Building a house can be a tough affair, especially finding the right people to do the job. Mihhail Pitjem experienced the same issue while looking to book contractors fast and efficiently for building a house. He couldn’t find any trustworthy sources for finding local help in the Estonian market and had to rely on either confusing search results or friends’ recommendations. The entire process was incredibly time-consuming and frustrating. Since he couldn’t find any company that met his needs, he decided to start one of his own.
Pitjem shared this idea with his friend Pavel Ivanov, and the duo started developing the idea further. It was back in December 2020 that they launched their app called Skillus – a real-time mobile marketplace for local help.
User experience is key
According to the company, its key focus is on user experience. In order to ensure the same, the team claims it went over and above to achieve uncompromising operating stability of the app, even though it proved to be quite challenging. Getting together a dependable team of developers who could implement everything impeccably was also demanding.
The company claims that through the user experience-first approach, the app aims to reduce time spent on the search and communication to a minimum.
The way Skillus works is that it connects clients with freelance professionals offering a wide range of services varying from tutoring, beauty services, photography to domestic tasks (cleaning, repair, installation), construction, car repair, etc. The business idea is to make the search for local help as easy and fast as it gets.
The company has two separate apps for both client and specialist to ensure personalisation. Users can make a request, choose a specialist according to reviews, discuss remaining details if needed and get the job done.
We caught up with Mihhail Pitjem, co-founder and CEO of Skillus, to better understand the problems that Skillus is trying to solve, its business model, revenue generation streams, expansion plans, and more
Talking about the pain points that Skillus is trying to address, Pitjem says that since the Estonian market is highly fragmented and there was no convenient, standardised way to match clients with professionals, Skillus made the cumbersome process of searching and hiring specialists efficient and organised. He claims that the platform has helped the company’s clients save time and become more productive by delegating tasks to professionals.
On the other hand, according to Pitjem, Skillus has been helping people start a side or full-time job and to be in charge of pricing and working hours, even if they lack marketing or technical acumen.
“Skillus makes it easier to start working (again) as no lengthy applications are needed, and each person works on their own terms. We are a part of the disruption that is happening in the job market right now. With marketplaces such as Skillus, more autonomy, fast on-boarding, flexible working hours and temporary/freelance work are becoming a new reality,” says Pitjem.
Talking about the safety measures incorporated to prevent any untoward incidents, Pitjem says, “Each specialist has a rating which ensures credibility and helps clients choose only reliable specialists. Clients have the possibility to report any issue to our support team 24/7, who instantly reacts to every inquiry. Furthermore, we are implementing a verification process very soon.”
Let’s talk business
According to the company, it works on a commission-based model. It earns a small commission from each completed task. However, currently, Skillus is totally free for both client and specialist, as it is aiming to create a solid user community and provide specialists with tips and all necessary resources.
Since Skillus was founded amid the pandemic, we asked Pitjem about its impact on the company. He says that the crisis actually offered them an opportunity to help people. “In Estonia, unemployment rose 16,000 to 47,900, or 6.8 per cent, between 2019 and 2020 and in Q3, 22.9 per cent of youth was out of work. The entry cannot be more well-timed as one of the main issues Skillus seeks to tackle is unemployment and lack of resources for starting a side-job.”
“When Estonia got into economic constraints due to the rise of the pandemic and many people lost their jobs, it was a clear sign for us to act fast and provide them with an opportunity to get back on track,” he adds.
In less than three months, Skillus has been joined by more than 5000 users (by 3000 clients and 2000 freelancers). According to the company, during the pandemic, the most in-demand services were tutoring (28 per cent of total), domestic tasks and repair (23 per cent), cleaning (16 per cent), and beauty services (14 per cent).
Talking about the revenue projections for this financial year, Pitjem says, “For this financial year, we are aiming to implement monetisation in mid-summer, and we are aiming for €15000 revenue per month with 20 per cent growth by every next month. This projection is aimed only for the Estonian market. After monetisation implementation, we will be focusing on other markets in and outside the EU.”
The founders believe that with the help of new investments and partnerships, they will be able to make Skillus available in other countries. Currently, it is in the process of determining new entry markets in and outside of Europe. “Our research shows that there are countries where such platforms do not exist, or they exist in a very poor stage,” says Pitjem.
According to him, the company is already receiving attention from investors and venture capitalists. Currently, it is seeking the best fit among them, as well as negotiating with several startup incubators.
Skillus started with two people and currently has 13 people in the team. It is planning to expand its team by hiring more developers.
The Estonian startup ecosystem
Skype is one of the key success stories that put Estonia on the global tech map. Then there are other Estonian success stories such as Pipedrive, Playtech, Wise, and Bolt. A dozen home-grown startups are valued at over $100M (approx €84.64M) each, according to Startup Estonia – a governmental initiative aimed to supercharge the Estonian startup ecosystem. Even Pavel Ivanov, Skillus’s co-founder and CPO, was formerly senior product designer at Bolt and Pipedrive.
Talking about the Estonian startup ecosystem, Pitjem says, “Tech and mobile app startups make up for the highest number of newly founded companies in Estonia. The country offers a lot of growth opportunities for new entrepreneurs, such as incubators, accelerators, venture funds, and business angels.”
“In general, Estonia’s startup-ecosystem is one the best of its kind in Europe. Its economic environment ranks at the top for startup friendliness, and it is an attractive place for business thanks to its reasonable business policy. The ease of starting and managing a business in Estonia enables founders to focus on their product and revenue generation rather than bureaucracy. The local startup community plays a significant role in the startup ecosystem as well,” he adds.