Entrepreneur Interview – Ilona Vella Bencini, chooseabid.com

chooseabid.com enables you to specify a service and gives suppliers the opportunity to bid. It’s simple – and genius!

 

Full transcript of the interview is below:

Monique: Okay, so this week’s entrepreneur interview is with Ilona Vella Bencini. Ilona: Good morning.

Monique: Good morning, now you’ve got a service that I’ve actually already started using, it’s fabulous.

Ilona: You have, you have. [Laughs] Monique: It’s so simple. So I got, you know, it’s one of those things that you can’t believe no one

else has actually ever thought of this before.
Ilona: Well they have, not maybe in Malta but internationally, the concept already exists. Monique: So tell us a bit more. So it’s called chooseabid.com

Ilona: Yes, that’s the name of the website. Basically, it’s a platform that offers various services, probably just around 200 different services and you can actually go and submit a request basically. So the whole concept and point behind it is that rather than picking up your phone and calling two three four different gardeners in your case or handyman or, it could be a babysitter, pet-sitter anyway, loads of different services. You just make your request once and the registered service providers will give you their quotes directly through the website. So basically you make a request once and receive multiple quotes all under one umbrella, one platform.

Thomas: Means you can go in and say I needed within like today, one day, two days a week, whatever. So you can put your urgency and just almost get things off your chest. And I have to stay chasing people, they chase you almost now?

Ilona: Yes, pretty much. If they’re available to the job, they’ll give you their quote, if they’re not available, obviously, they won’t bother. So if you needed urgently and out of five people, only one can do it, then the likelihood is that you will receive only one quote. So yes, basically, that’s the way it works.

Monique: So how do they receive the notification does they get like an SMS or an email is something that they because they respond to, these guys, I put my gardening request out there responded pretty quickly.

Ilona: Yes, there is even email. Until they get used to the system this is all very new. This is where I come in, and I have to do my fair share of chasing, listen, you’ve received a notification for this job, are you available? Would you like to give your quote? So there’s a lot that goes on the back end, you know, however, yes eventually, once they get used to, that should all be quite automatic really, because they receive an email if the job concerns them, and they can go ahead and give their quote. Obviously, they don’t receive a request, if it’s something that they don’t do. So if you are a gardener, you’re not going to receive a request [Monique interrupts]

Monique: To do nails. [Laughs] Ilona: Exactly. So I think it works quite well, both for the people providing the services and for the people requesting them.

Monique: What I like to ask is that when you get to review the person or the service, there are various things to review them on. So, punctuality is one of them. That’s really key for me, because I can’t stand waiting around and this guy, turned up exactly on time to come and see the job exactly on time to do the job. He checked with those yesterday, is this still okay. So that kind of thing is really important because it’s not just like; Yeah, he was really good. You have to say they were punctual, the price was right, they did what they said they were going to do, etc.

Ilona: Punctuality in Malta [Laughs] Unfortunately, that’s one of the reasons I think that we included that because , let’s say, we’re not the best at that. But we’re improving.

Monique: He’s Italian, sorry. [Laughs]

Ilona: Exactly, because there are all sorts of people, it’s not just for Maltese. It’s from both ends, the service providers are not all local, of course, I’m, you know, there’s a mix of both, and also the people requesting are both foreigners and local, I would say mostly foreign for now. And, but yeah, we’ll see as it goes.

Monique: Yeah, that makes sense, you have somebody you know, we have a new friend, she just moved over from the States. She has no idea where to start with any of this stuff. And she has a small child. So, until you meet other people with small children, you don’t know where the shops are, even what the brands are. Because if you don’t come from, basically an English or an Italian background, the brands are different, you don’t even know where to start with. They wouldn’t know what Mother care was. So where do you go for children’s clothes? Where do you go to buy books?

Ilona: Exactly. They ask all sorts of questions. To be honest, this is kind of how I came up with bringing this idea to Malta, because I worked in the online gaming industry for over twelve years. And I worked with a lot of expats, and they all used to come to me, you know, where can I get this done, and what can I get that done, and blah, blah, blah. And I thought it’s a really good idea to have everything sort of under one roof. And nowadays, few people have their own little office space and that they can afford make phone call after phone call for even their private needs. Today, everyone works, you know, it’s an open plan sort of working environment and you can’t just make loads of personal calls. And unfortunately, your day is long at the office and I know, even from my end, I mean, we even used to chat to each other through, you know, the online messaging and we’re a meter away from each other but you’re so used to typing everything on the computer. I mean, as bad as it sounds, it’s a bit of a reality. And, it’s good, where you can just put in your request, nobody needs to know about it, it’s there and you receive quotes.

Monique: Yeah, because I myself write notes in my diary, but now I don’t need to. Now I can just go on chooseabid.com and say, Okay, I need a carpenter to do this, I need someone to come and hang some curtains and I need this or that and it’s just like, you feel like the job is done because the guy gets back to you.

Ilona: Yes. I mean some industries are harder than others; some are more responsive than others. So, some might take longer than others to, you know, a lot of people who are out on the job, won’t even look at their emails once they go home, in the evening. So there’s also that part of it, as much as I would love it to be as instant as possible, I think certain industries or let’s say jobs might take a little bit longer for them to respond but they WILL respond.

Monique: But frankly if I again on the other side, if you’re somebody and you’ve got someone in your home doing the job for you, you don’t just stay stopping every ten minutes to be responding to everyone else. If you know that people are going to respond that day that’s fine that day is fine unless if it’s an emergency, you’re not going to basically use a website you’re going to phone an electrician or the fire brigade. [Laughs]. This is for jobs done or services required it’s not emergencies.

Ilona: No no an emergency I suppose is some something else.

Monique: Completely different okay. So from gaming to this, when did you sort of realize you really onto something that you would give up, because everyone talks about lucrative salaries and the fun of working in the gaming industry or twelve years was enough.

[Laughs]

Ilona: For me yes. Gaming is all fun, it’s a young environment, and there’s a lot of opportunity. So yes, it’s true, maybe cray cray for, you know, wanting to leave it all to, you know, it’s all about taking a risk really, I suppose. Yeah, I always wanted to do my own thing. That’s the reality ever since I graduated, so that’s a while back. And it’s not easy to come up with, okay, what to do what to do, it took me all these years, to think, Okay, what do I actually think could work in Malta. And the idea came about, actually, when I was living in London, working for another gaming company over there, and I used a similar service for the transportation industry. And I really liked it, I thought it was excellent. I was moving actually to Barcelona to another country. And I used it to send over all my luggage, my baggage, my suitcases, whatever I had.

Monique: I imagine, you had quite a few. [Laughs]

Ilona: Yes I had quite some stuff. And I got, it worked in exactly the same way. I put in my request, said, you know, I have whatever to be black bags, x boxes, blah, blah. And I received quotes from different people who are able to do the job. And I thought what a great idea. But I thought, Okay, that’s the UK we’re talking about a little more time and you can’t limit it to one industry. So I thought what if I apply to all and then, through research I found out that this actually exists, they have it in Australia, in the States ,in Europe. So it’s a concept that actually is tried and tested and works. I’m hoping it will also work in Malta, it’s still very new we have launched under two months ago now.

Monique: Now I’m telling everyone about it, it’s fantastic. [Laughs]. Like, Oh got it. I didn’t think of it actually. No seriously because if literally you see my diary. There’s find Carpenter, ring so and so, need this job done, need this etc. And with many people I have more than one property as well.

Ilona: Yes, as well.
Monique: You don’t have chance to do everything in time.

Ilona: And it’s not just about properties. Well I’m mentioning this in particular, because you mentioned properties. And most people when it comes services, they think our property, yes, it is a lot of that. But the site is split into four different categories as the business category. So if you need, an accountant, somebody to do social media, anything related to business services, there’s a whole load of that. And there’s also events. So if you’re getting married, photographers, I don’t know you want to rent a photo booth, the florist, lots of that as well. And then this for your personal needs. So I mentioned earlier, the babysitter, the pet sitter, I don’t know somebody to do

your nails, which you mentioned. So more to the beauty. So there’s all of that. There’s a whole bunch of stuff.

Monique: The wedding thing is a good one, because you see lots of requests going on facebook where people are coming to Malta to do a wedding and they don’t want to use a wedding planner, per say, but they want to find all the same services.

Ilona: Well there are also wedding planners. [Laughs]So they can as well. But yes, it’s all broken down. And also you might just want you know, one thing I know the whole shebang like using a wedding planner to do everything. So, you can kind of pick and choose.

Monique: And even like you said for events, if you wanted to have a party, can you find locations and things?

Ilona: Currently, the venues No. The venues aren’t included. But there’s a whole bunch of stuff related to events. Even if you want to rent a cocktail bar, for example, you know, all this sort of thing.

Monique: I’m gonna write that one.[Laughs] Ilona: Yeah, there is also a private chef, for example and all that type of stuff.

Monique: Oh, that’s really interesting. Yes, I’ve committed myself to party where actually I don’t know how to cook the food I suggested.

Ilona: Monique, I think you’re going to be like my number one by this interview. Monique: I just think it’s genius. I really do.

Ilona: Well, to be honest, there are so many things I need to get done myself. And I’m like, if only I could use this website myself and I obviously can’t.

Monique: You can’t?

Ilona: No I have to go direct. So anyway.
Monique: But how did you go about finding all of the people. You said you’ve over 200

categories. And I’m sure most of those have more than one service providers.

Ilona: Yes. So the idea is that some of the people are a bit slower than others to, you know, it’s a bit more difficult to get people to register and some, just they find me themselves, basically. But yeah, I spent a good I don’t want to tell you six months, but it could be more could be less of time literally, you know, scouring the internet, Facebook, business directories and whatnot, looking for different people. And even today request might come in that the people who have registered can’t do it so I go out there and again find some other options. So, it’s a constant job to try and find new people to register all the time. I don’t think that will ever end really. Because the more you have, the better it is, you give more options.

Monique: And the good ones will get saturated anyway. So you have to have opportunity because otherwise people if they can’t find the service, but what do you think is the most random thing you’ve got on there? Or you can’t say?

[Laughs]

Ilona: Actually the first request that came in and I was like; Oh my God , is this what I’m going to be receiving?
[Laughs]

Monique: What have I opened up myself to? [Laughs] But somebody needs that somebody needs that, you know, maybe there’s an adult section. [Laughs] How did you sort of build it, because you don’t build apps or websites, not myself, or the other people have done that but I sort of draw postcards and flow charts and things out, how did you go about building one?

Ilona: Well, I kind of used PowerPoint,

Monique: Oh you are so sophisticated. [Laughs]

Ilona: Well I’m not that great actually. I knew exactly what I wanted and when you know exactly what you want, I think it’s much easier to explain to your web designers and developers what you want. And plus, as I said this concept already exists. So I looked at what there is out there across the internet. And you get ideas, you see what do you think would work best for Malta, because

again, a lot of these work in different ways plus the big plus to I think what I have going here, and what I think it works differently overseas is that you don’t pay neither to register, you don’t pay as a service provider, innovator, and you don’t pay, I don’t know, to use the site, you don’t pay to speak to the client. So it’s all free to register to use, etc. And to get in touch with the client, obviously, I will need to give you the details of the client, if one wants to get in touch, but you only give a commission if the client chooses you. So even to submit a quote, it’s all free. So really, unless you get the job, you have nothing to lose. So it’s all quite attractive to local service providers, because they really have nothing to lose. So that’s kind of a little bit different.

Monique: And as a user you only pay the commission when you’ve booked the job. And then you pay for the job, once the job is done to the service provider themselves.

Ilona: As the user, you don’t pay anything to use the site. Monique: No, no not on a daily basis. But if you book a job?

Ilona: No, if the service provider is giving a charge 50 euro, we take commission on that 50 eurofrom the service provider, you only pay the deposit to book the service so that he won’t go on and get the job privately.

Monique: Oh I see. Okay.
Ilona: So let’s say, as a user if you want to book [Monique interrupts] Monique: A cocktail party [Laugh]. There would be a Big deposit. [Laugh]

Ilona: Yes let’s say a cocktail party, you would pay your deposit. But the deposit is on the total quote and then you pay the 90% of what you owe. So, really you’re paying your full part without paying anything extra. Obviously as chooseabid if the service provider wants to inflate his price, there’s no one of us controlling that and we’ll never know anyway.

Monique: 50% Commission at the end of the day. [Laughs]

Ilona: So really, you don’t pay extra for using chooseabid.com if you want a service, technically you shouldn’t be paying anything extra. And again, as I said, if somebody wants to inflate their price, there’s not much we can do about it and we wouldn’t know about it anyway. But the concept is for them not to do that because it calculates our commission when they submit their

quote, it automatically deducts it from their quote. So technically, they shouldn’t be doing that. But there’s no guarantee again.

Monique: Yeah ofcourse business is business; the whole beauty of it is you can choose the person based on their profile, on their price, or availability. So it’ sometimes it’s not actually about the cheapest.

Ilona: No it’s not, exactly, it’s not.
Monique: It’s about the review, the reliability.
Ilona: Yes it’s a lot about that actually. Sometimes cheapest is not always the best.

Monique: Exactly if it’s the cheapest but they don’t turn up, then not much good [Laughs] So on a daily basis, now, then you also place a bid still have an intermediary still finding new suppliers, and then when it’s all up and running sweet, you’ve got another idea?

Ilona: Let’s get this one to work as it should. One thing at a time, there are a few other things I have in mind, which are kind of related to this, but obviously not this because this is done now and which I obviously won’t disclose. [Laughs] But really it will take time I think it functions as I said when the service providers automatically come so it will take some time. And my focus is completely on getting it to work as I imagined it to work in home. So my focus is completely on getting new service providers on a day to day basis, ideally, and if anyone’s requesting quotes basically to get them in as soon as possible. So I’m doing a lot of the chasing, etc. I mentioned earlier.

Monique: And the marketing of it, like you said before, it’s mostly expats seem to be needing the service maybe because as Maltese we sort of think we know someone who could do it or somebody in a family member twice removed or whatever.

Ilona: Yeah, exactly

Monique: But then there are things that you need that you never needed before or you need to recommend to somebody else. So you are going through the Facebook channels I guess to promote it?

Ilona: Yeah, well, we have social media going out every single day, pretty much on Facebook and Instagram, I post pretty much everyday. And then there’s all the other random stuff that one does, you know, marketing wise, but as I said, it’s all very fresh. So the road is long and well, hopefully it won’t be too hard.

Monique: No. I genuinely think you’re sitting on something. I wouldn’t use it if I didn’t think it was good.

Ilona: The feedback is good. I’m glad money. Yeah, the feedback is good. I have to say it’s good. But I don’t like to blow my own trumpet. So let’s see, one step at a time and hoping that people will find it as useful as you did.

Monique: Excellent. Well that’s been me, Monique chambers talking to Ilona Vella Bencini of chooseabid.com.
Have a go !

 

Monique Chambers
Monique Chambers

Monique started succeed in 2018 and indulge in 2011. She has published two apps; Indulge Me GIFT and Indulge Me FOOD and volume 1 of The Artists Directory - Malta, as well as an audio book, Table 7. A PR and Marketing professional by trade with a Masters in Entrepreneurship, Monique's passion is to promote local talent and Malta in general.

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