Johnathan Teh

On Pivoting: Productizing Onswer

I should be clear. Onswer was Onswer prior to being Onswer. Just kidding. This part of the story may not have been conveyed very clearly in previous posts, so let’s revisit it and be a bit more specific. Onswer originally started as a customer support call centre in Australia. How it all began was through an unfortunate event that left me stranded in an airport on the way back to Sydney. Quite naturally, as with any consumer, I made a phone call to their customer support team to understand how we could bring me back to Sydney. As you would expect, the phone call was a long and helpless conversation leading to little resolution.

As a consumer, I felt like being placed on hold forever was ridiculous. Especially when I was finally connected with a customer service rep, I got the feeling that the person on the other end of the line was hardly qualified. I thought this got to be a problem worth solving since so many people are facing this problem on a daily basis (think CrazyDomain, Vodafone, JB-HiFi). I sought to improve this chain of the business process and in creating a call centre locally in Australia

I poured seven months of hard work, sweat and tears in the original form of Onswer. And I started to see the following downsides associated with a service business:

  • Recruitment: Finding talented employees is not an easy task.
  • Training: Once you find the right employee, getting them to operate as desired is a harder task!
  • Acquiring Clients: In the service industry, you’re constantly chasing clients. No wonder outsourcing providers use 2x or more employee salary rates for pricing. That is, if your going hourly salary is $50 per hour, you should consider charging $100 per hour. Half of your time will be spent seeking customers.
  • Scalability issues: A positive linear relationship of acquiring new clients and training new call centre agents exists.
  • Systems Development: I believed that the existing solutions on the market did not adequately cover my business. I had to develop my own solutions to manage the program, which adds a lot of complexity when you’re trying to get a business rolling!
The last point raised my mentor’s eyebrows. I distinctly remember him asking, ‘Are you a technology company or are you a service company?’ It’s true: I was chasing the technology as much as I was chasing the business. onswer_office.jpgonswer_whiteboard.jpg One day, it hit me. I was reading Business Model Generation at the time. Delivering a service, no matter how great, would never get Onswer to the masses. But a product could. Especially leveraging social technologies – gave Onswer the scalability I desired. I called for a meeting with various stakeholders and explain the direction that we are heading. Fortunately, they could see the reasoning behind the pivot and supported it.

Is your startup in need of a pivot? Here’s a great Forbes article to get you thinking.