Jim Pickell believes member satisfaction is the ultimate metric of marketplace success.
23 years ago, long before the “sharing economy” was a known phrase, Home Exchange started as a catalogue to connect people. People were given a stamp and an envelope and could mail each other to swap homes.
– Since its origin, we have tried to facilitate human connections, says Jim Pickell, President of Home Exchange.
Nowadays, making these connections is easier than ever.
– We have managed to find a way to embrace new technologies, and are committed to doing everything we can to facilitate relationships. We are exploring novel things in our industry, like using instant messaging and video chat instead of e-mail. You should not let technology stand in the way of making connections.
Increase member satisfaction
As a member put it, Home Exchange is “not a home exchange site; but an experience exchange site.” Pickell is trying to take himself out of the equation.
– Although we are talking to our members, what we really want to encourage is for them to talk to each other. We use every tool available to facilitate these relationships. Through our system, we can see where people travel to and let neighbors know that someone is coming to their neighborhood. They might want to say hello. In our product roadmap, we have plans for things like pop-ups that ask if you would like everyone in the area to know that you are coming.
Member satisfaction is the ultimate KPI in everything we do.
In that regard, Home Exchange tries to figure out to what extent their members value privacy versus transparency.
– We need to find the right balance and introduce it without disrupting the current flow of interaction among our members.
Most members do not like change.
– Member satisfaction is the ultimate KPI in everything we do. We, therefore, measure how long our members stay on the site, where they go next, their usability, and response rate.
Even if a suggestion wins on testing, Pickell believes you need to stay true to your purpose.
– We pay close attention to the results of multivariate testing but always balance our actions. Beyond testing, we always debate about member meet-ups. They are very expensive, but we have realized that there is no substitute for the feedback people give us. The best input for your product roadmap is talking to your members.
Get it out there
Pickell is a big subscriber of the lean startup methodology.
– Going out, finding people that you think need your product, asking them, designing it for them, and seeing if it meets their needs. In the back of your head, you always need to remember that they are probably not ready to pay what you think you can sell your product for.
Put up a site that offers whatever you are building just to see if people click on it and actually want it.
According to Pickell, you can start testing with very limited resources.
– For instance, you can put up a site that offers whatever you are building just to see if people click on it and actually want it. Get it out there to test demand. If you launch something and it has a viral nature to it, you can start building from there. In that sense, college campuses are a great place to launch.
Employ “stem cells”
To continue to grow, rapid deployment of human capital is most important.
– When the opportunity presents itself, you should bring in really good people. It is common to outgrow many of the people you have involved early on. But if you are very selective, you can select more long-term prospects.
A venture capitalist once told Pickell that they are looking for “stem cells”—people that can do everything but can be specialized as the company evolves.
– You should hire people that have been rolling up their sleeves and have had five different roles in their career. They can be the chief marketing officer if you ever need one. If you have co-founders who are incapable of growing and becoming specialized, they end up limiting the company’s growth. That creates a lot of tension.
Hiring the right people is also essential when it comes to funding.
– What I think first-time entrepreneurs have a hard time grasping is that it is really important to associate with people who have serial successes. Venture capitalists are not investing in business models—they are investing in the people who have proven they can succeed.
In that sense, you need to prove that you are different.
– If Steve Jobs walks into an investor’s room with your business model, I would guarantee he would get funding. But most of us are not Steve Jobs. You need to show how you differ from the other eight people who have similar business models. Unless you can show that you are different, it is going to be very difficult for you to raise an adequate amount of funding.
Personally, Pickell went to angel networks to avoid being too controlled by venture capitalists. He also stayed away from the typical friends and family investments.
– When I left the corporate world, I never went to friends and family because I recognized that there was a significant chance that I might fail.
Find a mentor
Pickell did not fail but realized that he wanted to work in a mission-driven business where he could have a real impact and solve a problem that he shared.
Call ten of your role models.
– If you are considering leaving the corporate world, I would recommend choosing a mission that you really enjoy. My second biggest piece of advice is to find a mentor. Find people that you respect and who have accomplished something you like.
Then pick up the phone and sit down for coffee.
– Call ten of your role models. You might get nine nos, but you will certainly get one yes.