- August 3, 2012
Ed Marchiselli officially launched his startup website on June 1, 2009. That was also the year the U.S. GDP fell by 2.7% and the country was dealing with the depths of the Great Recession.
Nonetheless, Marchiselli's company, the Clearwater-based third-party licensing firm AskTheSeal.com, is still surviving profitably and is planning an aggressive Florida and nationwide expansion over the next two years. Although he would not disclose revenues, he says the company has had revenue growth of 50% from 2010 to 2011.
One reason for success is the startup skills Marchiselli brought to AskTheSeal.com's survival efforts. His experience with young companies includes a three-year stint with Parametric Technology Corp., a startup firm that recorded $1 billion in annual revenues after eight years, Marchiselli says.
After some time working with other software firms in Silicon Valley, Marchiselli moved to Tampa where he would eventually become a manager with Microsoft.
But Marchiselli turned his interest from software to home services when he bought a stake in a large home services company based in Sarasota in 2006.
While running sales and marketing for this firm, Marchiselli witnessed the effects of fly-by-night service firms that either performed poorly on the job or didn't do the job at all. “We had to come in and clean up the aftermath,” Marchiselli says. “It was appalling.”
Though this may have been good for his business, he decided to sell his share of the company and enter entrepreneurship on behalf of consumers. He then noticed he could help home service businesses as well — a positive scenario that has kept AskTheSeal.com profitable.
With $1.2 million of his own capital, Marchiselli rented a house in Orlando with his wife to begin researching the market. When his wife called to have a cleaning service clean the house, Marchiselli immediately asked to have background checks of its employees verified. The cleaning service sent background checks of its staff to Marchiselli, who noticed the checks were performed the previous day. “Companies should be performing these regularly,” he says. “Not just when a customer asks for them.”
As a third-party licensing firm, AskTheSeal.com performs annual background checks on a service company's employees and verifies that it has the proper insurance policy and license. “You can just apply for insurance and never actually buy it,” Marchiselli explains. “You can take that paperwork, stick it in a binder and tell a customer you have insurance.”
Marchiselli says that revenues are collected from the business end, so customers can use the website for free. A business pays an initial fee of $200 to register for the site. It is required to pay $29.50 for each employee's annual background check. “The background checks are a loss leader for us,” he says.
The highest margins come from an optional $99 fee a firm can pay to increase its visibility on the website's search engine. “The website is what really drives our profit,” Marchiselli says.
On the competition his firm faces, mainly the national referral website Angie's List, Marchiselli says these firms are easy for shysters to bypass. For example, a crooked AC repairman could pay three family members to recommend him and get approved on Angie's List. Also, unlike potential competitors, AskTheSeal.com provides identification badges for employees of the firms.
Marchiselli is currently looking for two new hires and is eyeing markets from Jacksonville to West Palm Beach. Says Marchiselli: “We want to take over.”