Wednesday 21 November 2018

'It happens suddenly' - knowing when to sell a €100m startup

Rathcoole-born Oisin Hanrahan raised almost €100m for the online services firm he co-founded, Handy.com. He spoke to Adrian Weckler about starting companies and his own future

Making his mark: Oisin Hanrahan is now one of Ireland’s most successful young enterpreneurs after selling Handy.com to American rival Angi Homeservices Photo: Adrian Weckler
Making his mark: Oisin Hanrahan is now one of Ireland’s most successful young enterpreneurs after selling Handy.com to American rival Angi Homeservices Photo: Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler technology editor

IIT'S BEEN a busy month for Oisin Hanrahan, the thirty-something Rathcoole man who built one of America's most-used home cleaning services. Last week, he and co-founder Umang Dua sold Handy.com. Having raised almost €100m in recent years for its expansion across US, Canadian and UK cities, Hanrahan and Dua decided to accept an acquisition offer from an American rival, Nasdaq-listed Angi Homeservices.

Hanrahan, who started out as a property developer in Hungary aged just 19 before going on to co-found a political content service with the Web Summit's Paddy Cosgrave, is tight-lipped about how much Handy.com was sold for.

But he says that they made the decision to sell to try to accelerate their ability to add new services and reach more people.

"It just felt like the time was right," he says. "We really want to integrate with as many large retailers as possible. Doing that with the strength of the Angi Homeservices brand behind us felt like a really natural fit."

Since 2012, the company has had seven different funding rounds.

It was born in 2012 when Hanrahan dropped out of Harvard Business School, where he met Dua, to focus on the household services firm in an era when online services were starting to boom.

Handy started out primarily as a cleaner-for-hire service, but has expanded into other services in almost 30 major US cities, as well as Canada and Britain.

It has had some challenges in recent years, partly wrapped up in the complicated transition of some parts of the labour force to a 'gig economy'.

Hanrahan says that becoming part of a bigger outfit seemed like the most sensible way to keep its expansion on track.

"You reach these decision points in what seems like a gradual manner but then it happens suddenly," he says. "You're going along and then things change. So you're trying to figure out the best way to scale the business even faster, whether it's across more customers or more professionals or across more services.

"Chris [Terrill, CEO of Angi Homeservices] and Brandon [Ridenour, CEO-designate of Angi] really understand home services. Over the last 20 years they've built a platform that truly has scale. It just feels like a great opportunity to go and join another team and continue to scale out the business."

Part of the deal with Angi Homeservices is that Hanrahan and Dua will stay with Handy and remain based in New York. The aim is to keep growing, with 30 roles in the company up for grabs.

The acquisition transaction, which is subject to regulatory approval, is set to be completed at the end of the month.

Regardless of how much Angi Homeservices is paying for Handy, Hanrahan is now one of Ireland's most successful young entrepreneurs.

He joins the founders of €1bn-valued Intercom and the Web Summit's Paddy Cosgrave, who just signed a €110m deal with Portuguese authorities, as part of a wave of tech-oriented millennials making their mark on the business world.

But for those who think that anyone can simply ramp up an enterprise if they know a thing or two about software as a service or online services, Hanrahan has a stark message.

"One of the lessons I take from the last six years is that building companies is really hard," he says. "It's hard to go out there and recruit a team, get customers and build great products. We've definitely had highs and lows so far. What I take from it is just appreciation for anyone who goes out there and does it."

Hanrahan still keeps tabs on some of the other Irish companies trying to scale.

"It was good to see Paddy's deal get done with Lisbon," he says. "I don't fully understand how that €3bn buyout figure works, but it's a great number. They've built an incredible conference with tens of thousands of people going every year and it's great that it continues to be based out of Dublin."

Like others who have made it to a certain point on the tech entrepreneurial ladder in Ireland, Hanrahan is now investing in younger Irish startups. "There's a great crop of people coming up," he says. "I'm fortunate to have invested recently in Advisable.com, which is another ex-Web Summit person [Peter O'Malley]."

But while capital is easier to come by these days, the availability of people to work at a startup has become more of a challenge.

"I think it's much more challenging to build a business now, even though it's a much easier environment to raise capital in," he says.

"We had a period in Ireland in 2009 when unemployment was pretty high, but finance was more difficult. I think the businesses that were built then are probably going to be a little different to the ones built now where unemployment is much lower but the cost of labour is much higher. So they'll be quite different."

Angi Homeservices operates in eight countries. It's best known for its HomeAdvisor and Angie's List brands.

"Handy gives us a strong foothold in the gig economy space with an innovative product and infrastructure to power retailers' in-home services offerings," Terrill said last week. "This is a significant driver of the growth of the home-services category and our acceleration within it."

So given that he's now investing in other startups, is Hanrahan thinking of moving on anything else, or possibly away from Handy? No, he says.

"Our primary goal remains the same, to create the best service experience possible for our customers and pros. We've done a lot of work recently around building a great technology platform to help retailers. The idea is that when you buy a product that needs installation or assembly, right at point of sale in a store, you can use Handy's technology platform to buy services right there and then. By joining Angi Homeservices we can now bring that experience to more people."

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