PP 114: Marc Stern, Co-Founder of Homeowners Hub
My great friend and client, Marc Stern, joins me for a chat about his journey as an entrepreneur. We discuss scaling, systems, partnerships, the importance of “Me” time, and Marc’s love of Mondays. (Ha!)
KIM: Welcome back to another episode of Positive Productivity. This is your host Kim Sutton and today I am thrilled to have a great friend and also a client Marc Stern, who is co-founder of HomeOwners Hub with us today. Was that just a little bit run on? You know-
MARC: No it’s OK
KIM: Welcome Marc, I’m so happy to have you here.
MARC: Thank you Kim. It’s really a pleasure to finally be on your awesome podcast.
KIM: Oh thank you very much. Marc, as I already mentioned you’re the co-founder of HomeOwners Hub, but I would love for you to share with the listeners what you did before HomeOwners Hub, and then also share what HomeOwners Hub is all about.
MARC: Sure I’d be happy to first – Hi everybody! So before I joined HomeOwners Hub, I had a career in business where I was always the person within the organization who found a better way to do things. I transferred millions of dollars of business back into the organization when I worked for a company called “Scholastic” they’re children’s book publisher and media conglomerates. And when I started there, I realized that they were thrown away a tremendous amount of money on pre-press, and I decided to take matters into my own hands and opened up an in-house digital imaging division, which was wildly successful grew and became a model for the rest of the organization. Done similar things when I worked for the musician’s union in New York City and for the most part, every job I’ve had, I’m also a guitar player, musician, songwriter and I’ve eventually ended up having a chat with some of my friends here locally, who were licensed electricians, and they fill me in on the idea for a service that would make a convenient place for homeowners to go, to do all of their own maintenance, repairs, renovations whatever it might be. And it planted the seed, we had long discussions and we formed HomeOwners Hub.
KIM: I love it. Obviously you know I love it. And as I said listeners, Marc is a client so, I’m very familiar with the operations. And one of my favorite parts, and I wish that there were a branch out here in Ohio which hopefully someday, soon, there will be better. What I love is that clients and subscribers and maybe not even subscribers can hop on the HomeOwners Hub website, request a service when they need one. Anything from like our fans blowing over and needs to be fixed. Did you see that Marc?
MARC: Yes, I did.
KIM: Yup, to a leaky basement or anything. And then HomeOwners Hub, really takes care of it all from there. So it’s such a big time saver for homeowners. And what do you have to say for contractors as well Marc?
MARC: Absolutely because we are advocates for both the homeowner and the contractor. The contractors love us because when we reach out to them, nine times out of 10, we actually have a job for them. So, miraculously they call us back, whereas they may not call the homeowner back right away. And the homeowners love us, because they can order a service if they’re lying on the beach in Tahiti, and we’ll just get it all done for them.
KIM: Oh, I need to be on the beach in Tahiti.
MARC: Me too.
KIM: Yeah, so when the whole idea was coming about, I’m sure you’ve seen this in entrepreneurs before. A lot of entrepreneurs don’t do the adequate market research, before they try to launch a business. What type of market research did you all do and did he do any type of surveys? And listeners, this is not a question, that we’ve ever talked about before so, I’m sorry for putting you on the spot Marc.
MARC: It’s fine. It’s a great question Kim. So, to go quickly we did not do any surveys, however our market research was done, because I am partners with a licensed electrician, who has been in business in our town South Orange Maplewood, New Jersey for almost 20 years. So, she developed a tremendous amount of goodwill, and the idea was born out of people asking her to recommend other trades. And is there a way for them to schedule other trades through her, so the seeds had been sown for this business, and we feel like the climate is right. Because so many businesses are offering this type of on demand service on the web. And so what we’ve done is we figured out a way to do that. And I must say, that you have been a tremendous help in helping us get there.
KIM: Oh thank you. I would like to talk about that for a minute because I know that the work that, I’ve been helping you with, and I’m not trying to promote myself here. However, I suppose I can plug myself by one, but the work that I have in helping you with it has been Infusionsoft and getting all the systems in order. And there’s some websites support, but what type of transition, or how did you have systems set up, when you started the business and what would you say the growth and the evolution has been?
MARC: Well, when we started the business, we were using an antiquated technology called – telephones. And we used some e-mail, and some SMS, and customers were contacting us based on word of mouth and goodwill. So, what we did was once we enlisted your help to get our Infusionsoft product up and running, we started to market, and we started to do e-mail marketing, and social media marketing, and it grew from there.
KIM: I know we’re constantly trying to see how we can expand all of the systems to see how we can further expand HomeOwners Hub. Marc, I didn’t even realize, until just now and it’s surprising to me considering how much we do talk. I didn’t realize that you had been with Scholastic.
MARC: For 21 years.
KIM: For 21 years, how has that never come up in conversation? I knew that you knew, Photoshop and, you know, all these great tools, but I didn’t really ever think, I guess to ask how that all happened. Can you share more about your experiences? Because I just feel like there are more nuggets in your experience.
MARC: Oh there are. So, when I was hired to work at Scholastic, I was on the cusp of desktop publishing, and I started to realize that we were throwing away a ton of money doing pre-press. And one day, that was validating for me, when I was walking by a dumpster, and I found bills, and as I looked at the bills, I realized that we were sending over a million dollars a year on pre-press. So, I took it upon myself to draft a proposal, learn Photoshop, start to bring that type of pre-press in-house. It worked tremendously well. They granted me a promotion in my own division, and I did that for about 15 years.
KIM: What do you mean by pre-press?
MARC: In other words when you see a picture for lack of a better term that appears in a magazine. That picture has been processed from analog to digital. It’s been processed for color sharpness, or have special effects, silhouetting, and all of that in a very involved process using Adobe Photoshop. And we were farming that out, and it was being done traditionally with, I think what they call the site text machine at the time.
So, Photoshop was in its infancy, and I saw an opportunity, and being that I have a very strong entrepreneurial spirit, I said to myself: “So, there’s something here.” And so I tried it for about six months, without any sort of formal support. And the images that I was working on, got great reviews from the editors, and from the higher ups, and they wondered how we did that. And when it came back that I did them, they were very intrigued. I put together a proposal, and worked there for a really long time.
KIM: I just had to ask, even though this isn’t really relevant right now – is this how you met your wife?
MARC: In fact, it is how I met my wife. She is an artist, and she was working at Scholastic, and we used to pass each other in the hall. She called me HallMarc.
KIM: That is so funny. I mean, does she still call you HallMarc?
MARC: No she calls the other things, but I don’t think your viewers will approve..
KIM: Marc, I know that you are also a guitarist and you teach guitar. How have you managed to find balance, or time to keep up your passion in guitar, while you’ve also been a business owner?
MARC: Well that’s like asking me – How do you find time to grieve? Because music is not just a passion for me, it’s an outlet. It helps me maintain whatever semblance of sanity I have left. And I made a set time, every Thursday night, I get together with my friends, who I’ve been playing now for 12 years, the band just called: “Thursday Habit” Go figure, and we make music, we record, we gig on the weekends sometimes. And I need to make time to do that, because if I didn’t, I would be a grumpy Marc.
KIM: And through that you’ve had the opportunity to me, and have you even been on stage with some pretty phenomenal musicians?
MARC: Well yes, but I hate to name drop, but let’s just say that, I’ve had a very long musical career, and I have had numerous situations where I found myself out of my realm of talent.
KIM: I’ve heard you play, I would put it that far.
MARC: And I thank you Kim.
KIM: Marc, is your Thursday night, is that at all negotiable? Or have you, I mean, is anything else that comes up on Thursday night, is that just a flat out “no”?
MARC: Well it depends. You know, I have family, everyone else in the band has families. If something comes up, either we’ll reschedule, or we’ll move it to the next Thursday. Well, we know, that Thursday nights are sacred, and we all look forward to Thursday nights, starting on Friday mornings. So, you know, it helps give a focus, and a release to what can usually be very draining weeks.
KIM: Oh yeah. You and I share that conversation every Monday and every Friday. Mark, what systems have you worked into your business, that have really helped that grow, and have kept it progressing throughout the last few years?
MARC: I would say that the most important systems are, our social media campaigns, and our e-mail marketing which we do for Infusionsoft, which was set up by the incredible Kim Sutton, and without those, our presence in the digital domain would be significantly reduce. And that’s how we’re growing, as we’re growing organically. We do have some SEO’s set up, but it’s not at a point where I can say: “Look, it’s really working” So, we tend to grow organically more than anything else, and we are looking to expand nationwide. So, we’re expanding our systems as well.
KIM: You know I want to touch on Infusionsoft, because one of the things that we have set up as the survey for our clients at the end, and you ask subscribers or homeowners I should say because they aren’t necessarily a subscriber. You asked them how their experience was? And I would love for you to share how that survey works? And what your intentions are with the audience, because I think it’s something that a lot of entrepreneurs really need to think about in their own business models.
MARC: Well we’re in ultimately a customer service business. So, when we send out a survey after a job has been completed, we take the responses very seriously. We have three choices “Yey!” “Met” or “No”. And if someone says: “Yey” – we’re really happy. Occasionally we’ll send out special offers, where someone answers “Yey” we’ll give them a little break on the next service call. Well, if there are any negative responses. We contact their customer immediately, because we need to know where we went wrong so, we can fix it. And the truth is, we’re only as good as our last service call, if we send a technician to your home, and they blow up your kitchen. You’ll never use us again, unless you have an multiple bookings.
KIM: I love your humor and it’s always appreciated.
KIM: Marc, time has gone on, and I can’t believe I think we’re approaching two years of having worked together.
KIM: There have been. I don’t want to call them struggles. There’s definitely been challenges in the systems, in finding the ones that do everything that we want them to. And I can hear you nodding.
KIM: Yeah. For other entrepreneurs who have a scalable model, do you have any advice that you would offer to them.
MARC: Well, I think the most important thing is to not bite off, more than you could chew. I think that if you scale too quickly, you find yourself in a day unable to keep up with just services, or the products that you have, if you are able to scale quickly, by all means do it, if you can support it. But always make sure that you keep your heart in the right place, and make sure that you remain connected to your customers, because if you start to overlook the people that are actually providing the lifeblood of your business, your business will fail.
KIM: Right. And especially when it’s word of mouth and so, at this time so closely knit in your community.
MARC: For any community if I use Roto-Rooter, and I really hated the person that came to my house, and a neighbor of mine said: “Hey, I have a problem. Should I call Roto-rooter?” I would say: “No”
KIM: Right. Marc, I know and love your business partners, but I’d love for you to talk a little bit about items to consider when you are looking to partner with somebody, when starting a business. What were the biggest items that you took into consideration? Did you have a partnership agreement? What were some of the different legalities that you went through and what would you recommend?
MARC: Well we do have a partnership agreement. There are legalities involved, because we are having a cash business and we need money. And the business has shares, and we have equity, and we had equity illegible for investors. And so the legal component is actually a very challenging aspect to the business. One of my co-founders Kavell Taylor is actually great at handling all of that, and kudos to her. In terms of finding a team, I think is really important. Like when you want to get married. You want to find someone with compatible neuroses. Right? Because everyone has their stuff, and you want to have a talent base, that is compatible, but yet you want to really be able to get along with the people and respect the people you work with, because without that you really you’re doomed for failure.
KIM: Oh yeah absolutely. And I’ve never even brought this up on the Positive Productivity Podcast. But in my first attempt at entrepreneurship, I did not think through very well when I brought on a partner, and I think it lasted a month.
MARC: Well, but you have grown from that, and that’s part of your positive productivity, which is to learn from your past mistakes, move on, don’t make them again, and say: “Alright, well if I was me, which most people are with them, then what would I do and how would I learn from past mistakes?”
KIM: Oh yeah, definitely, and my husband is my business partner, but that doesn’t mean he does anything in my business, besides support me completely, which is the best type of support I can imagine having. So–
MARC: Well, I mean your husband supports your business and does other things around the home, that make it easier for you to pursue your dreams. And it’s part of a team, it’s all teamwork really.
KIM: Oh absolutely, and I love that you you just brought that up, because I know you all have an office, and there are days when I talk to you when you’re working at home. How do you personally work that out for yourself? Because there are things around your house that you need to have done, either a father, your a husband. What type of structure do you have in your life to make sure or to try to get everything done? I don’t think it’s possible. Is it possible Marc, to get everything done that needs to get done?
MARC: Absolutely not! But the truth is, I tend to get more done working from home. There are less distractions, I can blast my music, I can have phone calls or be interviewed without saying: “Could you please be quite!” And it’s just easier for me to concentrate, I have my kitty on my lap, and it provides more of a calm atmosphere.. At the office it can be somewhat frenetic. The phones are ringing, there are people talking, people walking in, and although I love them all, I actually do tend to be more productive at home.
KIM: I can definitely hear that. And there are definitely days especially Mondays, when I get more done.
MARC: Kim, I don’t like Mondays.
KIM: I love Mondays. I don’t see how you can not like Mondays. Listeners, if you love Mondays, please go to the podcast page, and leave a note down below. I would just love to take a survey. Totally impromptu survey request.
MARC: OK, let me rephrase that then Kim. It’s not they don’t love Mondays, it’s that I don’t love mornings, and on Monday there are mornings, and after a weekend morning, where I can maybe sleep in a little bit. So Monday morning, tends to be a bit of a shock to my system. So, it’s a two cup morning.
KIM: Uhmmmnn, Marc how many years do I have to wait before we can start sleeping in again?
MARC: That would be not that much longer. Your twins are how old now?
MARC: I don’t have that many more years left maybe 14.
KIM: Thank you. Oh and listeners, you can go to TheKimSutton.com/PP114 to leave your comment as to whether or not you enjoy Mondays. Sorry to say I would love to hear your feedback.
MARC: And so would I, and feel free to drop me online as well.
KIM: Oh yeah, and there will be links to all the places where you can find Marc, and information about HomeOwners Hub on this shownotes.
KIM: Yeah, Thank you so much Marc.
MARC: One of the things I really wanted to bring up, is my deep respect and affection for Kim Sutton, for everything she’s done for HomeOwners Hub, for being a great friend for the last two years, for being an inspiration, for taking the initiative to be a mompreneur, and put together these wonderful Positive Productivity Podcast. Even though that’s a mouthful, but I really want to say: “If you’re out there listening for the first time, tune in, subscribe, because Kim is awesome, and these podcasts give you wonderful insight into her mind, into the mind of the entrepreneur, and into the mind of very successful people.
KIM: Wow! That was completely unexpectedly awesome. Thank you Marc.
MARC: Of course Kim.
KIM: I don’t even know how to follow that up now. So Mark, I just want to really thank you. Well, thank you for having me be part of the HomeOwners Hub team for the last two years. And for being on the podcast, where can listeners find you and find out more about HomeOwners Hub online?
MARC: They can visit HubYourHome.com, which is our phenomenally fun website, you can find us – if you google “hub your home” we have blogs, we have – on Facebook you can find it at Facebook.com/homeownershub, and there’s all sorts of fun content. And if you want to find me, and my awesome rock ‘n roll band just google “Thursday Habit” and visit us on soundcloud.com/Thursday Habit or Facebook.com/ThursdayHabit. Do you sense the pattern?
KIM: I do, and hey with that voice you might also get some inquiries about voice overs now too.
MARC: I am available for voice overs in radio work, and I have done quite a bit.
KIM: Thank you again Marc, for being on Positive Productivity. This has been such a blast. And hey I’ll talk to you in about, you know, 10 minutes about what we’re doing next.
MARC: No doubt about it Kim, thank you so much for asking me to come on.