David Steckel is the Cofounder of Setter, a technology enabled Home Service that takes care of all your home maintenance and repairs. Previously to starting Setter, David ran his own successful general contracting and development company and is an active volunteer in the Toronto Community.
Looking back five/ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?
Five years ago, I thought I was going to continue down the typical general contractor party towards development. This was my trajectory in business and Setter is actually an offshoot of that. I had been thinking about starting Setter for about five years prior but struggled trying to get the business off the ground as a side business. Eventually, I came to the realization that I had to make a decision around whether or not to devote myself full time to the new company or to forget about it. My business partner at the time Andrew Black, was incredibly supportive and facilitated my departure. Once that commitment had been made, I realized I had something with Setter. At no point did I think that Setter would become a Venture-backed Technology company and building it to where it is now has been like getting an MBA in start-up tech.
How did you come up with the big idea to get Setter going?
When my former business partner and I started our contracting business, we set out to deliver a value proposition that was centred on being tech-focused and customer centric. All throughout university, I worked at a restaurant called Scaramouche and I learned a lot about how important amazing service is. As we grew the contracting business, we started to uncover different opportunities in our industry that existed around our value proposition and stumbled across a whole new industry. We realized that large organizations spent a lot of time planning the well-being of their buildings over an extended period of time to make sure that they achieved the maximum life expectancy out of all their assets through regular maintenance and repair. On the other side, we noticed that our residential client base was asking us year over year to help them with small tasks and “to-do’s” around the home. The “ah ha” moment for me came when I was quoting a contracting job at a very nice home and ran into the home manager who was managing that home in the same way that large institutions were managing their buildings. That is when I realized that just like for those large institutions, there was an existing community and infrastructure for high net worth individuals who were looking to manage their residential investments which could be facilitated through leveraging tech. I knew that given my background, I could provide that service to the market.
What are you focused on now to grow the business?
We’ve just launched in the San Francisco Bay area and are growing at about 20% month over month. That growth has been fueled by partnerships with people like real estate agents and mortgage brokers, who are involved in the transaction of buying and selling homes. We also have a strong referral rate and it’s humbling to see that our customers enjoy what we do so much that they would want to refer us to others. Now, we are working on refining our story and messaging so that everyone that owns a home understands what a home manager is, and how important they are to maintaining and caring for such an important asset like the home.
How do you think about Culture? Why is Culture important for you in helping Setter grow?
My business partner Guillaume has done a lot to educate me on culture and how important it is to growing a company. Through endeavors of his that I absolutely support, we focus on ensuring that our team is publicly recognized for doing great work every single day and that we thank each other for what we collectively do. We’ve made a deliberate effort to define our company values, and these are at the heart of what we want to focus on when it comes to culture. When you are building a business, culture is so important for many reasons and as Ben Horowitz learned from one of his mentors, a business should think about people, then products, and lastly, about profits. Culture is what allows for company-wide ownership. When people feel a sense of ownership, they are more likely to go above and beyond, help each other and go the extra mile to get something done. The whole team knows where we are going and what we all have to do to get there. In hindsight, I did a terrible job creating a great culture in my previous business. Thanks to Gui, the rest of the team and Tech in general, I’ve come to learn how important culture is.
What have been some of the most important business lessons that you have had to learn the hard way? How have they made you more successful?
Starting Setter, I originally spent $100,000 on developing an app, and while the developer gave me exactly what I asked for, it wasn’t what I needed. I didn’t take the proper amount of time to bring on a skilled product designer or do the right up front discovery and that expensive miss was entirely my fault. The experience taught me that there is a big difference between what you ask for, what you need and the real value of a minimal viable product.
The second lesson I learned was the importance of not making assumptions and always portraying the image of your business that you want your customers to see. One experience in particular taught me that. I was once called to quote a contracting job at a location that at the time, didn’t seem like a great opportunity. When I got there however, I realized the individuals who I had gone to see were looking to do about a million dollars’ worth of work on their home. Because I assumed it wasn’t a great opportunity up front, I hadn’t taken the time to change my dirty clothes from a delivery that I made earlier that day. I was grossly unprepared for the sales call. They were very honest with me about not wanting to work together based on their first impression of me. People decide quickly if they want to work with you and what they think of you. It’s a culmination of the way you present yourself, the way you speak, and how you make others feel after you’ve interacted with them. Be mindful of those things.
What does leadership look like to you? What makes a great leader?
I continue to aspire towards being a great leader. I see my job as being someone who supports the team. It’s so important to create a safe place where people can be critical in a productive way to move the business forward. If people don’t feel like they can debate and have their voices heard, they will stop speaking up and that ultimately hurts the business.
Clear, constant and consistent communication is also something that is very important as a leader. Something that I’ve been working towards is making sure that our team knows what my goals are and what I’m actively working on improving in myself. Doing that builds a layer of transparency that helps to bring everyone in our company closer to where we are going together.
What would be your one piece of advice for those in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?
Keeping your ears and yourself open to opportunity is very important. Don’t just say no to things without thinking about them first. From my experience, I’ve come to learn that opportunity will find you at different points in your career and when it does, you need to be willing to listen to it and take a chance on it, especially when you are young. Also, it is crucial to know what you are terrible at so you can set yourself up for success in the future by allowing others to focus in those areas. That was such a valuable learning experience for me, but it would have been impossible to learn that until I tried a bunch of different things. Along your journey, pay attention to what you excel at just as much as what falls apart when you try to do it. Doing this allows you hone your own skillset so when you do come across an opportunity, you know exactly how to get out and go after it.