As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate DeWald.
Kate DeWald is founder and CEO of Oncue, the leading software and booking service for the moving industry. Oncue helps moving companies increase revenue between 100–400% year over year. Prior to leading Oncue, Kate drove growth at SaaS companies SuccessFactors and ServiceMax, delivering both exceptional customer service and exponential growth. Kate is passionate about stimulating customer delight and economic impact and is committed to creating a diverse workplace to empower improvement and kindness.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was one of the first 80 employees at SuccessFactors where I built out a global workforce that grew to over 1,000 employees. The company was later acquired by SAP for $3.4B. Later, at ServiceMax, I joined as employee #30 and helped put the company on its path to eventual acquisition by GE for $915M. I had always been drawn to starting a business of my own and I was also fascinated with the deskless workforce. Growing up, many of my immediate and extended family were small business owners and I saw firsthand how much their businesses helped people. As a result, I wanted to do something to help small and medium-sized businesses. These companies are the lifeblood of our country and they make a substantial impact on the communities they serve, as well as our broader economy.
Through a series of spontaneous life events, the idea behind Oncue was born. I came to realize that moving company owners could really use my experience to help grow their businesses. Moving is one of life’s most stressful events and moving company owners work tirelessly in the community to make that experience, which can be very emotional for their customers, as delightful and stress-free as possible. They work under difficult, tiring physical conditions servicing clients, and they are away from their office for most of the day. At the same time they are always worrying about managing and building their businesses with minimal work-life balance. And yet, these owners never transfer that stress to their customers. They are 100% devoted to customer service and they are masters at it. I knew that moving company owners were who I wanted to help.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
In 2016, I watched how stressful the whole experience was for a friend who was moving. I knew there had to be a way to make moving less stressful for the 40 million people who move every year in the United States, so I spent some time asking local moving company owners how I could help to simplify the process and grow their businesses.
An owner who had recently immigrated from Colombia told me that answering every sales call was one of the hardest parts of running his business. As we sat together in a San Francisco coffee shop, his cell phone rang and he asked me if I could answer the call. That’s how the idea behind Oncue was born.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In the early days of starting Oncue, a customer of one of our clients was livid. She told us that her clothes had been soiled during the move so I offered to pay for her dry cleaning bill directly. Little did I know that she was referring to all of the clothing that she had ever owned, so we were left with a very hefty dry cleaning bill! This was tough at the time because the company was just getting started, but I had promised the customer and I wasn’t going to go back on my word. I learned a lot about customer service from that experience and I think it really allowed me to empathize with our clients. It also gave me a firsthand view of what our movers often encounter with their own customers. Plus, I learned that dry cleaning can be very expensive!
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Our customers come from a variety of backgrounds and they have helped to shape our company’s purpose. A large portion of our customer base is immigrant or minority-owned businesses, with another significant portion being veteran-owned. Learning about the diversity of our customers has led us to put diversity front and center in our own team and company. Our company’s purpose became, and remains to this day, to help underserved small business owners make an economic impact. The moving industry has long been overlooked by many technology providers, unlike other sectors. This void has left many smaller moving operations with minimal tech solutions to help build their businesses. Yet, technological advancement is one of the most crucial levers to help them compete and efficiently scale their businesses. This is the void that Oncue is here to fill.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
We are here to serve our customers and everything we do at Oncue is designed to help our customers grow their businesses. Our mission is to bring trust and transparency to the moving process and we designed Oncue to make life easier for movers and their customers.
We believe in innovation at every level and we encourage a culture where everyone on the team can try new things. We encourage everyone to bring any and all new ideas to the table, test them out, then learn from the results. Every innovation can teach us something that we did not know before and everyone can learn from these experiences. More than anything, we believe in a culture of accountability, innovation, and collaboration.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
My number one principle is to always remember that nothing is ever quite as good or quite as bad as it seems in the moment. Whether you’re having an incredibly tough day or an amazing day, things are going to keep changing and it’s important to keep that in mind as you navigate through the challenges you’ll face as an entrepreneur. Over the years, I’ve learned that the best guide I have is to keep focusing on our goal of being here to serve our customers.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Being a founder can be challenging at times, especially in the beginning. It was really hard to get Oncue off the ground. Getting the technology right and finding the customers who could see the benefit that our platform would bring to their business took a lot of effort and expense in the beginning. I was in over my head and I was trying to do everything myself, but I couldn’t do everything that needed to be done well to build and scale the business successfully and effectively.
The business was my baby, and I am not the type of person who quits. I’ve run marathons, completed triathlons and adventure races, and ridden a Ural across Siberia. I knew that the same grit and determination it takes to complete those challenges would also get me through the challenges I was facing with the company. I recognized that I was weak in some areas and that I had taken on too much, so I decided to ask for help. I brought on a Head of Operations and it was the best decision I could have made at that point, both for the company and for myself.
Later, when I was pregnant with my first child, I had a lot of health complications and I was doing everything from a hospital bed. I was also negotiating a round of funding at the same time and it was incredibly nerve-racking. One of the things that kept me going during that time was the team I had built. I couldn’t have done it without them.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Oncue had an exceptional year in 2020 with customer numbers increasing three-fold by the end of the year. Our customers saw remarkable results with increases in revenue up to 400 percent year-over-year.
In early 2021, we raised a $10 million Series A round of funding and our plan for the year is to scale nationwide and hire the right team members to take the company to the next level. We made some key hires in the senior leadership team and we are currently growing the engineering, product, sales, marketing, and customer success teams.
By focusing on our value of being here to serve our customers, we’re building a team and product that will really make a big difference in the lives of our customers.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
1) Always focus on the customer. Running a moving company can be challenging, and we are here to help make the whole moving experience easier for both our customers and their own customers. By always focusing on the customer, we ensure that everything we do is to serve them.
2) Assume the best of intentions. Always assume that your customers or employees have positive intent behind their questions or decisions. This will help improve communication and build better relationships.
3) Find great people, hire them, and let them lead. Most importantly, let them know they are appreciated. An outstanding team will build an outstanding company, and a culture of innovation and collaboration will help get you there.
4) Communicate, communicate, communicate. Whether within your team or with your customers, regular, open, and transparent communication is the key to building a lasting team and product.
5) Collect feedback, always ask for it, and learn from it. At Oncue we make it a priority to talk to our customers about their problems and goals so we can work with them to continually improve our product offering, ultimately making their lives easier and helping them to grow their own businesses.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I agree wholeheartedly! There are so many people that have helped me along the way and it’s hard to pick only one. I would say that my former CEO, and one of my mentors, always really encouraged me to take the leap into entrepreneurship. For that I am forever grateful. He told me how great the world of entrepreneurship is and that if I was thinking about it, then I should just do it. I will be paying this forward for a long time. In general, I would say that many entrepreneurs and small business owners love to help fellow owners and entrepreneurs. It’s important to ask for help along the way, as many people have been in the same position that you are currently in.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love to start a movement that invests in funding for underrepresented business owners. Similar to the idea of a Universal Basic Income, this movement would fund these startup owners and give them the opportunity to get their businesses up and running. Just think how many amazing, influential, and impactful companies could flourish if more people had the opportunity to turn their ideas into a reality.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/KateDeWald