Lua Jes Min of The Recommend Group on pursuing growth: Startup Stories

Building a framework for the service industry.

Source: The Recommend Group.

When you have a burst pipe, it requires immediate attention. It’s critical to locate the right professional for a speedy, dependable fix. Two friends in Kuala Lumpur, Lua Jes Min and Alex Tan, both have firsthand experience with bogus repairmen who promised more than what was delivered. In 2014, that sparked an idea in them: they founded The Recommend Group, which connects homeowners with dependable home maintenance and improvement service professionals.

The company has seen quick growth and now operates in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Last year, The Recommend Group was also one of the startups in Grab Ventures’ first accelerator program.

KrASIA recently spoke with Lua Jes Min, the co-founder and chief executive officer of The Recommend Group, to find out more about the startup’s early days, their experience at Grab Venture’s accelerator program, and their upcoming plans.

KrASIA (Kr): How did The Recommend Group come to be?

Lua Jes Min (L): The Recommend Group was born at the kitchen table of my apartment. I had just spent a long and stressful year arguing with the contractors who built my family home. My co-founder Alex Tan had just gotten scammed by someone who ruined his shower head. Both of us thought there has to be a better way to differentiate the plums from the lemons in the industry.

We launched the startup in Kuala Lumpur in 2014. The following year, we joined forces with Sejasa.com country manager Anthony Eka Wijaya to take on the Indonesian market. Now, we have more than 500,000 customers and 40,000 professionals on our platform, and we are now an industry leader in Southeast Asia’s home professional service market.

Kr: The Recommend Group’s platform lists a wide variety of services. Which services are listed more often? Which are commissioned most frequently?

L: We offer more than a hundred categories of services, but the most popular ones are air-conditioner servicing, cleaning, plumbing, renovation, and interior design services. In these fields, our pros are rated at higher than 4.5 stars out of five on average.

Kr: What is The Recommend Group’s revenue model?

L: Transparency is key. Our customers are able to see the full price and the breakdown of their bills, and we do not charge them extra for our service. Service professionals, however, will have to pay a marketing lead fee whenever they accept a job from our customer pool.

Kr: What are some of the challenges you have faced when scaling your business? How did you overcome them?

L: We faced different types of challenges during different phases of scaling.

At the start, the challenges were more about refining our business model, establishing the marketing funnel, and setting the foundational principles.

As we grew, the challenges evolved to become more about hiring great talent, ensuring that our values are transmitted throughout the organization, and keeping the unit economics healthy as we scaled. We also have to look for and form great partnerships with other companies that share our vision.

Kr: The Recommend Group’s platform was part of the Grab Ventures Velocity accelerator program. What were some of the lessons that you gleaned from that experience?

L: As part of the program, we temporarily integrated our Indonesian business on Sejasa.com with Grab and conducted experiments to see what would engage and convert users. We also measured various key performance indicators.

That gave us an opportunity to understand each other’s cultures and see firsthand what a good partnership would look like. We learned that for a partnership to work, there had to be clear and substantial benefits for each party—it’s more than just having an alignment of values. Parties of the partnership have to stay committed in the long-term and be willing to come together to discuss, analyze, and see what can be done to improve the metrics that are important.

Kr: Are there plans to fully integrate with Grab’s app across all three countries where The Recommend Group has a presence?

L: Yes, the plan is to do Indonesia first, followed by Malaysia and Thailand in the third and fourth quarter of this year!

Kr: Does The Recommend Group intend to expand further in Southeast Asia, and possibly even beyond the region?

L: Right now, we have a market-leading position in Indonesia and Malaysia, and are also growing fast in Thailand. Our objective is to become profitable by the first quarter of 2020, and after that, we will expand regionally into one or two more countries on a very strong foundation and business model, so you will be hearing exciting news from us!

This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in Southeast Asia.