Dallas—His first ride in an Uber brought Billy Stevens out of retirement.
It was the ride-hailing app’s ability to locate and dispatch drivers to meet customers that got the gears turning for the master-plumber-turned-entrepreneur, who had sold his plumbing and air-conditioning service business to a private equity firm in 2011.
“With plumbing companies, it’s typically a half-day window” before customers see someone, he says. “That got me thinking about using an algorithm.”
That brainstorm led to the creation of BillyGo, an app-based plumbing business that launched in September. Customers call up the startup’s app, much like one does with Uber, and request plumbing services. Instead of a half-day window, Stevens says he can get a plumber to a customer within an hour.
When human dispatchers contact with individual plumbers they have to adjust the time they will be unavailable due to other calls and specific services needed. For Stevens’ app, those decisions can happen nearly instantaneously.
“The computer knows, ‘OK, we can’t take any more calls today for this guy because he is going to be there for the rest of the day,” he explains. “The algorithm thinks better than a human will.”
Traditional plumbing companies have about 30 “touches”—contacts with a customer—from the time someone calls for an appointment to when a service has been completed, Stevens says. BillyGo reduces that to three or four contacts. “That [efficiency] has allowed us to hire 30 to 35 fewer people” for the same number of customer requests that Stevens says he saw at his traditional plumbing business.
Unlike ride-hailing companies, however, BillyGo’s plumbers are all employees—rather than independent contractors—and undergo complete background checks, Stevens says. “Our biggest deal is security; there are no third parties,” he says.
So far, BillyGo has 16 employees and Stevens says he would hire additional plumbers as soon as he could get trucks built for them to drive. The startup’s trucks have a customized design in order to maximize each technician’s efficiency while on the road, Stevens adds.
Instead of one central warehouse, Stevens says BillyGo’s suppliers work with the startup to set up several locations scattered across North Texas. “We can do just-in-time inventory,” he says. “Products can be brought to him while he’s on the job by our suppliers.”
In all, Stevens says BillyGo’s technologies can reduce overhead costs by up to 25 percent compared to typical plumbing businesses, and afford to give customers a discount, too.
To get things started, BillyGo raised $1 million in a friends and family round, and Stevens says he’s looking to do a Series A round of $10 million this year. He plans to use those funds to expand BillyGo to provide air conditioning services. He says he’s also looking at licensing a white-label version of his technology for use by other companies.
BillyGo’s app has been downloaded 1,900 times since September, and Stevens says he plans to grow that number to 10,000 and to enter a second geographical market by end of 2019.
“Ten thousand app downloads may not sound like a lot in the tech world but … our average ticket per download exceeds $400,” he says. “It took me nine years to get 10,000 customers the old-fashioned way of running a plumbing company.”