Tharso Abreu of Engelink tells us about the marketplace for construction, maintenance, and facilities services.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Tharso Abreu: We are all fine! We were really worried at first, as was everyone. But we took care and followed all the medical recommendations. Thankfully no one in my family got sick.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Engelink.
Tharso Abreu: I started my career as a site civil engineer. After graduating in PUC Rio, I worked for about 8 years on major infrastructure projects for Odebrecht Infraestrutura and about 1 year in a different engineering company. In early 2017, after the construction sector started crashing in Brazil, Ricardo Castro, Engelink’s CEO, invited me to join the recently created startup. I then started working part-time on the project, and a few months later, I left my old job as a site engineer and became Engelink’s COO.
How does Engelink innovate?
Tharso Abreu: We started out as a marketplace for construction, maintenance and facilities services. As we developed our product and learned more about this industry, we understood that what our clients really needed was to have as many business opportunities presented to them as possible, and they needed a lot of qualified leads. So we started exploring different ways to bring those leads, such as online advertising and emailing outbound campaigns and created a very efficient process to qualify them. In the end, we shifted from being only a marketplace to a software as a service company (SaaS), generating leads, qualifying, and delivering them to the appropriate client.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Tharso Abreu: Because of the pandemic, a lot of things changed in our business. At first, we were worried about how the whole home office thing would perform and because churn rates were rising, as many of our subscribers were struggling to keep their own business open. We adapted our product to the moment, then churn started to lower, and sales were rising as many new subscribers started looking for different ways to reach new clients. Since we have an online way to connect customers and suppliers, it makes a lot of sense during periods of quarantine. Overall the pandemic had positive effects on our business. We learned that we could save a lot by having some of our workforces at home, we changed our ICP (ideal client profile) a bit and made a few adjustments to the product, but managed to grow above our expectations in 2020.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Tharso Abreu: Tell you the truth I wouldn’t say we had to make any hard choices. We had to do some hard changes, like going 100% remote (home office) but we didn’t have to fire anyone, quite the opposite, we hired a lot of people and are still hiring. We did many adjustments and changes as said before, but no difficult choices I would say.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Engelink in the future?
Tharso Abreu: It’s not easy to start and grow a business in Brazil. Ask any CEO, and they will tell you that here, it feels like the whole system is against you. In the beginning, it was harder, a lot of hypotheses to validate, a very thin budget and the risk of distancing myself from a career where I had a lot of experience (civil site engineer). But as things started working, our product started selling and the company growing, I started to “enjoy the ride”. There is nothing like working in your own company, where you know that every extra effort you put in, it’s for something that belongs to you. Of course, I am always worried about competitors, market changes and trends, also have to deal with the stress of day to day problems but considering my previous career, as a civil site engineer, working as COO in a tech company feels like a dream.
I imagine growing Engelink to the point of being the number one facilities and maintenance service marketplace/Sas in Brazil, and maybe even explore different countries. I also believe it’s possible that a few spins offs might come out of Engelink and intend to continue on one of these projects once Engelink growth settles.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Tharso Abreu: We have a few important competitors such as Habitissimo, GetNinjas, CoteiBem and many other small startups that are mostly in early stages. But out of those, only CoteiBem is a direct competitor, targeting the exact same market and offering a similar, yet very different service.
We are always studying our competitors, the market and other tech companies in ways to stay ahead and innovate first. We believe that our most important aspect, the one that gives us our edge, is the speed in which we can validate hypotheses and adapt our product accordingly.
Your final thoughts?
Tharso Abreu: In my opinion, successful startup companies are more used to changes. Either a new market trend, innovations from competitors or any other challenge, they have to quickly adapt in order to stay ahead in the game. So when the pandemic came, I believe it was way easier for startups to adapt to more traditional business models.
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