Marcus Lim (BCom/BEc ’10 and UNSW Co-op scholar), Adam Dong (LLB/BCom ’10) and Tommy Lim (LLB/BCom ’09) consolidated their student friendship to build internet service business Oneflare after graduation. An online marketplace for home services providers, Oneflare sources quotes and matches service providers such as plumbers and gardeners with consumers looking for the best deal.
Since its launch in early 2011, Oneflare has over 20,000 registered businesses and has brokered over $5m worth of service jobs across Australia. Inspired by the SEEK online model, the trio has great ambitions for their business to eventually replace the Yellow Pages.
Oneflare is a sponsor of the UNSW Co-op Program - supporting other UNSW Business School students to realise their potential.
Did you have a career plan after university?
Adam: As I was completing my Commerce/Law degree I was heavily influenced by my parents and friends to get into investment banking. Then in third year a friend introduced me to their boss who needed help with some IT and web issues. From that one client I managed to build up a small web development firm and I focused on that business until Oneflare came about.
Tommy: After University, I worked as a management consultant with Booz & Company. The plan was to climb the ranks and eventually go to Business School in either Europe or North America. However, I’ve always been an avid reader of entrepreneurial and marketing literature. Oneflare was an opportunity I simply couldn’t say no to.
How did the idea for Oneflare come about?
Marcus: Adam and I knew each other from my first year at the UNSW Australia Business School . He was always known for his web development and technology skills. In 2009 when I completed my last exam we met at my apartment to discuss the possibility of a new technology start up that we could be involved in. I always had a myriad of ideas and Adam was always a great sounding board to filter the good from the bad. I was always very interested in two sided platforms and we both knew how much of a hassle it is for consumers to find home services online. This was where Oneflare (formerly known as Pick A Quote) was born. Tommy who is Adam’s friend, joined us six months after we launched to help us to rebrand our business from Pick A Quote to Oneflare.
Where do you envisage yourself and the business being in 10 years time?
Marcus: I am very inspired by what Seek has done for the employment industry and for what Carsales did for the car industry in Australia. Our vision is to be the largest online marketplace for local services in Australia. Essentially we are looking to replace the Yellow Pages and truly provide a better way for customers to hire local businesses in their area.
Tommy: Ideally, I would also like to see Oneflare extend its marketplace across different verticals (think tutors, personal trainers, etc) and geographies. I would like to see Oneflare exhibit a real philanthropic culture, which I believe it can as a platform that facilitates real world community connections.
How has your study at the UNSW Business School impacted your career so far?
Marcus: The Business School has helped me to build a strong network of friends whom I can trust and depend on and this is where I was able to meet Adam and Tommy. It has facilitated and fast tracked my understanding of the business world.
Adam: In the early years of my degree, I was heavily involved with BSoc (the student business society). This experience really taught me how to deal with people and listen to criticism and refine your product. This in turn helped me get my business ideas off the ground. It showed me that listening to clients and responding properly to their criticisms is key.
Have you encountered any challenges in the business so far? How did you overcome them?
Marcus: I think everyone will agree that running a business will involve a multitude of challenges along the way. These challenges are sometimes seen as small or big failures. Being successful in the face of a challenge is determined by how well and how quickly you can pick yourself up and this calls deeply on a strong will, learning fast, humility and a lot of late nights and overdoses of caffeine! What is hard is not just implementing an idea but understanding how to make the idea work!
Adam: The biggest challenge by far was turning our idea into an actual business. I think there is a common misconception that creating a great business is just about having an awesome idea. In reality, this is far from the truth. Having a great business idea is just one small part of it. It mostly comes down to determination, hard work and... more determination.
Tommy: The shift in brand and business model from Pick A Quote to Oneflare was a bold and risky one. We basically had to let go of a steady and known revenue stream to build a product that we felt was better for customers and had a better market fit. Overcoming this took careful planning, staged communications with our customer base and a big leap of faith. Advice here is to take in the data and the customer feedback, then go with your gut.
What does it mean to be an entrepreneur?
Tommy: To have the creativity and boldness to create something you believe customers want, and then to have the tenacity and discipline to execute it. You also have to be a little bit crazy (as per Steve Jobs), but it’s the crazy ones that change the world.
Adam: It means having your brain run at 110% 24/7 with ideas ideas ideas. It means less sleep, less play and more work. It's stressful, but rewarding.