Raquel and Laura reporting to duty from our favourite little Queen Street East cafe, Sweat and Soda. We are sitting here with our fearless leader, Shira Yoskovitch. In case you hadn’t heard, she is the Founder and CEO of Handled Concierge Services. We had a lovely chat leading up to Handled’s one year anniversary, turning the tables on our vibrant leader by putting her in the hot seat for a series of questions. Read below, you know you want to.
It’s been one year since you launched Handled. How do you feel?
It’s been, personally and professionally, one of the more challenging experiences that I have had (in a good way!). I’ve learned a lot about myself as an entrepreneur and as a leader.
I love Handled. Launching it has been about bringing a dream I’d had for years to fruition. It’s allowed me to marry my passions for art, travel, decor & design, as well as my techie side, all the while providing a service that I truly believe in, which is giving people back their valuable time. There’s something a little out of body in having it be a real life business with a heart, team, and customers.
Has your original idea for Handled evolved from your initial design?
Like any new venture, my original idea did evolve from the time I started putting pen to paper, which was two years ago now, to when we actually launched in 2017. Some parts of it were refined and others were scrapped along the way.
The core of who we are, what we are about, and why we exist, has remained unchanged. But, with any business you have to allow things to evolve based on how customers want to use the service, and that’s what I’ve tried to allow for and reflect. I learned early on in my career that a spec only takes you so far… you’ll only actually know if the model works once people start interacting and engaging with it. So, not surprisingly, I did have to make some adjustments once we went live. It was tough, not only because of the expenses and time involved, but because it’s hard not to be too precious and in love with your own design. But like I said, it really only matters if you can get the customers to engage and so by doing the technical & process tweaks we were better able to create a user experience that was worthy and worthwhile. And that’s what’s kept our customers coming back.
How’d you choose Handled’s launch date?
I had the opportunity to launch earlier, and did a soft launch in May 2017 with Women of Influence (who were – thankfully- early supporters of ours), which was an unbelievable success and a great experience. We used the summer period to really refine the service & technology and continue to test out with friends & family (who were great sports). I made the decision to position Handled’s hard launch for the back to school and holiday season, which was a major period for us in the first year.
What was your mission at the outset and how has it played out in the last year?
Our mission is pretty simple- to bring joy and ease to someone’s life. That’s at the heart of what we’re doing and is the focal point of everything we’re building. I built Handled for people like my friends & me- people who are busy, have people depending on them (which may include children, parents or other family members, employees, or combinations thereof), and are – quite simply- needing help. Their time is precious, and they don’t want to waste it doing things that are best done by others. And they need the help to be budget friendly. And most of all, they Need. It. Done.
I took my own personal experiences and combined it with my love of technology. It was really just that. The execution of this good, quality, attention to detail, take-it-off-my-plate, have fun in the process, service.
What is the number one thing you hear from clients that make Handled so unique?
I think it is a couple things. First and foremost I think it is that we give great service, and that is everything from helping them organize what they need to do and then being their extra set of hands in getting it DONE (as in, all the way done, the way that they want it). We get to really know our customers in an intimate way, so that we can actually help anticipate their needs and be their secret weapon 2nd set of hands.
The other thing that makes this unique is that we don’t put our customers into a formula. We are constantly tailoring what we do according to what they need & want, because that’s often as individual as the their lives themselves. That can include- amongst others- budget, timelines, styles, location, or any combination thereof.
The third thing is the platform itself. It’s as easy as booking a calendar appointment, you can book one task or you can book 50 tasks at a time, it is up to you. The Handled platform is absolutely unique in it’s ability to act as a full outsourcing tool for customers. Companies outsource tasks all the time… the Handled platform lets the average customer do it too.
To what do you attribute to Handled’s success?
OK, this may sound cheesy, but it’s our core- we genuinely believe in what it is we are doing. Everyone involved in Handled (me, my team, partners, suppliers, supporters, etc), are all passionate about what it is they are bringing to the company. Passion breeds passion. We know what we are selling (which is fabulous service), who we are selling it to, and what is expected of our service. And, fundamentally, service is a customer’s right and it’s not about price.
What successes have you had that you were not expecting?
You know, it’s interesting. When I created the original business plan there were two things that I anticipated would take more time before taking hold. First, I thought that it would take a while for clients to open their homes to us and invite us in for wardrobe makeovers. This is a pretty intimate activity- we get right in there and become part therapist, part analyst and part artist. We’re helping the customer embody the personal brand they want to portray, so there’s a huge trust factor there. But interestingly this was one of the first parts of Handled to take off.
Probably the biggest success from my vantage point has been the customer referrals. It’s absolutely a critical success measure for Handled and is a very clear indicator of our performance. I always anticipated that referrals would come but I did think that it would take a few tries by a customer to be willing to refer us. That said, we started receiving referrals less than 2 months in, and today almost ⅓ of our active customers came to us that way.
Entering your second year, what would you keep the same and what would you change?
For me what I would keep the same is simple. Our mission of bringing joy and ease to someone’s day is the core of who we are and how we conduct ourselves.
In terms of changing, it is not so much about that, but rather expanding. I would like to go even further and put Handled in a position within the next year of having an established footprint in another city, rather than serving from afar. We have a number of customers outside of the GTA, and it would be great to be a local source in other cities.
We’re also looking at additional services and partners to help build out the suite for our customers. I want Handled to create a great experience and take a broader approach into travel and home decor. We are always looking for additional ways to expand our services while still staying true to what Handled is about.
What for you has been the most exciting point up until now?
I quite literally had giggles and butterflies in my stomach when we signed our first customer. I didn’t sleep that night. I called just about every person who’d had a hand in launching Handled. It was incredibly exciting!
On a purely personal side, being featured in the print edition of The Globe and Mail’s weekend Style section was an incredible milestone. I’d been an avid follower for years, so it was surreal to see my picture in there. That was also a really emotional moment for me, because it was close to anniversary of when I lost my mom, and she had been a massive, MASSIVE influence on me and had always wanted me to launch my own business. I remember spending that morning running around Yorkville to anyone and anyplace who had a copy. The team at the Hazelton Hotel (huge Handled supporters, and one of our fave places) had set aside some copies for me which was really touching. I bought out Pusateri’s Globe and Mail supply [lol]. Basically I looked like a crazy newspaper lady that day and it remains one of my favourite days ever.
There are great perks to working at Handled, such as shopping and networking. What is your guilty pleasure?
On an average week, I spend at least half my time shopping for someone else. Early on I fell into the trap of “one for the customer, one for me.” which is wicked amounts of fun, but that got very expensive very fast! I’ve now ‘matured’ into “one for the client, and try on everything for me”, which is equally fab. I can spend my day window shopping and be perfectly thrilled.
Maybe the biggest perk of Handled is that I get to mix business and pleasure on a regular basis. We don’t have a Handled office, choosing instead to work remotely so that we can be flexible to our customers’ needs. So, that means that on any given week the team and I get to take advantage of all the great spots in the city to work in, and if we want to mix in a visit to the ROM to see an exhibit (like the mindblowing Iris van Herpen one that just took place, or the Dior exhibit earlier this year) at the same time as dealing with our team meeting, we can.
Another perk is that I get to hand pick who I am working with, and that is not an indulgence you always get in the corporate world. I get to surround myself with people I respect, admire, want to learn from and actually want to spend time with. I spend more time with them than my own family, so that is huge!
What have you learned about fashion that you did not know before? And what did you learn about running a business you did not before?
I focus on and continue to get better at helping make fashion accessible to different lifestyles, budgets and personal styles. Fashion is an embodiment of our personal brands, and now I am helping others implement that in their daily lives.
From a technical and operational standpoint, Handled is an extension of what I have been doing pretty much my whole career- defining and launching new business models. I can say that I have learned a lot about myself as a manager/leader over last 12 months that I didn’t necessarily learn (or pay enough attention to, frankly) during my time in my corporate life. Holding that mirror up to myself has been a very important lesson in my personal development.
As a female entrepreneur, what advice would you give to another woman wanting to launch their own company?
Step up if you want seat at the table! The path will never be clearer than the one you are on now. It doesn’t get easier, clearer, or less rocky. No matter what it will scare the crap out of you. Take a deep breath, remember why you started, trust the village around you, and just move forward.