Led by Grubhub’s co-founder, this tech startup is a trade school in disguise

Written by Andreas Rekdal
Published on Jan. 31, 2018
Led by Grubhub’s co-founder, this tech startup is a trade school in disguise
fixer chicago tech company
Image via fixer

Fixer, a home repair startup led by Grubhub co-founder Mike Evans, wants to bring handyperson services into the on-demand economy.

But it isn’t exactly an “Uber for home repair.” In fact, in some important respects, it’s precisely the opposite.

“All of our fixers, the handymen and handywomen we employ, are full-time employees with benefits,” said Evans, adding that Fixer will also offer equity stakes to employees at every level.

Those details set Fixer apart from other online repair service marketplaces, which typically employ contractors or serve as digital storefronts for existing handyperson businesses.

“The gig economy is a dumpster fire, and it’s not good for the people who are in it,” said Evans. “It’s working for a few individuals, but a person who’s been working in the gig economy for five years doesn’t have any better career options than they did when they started. So we wanted to create a meaningful career path that could lead beyond Fixer toward someone starting their own business or working in residential or commercial construction.”

In Evans’ words, his startup is on a mission to become “a trade school disguised as a tech company.”

To date, Fixer’s staff consists primarily of experienced handypeople. But in growing its team, the startup plans to hire entry-level fixers who can learn the ropes from more seasoned colleagues. To prepare for that expansion, Fixer’s seasoned vets are already in the process of developing a training curriculum for new hires.

In addition to developing its own talent pipeline, Fixer wants to fill the gap left behind by the decline of technical trade schools — and the opportunities they once provided to big parts of the population.

“The number of tradespeople being trained in the United States has decreased precipitously in the last few decades,” said Evans. “Just locally, Lane Tech High School used to be a technical school that put people in the trades for most of its existence, but now it’s a college prep school. It’s very hard for high school students to enter into the trades.”

The lack of skilled labor hurts consumers as well, said Evans. Because demand for residential repair services far outstrips supply, contractors have little incentive to emphasize customer service.

“It is a royal pain in the neck to get a handyman right now,” said Evans. “You can call one of the listing services and you might get a phone call back a week later — or you might not.”

To Evans and his founding team, who discussed a broad range of potential business ventures before deciding to launch Fixer, that opportunity for impact was a major draw. And the chance to leverage the logistical and technical expertise they developed in building Grubhub into a publicly traded behemoth didn’t hurt, either.

With a current team of 23 and $1 million in venture backing, Fixer aims to grow explosively in the year to come. In upcoming months, the startup also plans to seek B Corp status — a designation for for-profit companies with explicit social missions.

The founder expects the service to be available in some Chicago suburbs by the end of the year. After taking a break from entrepreneurship after Grubhub went public in 2014, Evans said building a company from the ground up again has been invigorating.

“One of the things that surprised me was how much I am learning again about how to start a business,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with being empathetic, listening to people and having an open mind to feedback and the way my employees and co-workers are working. That was important the first time around, and learning it again more deeply the second time around has been surprisingly great.”

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