“No one said it would be easy” is a phrase that has guided Michel Mosse through his journey as an entrepreneur. Michel is the CEO and Founder of Owners, the New York City-based business-in-a-box platform for home services entrepreneurs. They provide interactive training and support to start and grow a small business, from legal paperwork and accounting to website and social media. Owners even designs and implements custom digital advertising campaigns and runs a call center to schedule appointments for its customers’ customers.
Entrepreneurship was an obvious path for Michel, who grew up in Argentina in a large family, one of 9 siblings. Michel began working at 16, helping his architect father handle marketing and compliance for his practice. After a year, Michel took what he had learned and started a company to help other architects with their own marketing and compliance efforts. This first venture paid for his college education and instilled some of the foundational values that he has brought to Owners: supporting your clients as if they were your father, mother, or friend.
Owners was inspired by Michel’s time at OLX (the $3B international competitor to Craigslist) and Uber Argentina, where he led the Growth team at each and learned to listen to his customers (in this case, sellers on OLX and drivers for Uber). “I literally became the most frequent Uber rider in Latin America,” he recounts, chuckling. “Drivers churned because they could not be their own bosses. And after many conversations with them, I learned that a lot of Uber drivers had other skills they didn’t know how to monetize.” Michel began researching different platforms and models to teach people vocational skills.
His first attempt to bring vocational education to Latin America was Instituto Americano de Formación Digital (IAF Digital), an online platform offering video instruction for skills in beauty, fashion, and several home services trades. IAF was eventually acquired by Aprende Institute, a larger EdTech player in the region. By this time, Michel had enrolled in the MBA program at MIT in Boston. From these experiences he learned that to successfully launch a new small business, his clients would need more than just videos; they’d need tools and guidance too.
Michel has brought other lessons from his time with successful startups in Argentina: “the most important thing in any early stage company is culture and values. That’s what allows you to delegate decision making all the way down the organization. I was part of the team that launched Uber in Argentina; we were all obsessed with building it. Roles were fluid and hierarchy was non-existent, we were all one team fighting a common enemy and Uber managed to expand into 700 cities so quickly because of that.”
Owners have grown quickly too. They launched last year with just 15 customers in New York and Florida, and now boast over 1500 business owners who trust them with the success of their home services companies. “I think we’re doing well. We’re striking a nerve -- quarterly growth continues to be over 100%. Even many of the earliest customers that had churned have come back to us,” Michel says.
Investors who saw the same potential in the company include not only LAB Ventures, but larger funds such as: Flybridge (mongoDB, DraftKings), Box Group (Flexport, Airtable, Plaid), LererHippeau (AllBirds, Giphy), and Reach Capital, which was an investor in the company that acquired IAF from Michel in 2020. LAB Ventures CEO Tigre Wenrich had known Michel for several years when he came asking for advice about launching Owners. “We invested much earlier than what is typical for us,” Tigre says, “but we knew him, we’d seen him execute - fast and aggressively.” A common theme across his investor base is the conviction in the impact Owners will have for aspiring entrepreneurs, and the home services industry as a whole.
While the company’s growth trajectory looks like a pretty straight line up and to the right, it’s been anything but smooth. Michel has already had to rethink his product pricing strategy and make some difficult changes to the core team, always guided by the customer’s needs. His focus on customers is obsessive - he’s more likely to be found having a Saturday morning coffee with a plumber in Newark or a painter in Jersey City than brunch in Manhattan (where he lives) with his fiancé.
It hasn’t always been easy to create such a customer-centric culture throughout the organization, despite leading by example. “I had to make my own mistakes to learn that cultural fit should trump everything else when hiring,” said Michel. “For every role that has a direct impact on customer success, spending time with customers is paramount from day 1. But I would argue that in any role people should engage with customers; having our engineers communicating with customers directly in slack is incredibly powerful.”
The mission of Owners is to empower tradespeople to become small business founders (“owners”) by taking care of their backend marketing and compliance work, and it seems to be working. “Everyday we have more conviction in the fact we are building a generational company, but we are just getting started,” Michel says. “What Compass did for real estate, we are doing for home services.” No one said it would be easy, but Owners is trying to make launching a new small business at least a little easier.
LAB Ventures works strategically with early stage PropTech startups and investors from the Real Estate and Construction industries providing them access to capital, corporate development, customers, innovation, and outsized returns through venture capital investments.