Benzion Aboud saw the opportunity. It was staring him right in the face. The shopping habits of the American consumer were changing, and Saveology.com LLC had a chance to capitalize on it in a big way.
“We’re very much like Expedia for home services,” says Aboud, the company’s founder and CEO. “So our goal was very clear. We wanted to be the biggest distributor of home services in America. We don’t really care what you buy, but we want to educate you. And after we educate you, we want to transact a sale just like Expedia would with hotels and flights. They’ll educate you on the time and prices and then you buy the product or service.”
The opportunity came about due in large part to the economic recession of 2008. Consumers were being much more selective about how they spent money, including expenses such as TV, phone and Internet services. The good news for Aboud was that consumers weren’t ready to abandon these services completely. They just didn’t want to spend as much on them.
And that’s where Aboud hoped to cash in.
“You may stop going to dinner two or three times a week or not take two vacations a year,” Aboud says. “But one thing you’re not canceling if you lose your job or if things get tough is your entertainment and your communications. We actually grew during those times because people did want to look at different options to make their dollar go a long way.”
Aboud wanted to be the one to provide those options, but there was one big problem: Saveology wasn’t ready to do it. He didn’t have enough people, and he didn’t have the right technology to capitalize on the increased demand.
“My challenge was to build the proper technology to sustain the volume we were going to be generating and also bring in the right leadership that we as a company would need to get us there,” Aboud says. “With the volume of people hitting my website and the volume of people calling our call center, our infrastructure was on toothpicks. We were really not servicing the consumers the way I envisioned.
“There was not one leader in this industry and not one company that dominated this space. We as a company knew that we needed to build a business that would be the biggest home service provider in the U.S. and would have the scalability to service millions of people. So we had to build the team, the technology and the marketing effort to do that.”Get the right people
Aboud began by working on his leadership team. He needed a group of management-level peers that could help him build the right technological infrastructure for the volume Aboud wanted to capture.
“I wanted to assemble what I call the dream team and not just have one opinion but be able to sit around the table with five or six individuals and share everybody’s experience,” Aboud says. “One of the biggest challenges was doing that in South Florida.”
South Florida has a lot of things going for it: It’s got sun, it’s got sandy beaches and now it’s got LeBron James. But one thing it didn’t have in the eyes of Aboud was a wealth of “dot-com” talent.
“Usually these types of organizations, an online company or a dot-com, they are in New York or San Francisco,” Aboud says. “The challenge we had was not only do we need to build the right technology down in South Florida, we had to find the right leadership down in South Florida. I was not willing to compromise, because people did not live here. I knew one of the challenges I had was to relocate great talent down here.”
Aboud was going to have to go out and find these people and sell them on the opportunity that lay before Saveology.
“The challenge is finding those people that work the way you work, the same style, the same aggressiveness and the same 80- or 90-hour workweeks with no fear and just moving forward,” Aboud says. “It’s very difficult to find the C-level person who is willing to get down and dirty and be very aggressive and do the amount of traveling we have to do as a company and go strike the deals.”
The first thing you need to do when you’re looking for an experienced C-level leader is to sell yourself, sell your company and sell the opportunity you’re looking at. If this person is as talented as you want them to be, they’re probably not actively looking for a job.
“A good company does not get rid of a good person,” Aboud says.
Thus, you need to give them a reason to leave what they’ve got and come work for you.
“You’re looking for someone who wants to enrich themselves and is looking for a fast-growth company,” Aboud says. “I targeted those types of individuals, because I felt if I could share with them my passion and my vision and convince them on the business model itself, at that point it wouldn’t be about the current dollar amount or package I was able to put in front of them.
“It was more about, ‘I want to be part of a winning team. I want to be part of a growing team. This is something I want to achieve in my life.’”
So where do you find these people? Start by talking to your friends and peers who know you best. Use them as resources to help you identify potential talent.
“I went to my lawyers and accountants and other financial-related people,” Aboud says. “They’ll know my mentality and they’ll know the way I run a business. They’ll recommend people that they think would fit the culture of this organization. Look at your industry. Look at your network of friends and business relationships and tell them what you’re looking for. The recommendations of friends and business associates go a very long way.”
You’re looking for people who have confidence in their abilities but aren’t so brash that they can’t work as part of a team.
“One thing that discourages me is when I sit down with people and they say, ‘Yeah, I worked for this company and they did $50 million in sales, but I took them to $150 million,” Aboud says. “I doubt that there is any ‘I’ who took a company to $150 million. To me, the answer is, ‘I was part of a great team that took it to $150 million.’”
It’s obviously a lot tougher to find someone with experience and a track record of success than it is to fill an entry-level position.
“You’re not going to be able to sell a bill of goods to these C-level people,” Aboud says. “You have to have a strong business model. You have to have a strong balance sheet. You have to be able to articulate your vision. What you have to do is be ready to fail in making the wrong decision. When I hire people, I don’t have to bat 1.000. I understand that if I do my due diligence and I follow some key points I’ve given myself to follow, I believe I’ll have a high success rate. What I’m looking for are people who have an understanding and comprehension of what we’re trying to accomplish as a company.”Get to work
Aboud found four individuals who he felt could fill the gaps and bring the skills to the table that he did not possess.
“When I looked at these C-level people, I was looking for them to help me with where my weaknesses were,” Aboud says.
So he sat everyone down and opened the discussion on how to upgrade Saveology and prepare for the influx of business that he felt was out there to be had.
“I clearly understand in my mind why I want to do something and what it means to the company,” Aboud says. “But if you can’t articulate that to your team, they won’t move forward the way you need them to. It’s very important to articulate your goals.”
To begin developing a plan of action, Aboud gathered his leaders and worked with them to develop a list of priorities for the next 12 months.
“We basically had a two-man team for everything,” Aboud says. “The marketing team would work on marketing solutions and the technology team would work on technology solutions. And we’d get into a room once a week and we’d have an executive meeting. At that time, every person would go over what they had learned and what they had accomplished the previous week and what their recommendation was to make sure that piece fit the puzzle.”
There are two keys to making this type of research and information-gathering effort work. The first is being open with your partners and the people you’re seeking out for help.
“We clearly set out what our goals were, even with our partners, of where we wanted to go,” Aboud says. “Most companies, they don’t roll out what their plan is. They hold back. What happens when you hold back is the people you are working with, they don’t really understand where you’re going as a company. We were very transparent.”
The second key is you need to set dates and deadlines to keep things on track.
“A good CEO sets up a timetable,” Aboud says. “Many companies put up dates and the dates mean nothing. As a good leader, my team and the extended team below my team understands that when we commit to a date, we’re going to achieve that date. It’s really holding the team accountable to that date.”
The key to being successful both with your research mission and with staying on track is to give both your partners and your direct reports an incentive to help you.
“We motivate companies the way we motivate our employees,” Aboud says. “Compensate them for hitting particular dates. You make it sexier. The reason people are motivated in my company is they believe in the vision. They knew if they hit it, the company would strive faster and the company would be more profitable and they would have a better opportunity to grow.”
As you experience victories along the way, big or small, make sure you share the glory with your people.
“It’s important for a CEO to share his vision and his passion and show ethics in his work,” Aboud says. “But it’s also important to reward employees as the company is growing. As the CEO or owner of the business, you are rewarded as the company strives toward success. So the people underneath you should be too. What excites my key people is that as the company is moving forward, they are well-compensated for the success both with responsibilities and financially.”
Judging by the numbers, Saveology is making progress toward its goal. The company has grown from 450 employees to 800 employees and revenue has jumped from $92.8 million in 2006 to $117.7 million in 2009.
“We keep on striving and we keep on going,” Aboud says. “I’m never satisfied and my team is never satisfied. When we have a banner month, we look at it as another step toward where we want to go and we try to make next month even better.”
How to reach: Saveology.com LLC, (866) 951-8931 or www.saveology.com