’re available, then confirm bookings as they come in.
There’s also new technology in place for customers who opt to request a booking via text. “People can just text our phone number and it actually connects the request to a worker on the backend for us within HubSpot.”
A business rooted in tech
A good website is nothing new for Brown. When he started the business to help pay his tuition at the University of Rhode Island, he recognized the importance of technology, and built a GoDaddy website to advertise his services. “It literally was just me and a phone number. I don’t even think I had a webform.” Nonetheless, his list of clients grew, and he earned his tuition payment every summer.
In 2017, a few years after graduating from college, when he realized his odd jobs service could be a business, one of his first steps was rebuilding the website. “I used Squarespace to make something really slick and simple,” Brown says. “And I was able to find a really cheap CRM called Agile and then just plug it in.” The combination was affordable, but powerful. “That technology alone got [my business] to over a million dollars a year in revenue.”
A boost from Zoom during the pandemic
At the start of 2020, Brown knew he was onto something. The company was operating in three cities and ready to add more. He just needed funding to make it happen. The pandemic, however, meant hopping on a plane to pitch his idea to investors wasn’t an option. So, he turned to technology again.
“I’ve met with all my investors on Zoom calls,” laughs Brown. “I’ve never made an in-person pitch.”
The Zoom connections worked. Brown was able to raise the funds to expand to 13 cities in 7 states. One fund convinced by a virtual pitch was Capacity Capital, a Chattanooga-based venture capital firm. “Helping small, promising companies who can grow profitably and also intend for the business to positively contribute to their local community is our mission at Capacity, so it was a natural fit,” said Jonathan Bragdon, co-founder and CEO, in Chatanoogan.com.
Digital connections mean community connections
The evolution of Surv has resulted in a business that truly connects with the communities it serves. “Our business is about bringing people together,” says Brown. It’s also about helping people. In the early days of the pandemic, the company’s Local Workers did grocery shopping for vulnerable community members—at no charge.