House Call Tech and Seeking Decent Workers

Geekatoo is among a growing group of startups that offer on-demand service for home and office tech repair, computer setup and troubleshooting; tech experts are sent out when needed to fix everything from a cracked iPhone screen to a complicated software installation to a laptop that's festered with malware (Geek Squad is probably the best-known of these services; starting in 1994, this tech support and repair company is owned by major retailer Best Buy. With 20,000 employees, the Squad is in every strip mall across the U.S. that houses one of Best Buy's 1,049 stores).

With 7,000 independent contractors across the U.S., Geekatoo has raised $2.1 million from investors since 2013 (co-founder and CEO Kevin Davis started the company out of dissatisfaction, shortly after Geek Squad botched a repair request on his own laptop).

Other companies include Eden, launched this past May with about 35 people who serve Bay Area residents ($1.3 million has been raised from investors). Enjoy, also launched in May, has about 140 employees; so far, $30 million has been raised. Enjoy serves the Bay Area and also New York City.

So far, customers, particularly the retired and the elderly, are very happy for these startups, who are sometimes overwhelmed by the technology (but have the cash to pay someone fix what they can't or don't understand).

The home tech service is expected to continue growing (currently making about $30 billion (!) in annual revenue), particularly with the advent of the Internet of Things-in which devices such as thermostats, door locks and hot-water heaters are Internet-connected to gather and share data.

Seeking Decent Workers

Executive chef Kurt Linneman of Crocodile Cafe & Catering (Philadelphia) has developed a winning recipe for hiring (and retaining) five-star employees: A six-week coaching program called Have Perfect People LLC (created in 2007), cost ranging from $5,000 to $7,000, that helps small-business owners find better workers for "increased profits, less drama and more worry-free time off."

Applicants are interviewed for his cafe and catering business at least three times before a decision's made to hire them. Help-wanted ads are written in a blunt, straightforward style that leaves no doubt as to what chef Linneman's looking for (the jobs generally pay $13-$15 an hour). For example, a recent ad for a sous chef stated: "I am looking for a low-maintenance, no BS individual." Employee performance is measured with a behavior scorecard that has 35 'superstar' qualities (such as persistence, optimism and honesty, among others). It's an unusual evaluation, for it's based more on the behavior than on how the job is done (rewards for high scorers include raises, promotions and sales commissions. Linneman's system works very well for the most part, but it's not entirely fail-proof; he still has to fire an average of one to two employees a year).

"The truth is, the odds are stacked against the small-business owner when it comes to hiring superstar employees. 70 percent of your labor pool is filled with slackers, losers and thieves. If you hire these problem employees, they will work against you, undermine your authority and destroy the morale in your small business."

Chef Linneman has successfully hawked Have Perfect People to other businesses and chambers of commerce (but the cafe and catering remain his priority because it's more profitable-Tara Radzinski, CEO of Sustainable Solutions (Philadelphia) was among chef Linneman's first consulting clients; she's noticed that rather than the behavior scorecard scaring off employees, it has actually brought about a lot of valuable feedback between supervisors and staff. It has also created structure).

Sources: "Geeks on demand: Companies make house calls"-San Jose Mercury News (TNS)-The (Sunday) Vindicator, August 2, 2015 and "Company cooks up strategies to find quality employees"-The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)-The (Sunday) Vindicator, August 30, 2015


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