There are many ‘middleman’ or ‘connector’ startups emerging in our ecosystem. Some of the most successful startups have essentially built peer-to-peer (P2P), business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) platforms – connecting people in ways that would otherwise be difficult if not impossible. The latest startup to enter this segment is SuitBids, founded by Sydney-based Chartered Accountants Bradley Seeto, Nick Chiarelli and Simon Litchfield.
For startups like ProAdviser, RiskAdviserMatch and Brief It, the competition gets fiercer as a SuitBids enters the same space. In similar fashion to the aforementioned startups, SuitBids disrupts the traditional professional services space by offering ‘Suits’ a more targeted way of securing business.
Australians who are seeking the services of an accountant, bookkeeper, financial planner, government grant specialist, legal professional or mortgage broker, simply fill out their contact details on the site, provide more information about the job they need done and wait for the ‘bids’ (quotes) to come through. The SuitBids team review and select the best bids and provide these to the client. The client can then message the Suits for more information; request more bids or select a Suit from the bids provided. ‘Suits’ on the platform are all based in Australia and are essentially competing for the client’s job.
“[C]lients can consider bids from all over Australia. Quite often this means significant cost savings to the client that result from having their work performed by someone in a regional or suburban area where the cost of living and business overheads are lower than a traditional professional operating in a major city CBD,” says Seeto.
The co-founders acknowledge that there will always be a need for face-to-face traditional services, but their platform is focused on jobs that can be completed without the need to visit a professional in person, such as income tax preparation, bookkeeping, mortgage broking and conveyancing work.
“Quite often clients are indifferent to where compliance type work is performed and they often value convenience and low cost over the traditional professional advisor relationship. Advancements in technology allow work to be done anywhere and to be delivered anywhere … SuitBids provides a platform for putting clients in touch with Suits inside or outside of their locality and allows work to be performed efficiently and effectively without the need to establish face-to-face relationships,” says Seeto.
As accountants, Seeto and Chiarelli were all too familiar with the pain points that professionals have when it comes to drawing in new customers. Oftentimes, they’d have to rely on referrals or attend seminars and networking events, which weren’t productive because there was no way of knowing whether any of the attendees needed professional services.
“We remember turning up to a chamber of commerce event and there were about 20 people there, unfortunately only two of the people were business owners and the rest were accountants or lawyers looking for more work,” says Seeto.
“We felt sorry for the business owners. For clients it’s also difficult finding a new accountant or adviser. Usually it starts with finding out who your family and friends know, then contacting each of their recommendations, having a meeting, reviewing their proposals and then selecting one. It’s a very time consuming process.”
It wasn’t long before Seeto discovered an article about Google search terms, which revealed that ‘accountants’ and ‘tax agents’ ranked in the top 10 search terms between July and October – unsurprisingly because of tax lodgements.
“We did a quick search on Google and found it was very hard to distinguish between firms as they all offered the same services, expertise and client service. That’s when we came up with the idea of matching clients with Suits,” says Seeto.
Disrupting disruptive startups?
When asked what makes SuitBids unique, Seeto refers to worldwide marketplaces like Freelancer, oDesk and Elance, saying that it “just doesn’t work when trying to get someone outside Australia to provide you with advice about Australian law and taxes”.
“We provide an opportunity to all Suits to place a bid within one business day of the job being posted. After we have received all the bids we then provide the client with a shortlist of bids that are best suited to their job,” Seeto says.
“Because the bidding process is private we don’t have the problem that other worldwide marketplaces have where providers in developing countries kick start a race to the bottom by providing ridiculously low bids. This means the clients gets a quality job done and the Suits get paid appropriately for their work.”
But SuitBids isn’t the first Australian-based startup to disrupt traditional professional services – another example would be ProAdviser. For consumers, ProAdviser is a discovery, quote and comparison tool; and for professionals (like financial planners, insurance brokers, and lawyers) it functions as a lead generation platform, allowing them to transition their services online and leverage the internet to grow their business.
Although all the startups playing in this space have the same goals, not all will excel in their execution. I’d say SuitBids has the snazziest name of them all, but any of them can come out on top.
Seeto believes that marketplaces like Freelancer have been successful because they provide quick and easy access to service providers all over the world. This often results in cost savings for the client who turns to freelancers in low wage economies like China or India to get jobs done – or what’s been referred to as ‘using cheap smarts’ by opponents of outsourcing.
Seeto says SuitBids sits between the Freelancer (global reach) and local lead generation (limited local reach) model.
“Our competitive advantage, and the reason that existing online marketplaces and lead generators have had little success in professional services, is that we only have appropriately qualified Australian professionals bidding for work yet at the same time our professionals can be based all over Australia,” he adds.
“This way the client gets maximum choice, has access to potential cost savings by selecting a professional with lower overheads and can also relax in the knowledge that all of our professionals have the right Australian qualifications and experience to perform the clients work to a high level.”
Although Seeto doesn’t acknowledge it, competitors in the Australian market like ProAdviser, RiskAdviserMatch, and Brief It also have similar business models in that it doesn’t charge clients for posting a job – instead, charging professionals for jobs completed.
“Most of our direct competitors charge a fee to submit a bid, regardless of whether they win the work or not. We conducted some of our own surveys of professionals and found that the biggest issue that service providers have is paying for something where they didn’t get any return. Some even questioned whether some of the jobs posted were in fact real after receiving no response to phone calls or emails,” Seeto says.
“Our model only charges the Suit once they’ve had a bid accepted by the client.”
Whilst the monetisation strategy has not been set in stone, SuitBids is gearing towards charging Suits a percentage of the accepted bid, or a flat rate depending on the service offered. At this stage, and for a limited time, SuitBids is offering the service free – following a similar path to OneShift which has grown to become one of the most successful startups in the recruitment space.
It is clear that Seeto has drawn inspiration from successful Australian businesses and has a plan of attack up his sleeve, which may indeed see SuitBids becoming the dominant player in the B2C space. But that also depends on how other startups respond to their new competition.
“We researched many online marketplaces and lead generators. We asked ourselves what features made these successful and also identified weaknesses in these offerings. In particular we asked ourselves why no one had made significant headway into professional services,” Seeto explains.
“When we were happy that we had the basis for our business model we engaged our tech co-founder Simon Litchfield to build the product. We’ve been through many different iterations and, like any online business, continue to make tweaks almost daily.”
Although SuitBids has already caught the gaze of investors, the co-founders are keen on bootstrapping until the time is right to bring on external investment. At the moment, their number one priority is to grow the volume of clients using the site and maximise the number of jobs posted.
“If we can get that side of our marketplace sorted we know the Suits will come Bidding,” says Seeto.
The truth is many ‘connector’ startups haven’t gotten it right. In fact, when revisiting some, it becomes clear that a number of startups have shut down their operations. If SuitBids gets the execution right, they will be joining the ranks of OneShift, Freelancer and Expert360.
More information on SuitBids is available via suitbids.com.au.