Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and many other billionaire entrepreneurs dropped out of college to start a business. Does that mean you should do the same?
“Consider how you feel about the opportunity at hand,” Oisin Hanrahan says. “If the opportunity fits what you really want to do, your long-term values and vision, it can make sense to take time off from school.”
It also helps to have a solid team, a product gaining traction and a waiting list of interested customers. Luckily, Hanrahan had all three when he decided to quit Harvard Business School in mid-2012 to launch Handybook, an online portal that matches pre-qualified home professionals with consumers who need help around the house.
Hanrahan has yet to regret his decision to drop out. He and co-founder (and former Harvard roommate) Umang Dua are operating a 9-person company out of a Midtown Manhattan office with more than $2 million in venture funding. And though he's only 29 years old, Handybook isn’t even Hanrahan’s first venture into the world of entrepreneurship.
From Cardboard Salesman to Tech Entrepreneur
Growing up in Dublin, Ireland, Hanrahan took a year off after high school to gain work experience. “I sold cardboard packaging for a small Irish business and ended up earning a fair amount of money,” he says.
He went on to enroll at Trinity College in Dublin. While there, he traveled to Eastern Europe, using the money he had earned selling cardboard to buy and renovate dated apartment units for around $10,000 each. He flipped several apartments before graduating in 2006 with a degree in economics and moving to London to work for a venture capital firm.
Soon after that, he and a friend started an online political platform where media outlets could retrieve election-related syndicated data. The platform took off and was eventually purchased.
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Dirty Apartment Sparks Business Idea
Hanrahan’s short-lived Harvard career started in September 2011. He moved into a flat with two friends and before long, his apartment looked less like a serene living environment and more “like a bomb site,” he says. “We had to get a cleaner but found it really difficult to find good people.” This frustration sparked the idea for Handybook.
In 2012, Hanrahan and Dua found Summer@Highland, an incubator designed for student-run startups and were given $18,000, office space for a few months and mentorship from seasoned entrepreneurs.
By the end of the summer, Handybook was attracting the interest of serious investors. The team closed a $2 million round in September and in November moved to New York City.
Fighting Off Competitors
On the surface, it looks like Handybook is in the same space as other personal assistant-style sites such as OhSoWe and TaskRabbit. But as Hanrahan explains, his company is carving out an entirely different niche. “With Angie’s List, TaskRabbit and others, everything is done through a request for proposal process,” he says. “The customer has to select the right provider, make sure they are insured, etc. With Handybook, we insure all of our professionals. They are real professionals, not just people who clean on the weekends.”
The Handybook user experience goes something like this: Log onto the site, type in your zip code, select the type of service needed and desired time frame. Once entered, Handybook confirms (usually within 30 to 60 seconds) a professional to do the job. “We communicate in realtime with service providers through push notifications,” he says.
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To date, Handybook has service professionals in New York, Boston and San Francisco. Each provider is carefully screened through a reference check, in-person interview and background check. While this process can be time consuming, Hanrahan maintains that the time is worth it. “Our model works because we find it worthwhile to validate a person’s credentials,” he says. “We are also finding that good providers are a great channel to other good providers.”
Rapid growth is on the horizon for Handybook, Hanrahan says. The company plans to expand with 15 more categories (carpentry, electrical, window cleaning, etc.), and more cities.
“We think the opportunity here is absolutely massive,” Hanrahan says. “We want to change the way people buy services. The more I get into this industry, the more I believe that there will be an Amazon-style model for purchasing home services in the next few years. We want to be at the forefront of that trend.”
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Katie Morell is an independent journalist based in San Francisco. She regularly contributes to Hemispheres, USA Today, Consumers Digest, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, Crain’s Chicago Business and others.