An Analyst Stops Analyzing and Starts a Startup

Bartek Ringwelski didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur. After graduating from Columbia University in 2005, he went to work at the investment bank UBS in San Francisco. He “hated it.”

Two years later, he was working for the venture capital firm Canaan Partners as an analyst, focusing on Internet investments in New York. This, Ringwelski hated less. In fact, he says he learned so well to think like an entrepreneur, and as an investor, that he left in May to co-found his own business, SkillSlate.

In fact, just today, Ringwelski announced that he has raised $1.1 million for his startup from Canaan, First Round Capital and numerous angel investors, including Jason Finger, founder of the online food-order service Seamlessweb.

So what does SkillSlate do? Primarily, it’s an online service that marries one-person shops like dog walkers and movers with the people who need their services. It’s not a  new idea — think Craigslist, Angie’s List and Yelp, among others — but it’s hoping to make the process less painful for customers by providing as much information about service providers as possible, including their photo, location, particular skill sets and any recommendations (or warnings) about them from past customers. Customers can create a log-in, or simply post comments via Facebook Connect.

The idea was born when Ringwelski posted an ad on Craigslist to have his one-room Manhattan flat cleaned for $60 and received 75 calls within the next two hours. It was so overwhelming that he subsequently posted an ad in which he reduced the price to $40. He got fewer calls as a result. (He also worried about how clean his apartment would be afterward.)

Whether SkillSlate can steal a slice of Craigslist’s business by making it easier to find, say, movers in one’s neighborhood who are affordable, highly rated, and don’t look like serial killers, remains to be seen. But the business model is certainly unique. Instead of selling contextual ads against the service providers, taking a slice of their revenue per lead, or charging for the service as does another competitor, Angie’s List, Skillslate plans to make money off its group buying power.

For example, insurance can cost a fortune for individuals. It’s a major problem for small-time furniture movers in New York City because they can’t operate in Upper East Side buildings. But by aggregating movers all over the city, SkillSlate could purchase the insurance at a discount and offer it to its members for a much lower price. It could similarly connect its members with more affordable credit cards and other tools that help them in their businesses.

The first challenge is in creating a big enough database of self-employed individuals. SkillSlate can’t exactly buy one, so it’s building starter profiles for members by pulling publicly available content from various sources — and hoping those profiled will be happy about it.

“We present [the profiles] to them, and then in something like 99 percent of cases, people either ignore it or claim it,” says Ringwelski. In fact, the more information they provide, the more prominently they are featured at SkillSlate.

Still, there are cases in which people have wanted the profiles taken down, and down they go. “We take privacy very seriously,” Ringwelski says.

In the meantime, SkillSlate is taking things slowly. The startup is focused solely on New York right now, and on just 10 job categories. “We want to provide a good experience for consumers,” says Ringwelski. “We don’t want to publish results about a plumber who is 45 miles away.”