What is the inspiration behind Relay?
Relay first started when I invited the co-founder of Sunny, an on-demand auto detailing business, into my home and shared a demo of our minimum viable product. I had never met Sam in person, so he probably thought it was odd that a random customer had invited him inside their home in the middle of a service appointment to talk about software. We sat down at my kitchen table and talked about each of the different tools he was using to communicate, schedule appointments and capture payments from customers. I demoed what would become Relay’s end to end one-tap experience platform. During the demo, we talked about what it would take to help an extraordinary businesses like Sunny deliver the best possible experience to their customers, while reducing manual tasks & decisions and consolidating essential businesses tools into a simple, convenient one-tap platform.
We had an “aha” moment during the demo and got fired up about the product experience. By the end of the conversation, I realized Relay had the potential to help important businesses like Sunny grow, while also serving thousands of other businesses. Our vision is to go after the $800 billion home service industry by expanding into verticals that include residential cleaning, lawn care, plumbing, HVAC and even in-home health and home hospice. Service businesses are often overlooked and underserved from a software perspective. Our mission is to deliver a world-class product to businesses who can turn around and deliver a world-class experience to their customers.
In June 2020, 20 companies signed up for Relay’s beta program before a working product had been developed. As more companies have joined Relay, we have since been approached by a number of venture capital firms headquartered in Silicon Valley--including Pear VC, Sequoia, a16z, Accel, Kleiner Perkins, Bessemer and others. Relay's mobile app is available to download on iOS and Android devices. Today we see around 30K monthly website visitors and we’re growing at a rate of 108% month over month. Relay is primed to take the home services market by storm and be one of Utah's next fastest growing startups. We believe the 5 million service businesses in North America are well positioned to not only weather a pandemic and economic downturn, but come out on top.
How did you first become interested in this field?
I moved to Silicon Valley eight years ago, and ended up working for several high tech companies and venture backed startups. My first exposure to startups was in the on-demand delivery space--right as DoorDash, UberEats and Postmates were starting to take shape. I quickly discovered that on-demand delivery was labor intensive and decided to shift my focus to conversational AI and natural language processing where I could design helpful conversations and experiences between businesses and consumers without a human present. I’ve been lucky to help startups businesses integrate with Facebook Messenger for business, Twilio and several other well known messaging platforms. This knowledge has been foundational in building Relay.
Following my time in Silicon Valley, I moved to Utah where my wife and I enjoy the community, cost of living and phenomenal startup ecosystem. I’ve been able to bring my working knowledge to a number of vertical software companies. After I became a homeowner in Utah, I observed that service businesses struggled to provide positive customer experiences from beginning to end. Through talking to hundreds of service professionals, I discovered a common theme. Businesses were tired of running their residential cleaning or HVAC business on pen and paper, and homeowners wanted a more personalized and transparent service experience. Enter Relay.
This is not your first time in the VC space. How did your previous experience influence your approach to Relay App?
I have the opportunity to work with a lot of really great team members, mentors, advisors and investors who are supportive of the problem we are solving. All of my relationships have been incredibly valuable in developing both personally and professionally. I feel lucky to have exposure to a fast growing field where there is a high volume of interest. As a team, we are constantly drawing inspiration from previous products, markets, and global experiences.
How do you handle risk and competition?
I view risk as opportunity. When evaluating opportunities, I try do my homework, ask questions and get the right people in the room to mitigate risk, blind spots and expensive mistakes. Competition can be healthy because it validates a market opportunity. However, as a team we aren’t easily distracted by our competitors. Our product is unique enough that we expect market entrants and incumbents to eventually copy us, and not the other way around. Also, it's a positive indicator that we’re doing something right.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
Luckily we've been able to avoid major challenges early on. One challenge that does stand out is helping service businesses catch on to our product vision. What we offer is not something that exists in the market today and can often be misunderstood with field service management software. We invest a lot of time in helping businesses understand how Relay integrates seamlessly with their existing software. Our customer base is so busy that it can also be a challenge earning their time to demo our product.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
As a CEO, I’ve learned to push the limitations of my body while also respecting it. This applies to eating healthy, exercising, getting enough sleep and prioritizing mental health. Our bodies and minds are super capable if we take care of them. I’m learning how to optimize time and energy to meet the demands of our customers, team and the day-to-day nature of the job. It’s not always the case, but I try to always be the hardest working person in the room.
With more people conducting business and buying things online than ever before, how do you see Relay leading the post-COVID customer experience?
Service professionals are well positioned to not only weather a pandemic and economic downturn, but to come out on top. By digitizing manual tasks & processes and consolidating isolated tools into one app, we believe we can become a multi-billion dollar company that serves thousands of home services businesses--eventually moving into additional verticals that are underserved.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd via Republic?
Republic is an organization we regard highly. We’ve enjoyed the opportunity to connect with smart, talented and well connected individuals in the community who want to be a part of our journey. We didn’t realize we would raise over 500% of our minimum goal within our first month. It was great validation and it has helped us drive positive awareness and feedback about our offering. We’ve learned a lot so far. The campaign has given us access to new customers, partners, high net worth individuals and institutional investors. I really respect the hard work of the Republic team.
What’s your team culture like?
Our team culture is based on pursuing excellence in everything we do. Excellence is a skill that takes practice, and our culture is one of achieving excellence by focusing on the right things at the right time. We roll up our sleeves, work hard and encourage each other to stay positive. We also operate on a culture of making decisions based on the best data available.
What is your superpower?
Reading people. Within a few minutes of meeting someone for the first time, I’m a pretty good judge of character, intention and heart.
Having the ability to read people helps me quickly identify talent, focus on core strengths and maximize potential.
What’s your kryptonite?
You’ve lived in a lot of different places! Are there any that stand out to you in particular? Any stories you’d like to share?
I grew up living around the world--in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Brazil, India and Mozambique, Africa. I have fond memories of every place I’ve lived and those experiences have been helpful in building empathy and rapport with people who come from different backgrounds, languages and nationalities. I understand what it means to be an outsider looking in, struggling to learn a new language or culture. I recognize I’ve been given a lot of opportunities and privileges that others may not have been given.
A favorite memory growing up was taking a boat trip with my dad from Puerto Rico to Mona Island. We were on a rickety boat and ate and cooked freshly caught lobster from the seabed. During the 4-hour boat ride, everyone got sea sick and threw up the entire way.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I take photos of every home service vehicle I see and share the photos in our “Relay In Real Life” Slack channel. These vehicles have a business phone number on them which ends up becoming a lead engine for our team.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
I love playing indoor soccer and spending time with my family and dogs.
Are there any apps or gadgets that you can’t live without?
I rely heavily on my calculator.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Do you have a(ny) mentor(s)? If so, what have they taught you?
I have developed a number of mentors over the years. My dad, who is a retired FBI agent, has taught me a lot about hard work, honesty and integrity. He has been a great example to me in the way he treats my mom and other family members as well.
I had the opportunity to meet regularly with one of the co-founders of LinkedIn while living in Palo Alto. I won’t say which founder, but he taught me to never settle and I’ve tried to hold to that to this day.