Give the customer what they want. This seems so simple, but it isn’t always an easy decision to make. Take today’s announcement by amenity platform Bixby to acquire work order platform WorkOrder.es. They are creating a mobile-friendly tenant portal that can allow residents to book services, communicate with management and each other, request maintenance and pay rent. In the process of onboarding customers they heard repeated requests by facilities managers to help them track their maintenance requests and keep track of the work orders.
Jumping into the work order business was likely a daunting task as there are literally dozens of companies that offer this service. They probably heard every business school peal like “stick to your core competency” and “find the activities with the highest margins.” If they were to listen to those catch-all phrases they would have likely ignored a feature that their clients were explicitly asking them for.
Instead, they decided to buy the already established WorkOrder startup and roll out the maintenance order feature for free. They see this as a way to create a powerful lead generation tool. I emailed the co-founder Mark Smukler about this decision. He told me:
“In this case, we’ve been approached many times by clients seeking a standalone maintenance request portal. While our product is fully customizable with the ability to turn all modules on or off, we felt that there’s a need in the market for a stand-alone work-order management tool that offers a full suite of functionality for facility management teams.
The Bixby product is focused on providing a comprehensive resident portal, while WorkOrder.es will allow us to offer a product-focused completely on maintenance request processes and serve a segment of the market that Bixby doesn’t apply to, such as smaller management companies still early in their growth.”
When I asked why he identified WorkOrder as the company that they wanted to bring on he explained of an existing relationship with the founders, something that is important for companies that will be working closely with each other during and likely after the integration phase:
“The Workorder.es product will continue to operate as a stand-alone work-order management tool, but as a free product. It’s meant for facility management teams that need to stay organized on repairs, but don’t want to pay for a software solution and don’t need to other functionality Bixby offers like payments, messaging and package notifications. We’ll use the product to generate leads that Bixby can convert into clients when ready for a more robust platform. The acquisition follows our strategy to become a diversified real estate technology business that offers a wide array of software solutions.”
This is strategy that might pay huge long-run dividends even though it won’t add to the immediate revenue. This type of long-game thinking is a sign of a company that understand the larger plan (and likely is not beholden to quarterly earnings reports to investors). If Bixby shows that this plan pays off we might start to see the increasingly crowded PropTech space have more free features as a way to get more leads and increase market share.