Front Desk, Inc.
March 17, 2014 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Cloud-Based Business Management Tools for the Personal Services Industry
Front Desk™ is a rapidly growing software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that provides cloud-based business management tools to the personal services economy. The technology is optimized to work on smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers to enable personal service businesses, which are inherently mobile, to run their businesses from anywhere, at any time. This includes fitness and yoga studios, dance and music schools, physical therapists, acupuncturists, adventure guides, tutors, teachers, and other businesses and franchises.
Using Front Desk, business
owners can easily manage client relationships, automate billing, securely
process credit cards, schedule classes and appointments, track attendance,
automate email marketing, and create a customized and branded client-facing
experience. The company debuted in spring 2013 and has already improved the
efficiency and profitability of nearly 1,000 personal services businesses
globally. Front Desk is headquartered in Seattle. For more information,
Prior to Front Desk, Jon
helped to develop overbooking and pricing systems for United Airlines and
KLM, led analytics teams at Expedia and T-Mobile, and co-founded L1, a
commodities trading fund.
1221 E. Pike Street #200
Seattle, WA 98122
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – March 17 2014
CEOCFO: Mr. Zimmerman, what is the concept at Front Desk?
Mr. Zimmerman: We built Front Desk for small and medium-sized business owners in the personal services industry, like yoga studios, gyms and tutoring centers. Most of these business owners followed their passion and built a business that allowed them to teach their skill and help people. But at that time they didn’t dream about the complexities of scheduling. And didn’t think about having to chase down payments from their clients. And they don’t get out of bed everyday excited about managing waivers and contracts.
We understand what’s important to them as their businesses grows and that’s why we built Front Desk. It’s a powerful client management solution that is simple to set up and simple to use. It’s an integrated solution that enables them, their staff, and their clients to manage scheduling, attendance, billing, and even digital documents while on the go. It’s easy to customize so business owners are in control and informed while maintaining a personal touch that’s critical to their business. And better yet, it simply lets them concentrate on what they do best—managing their clients and growing their dreams.
CEOCFO: How has your target market typically been handling their scheduling and the various other functions you offer?
Mr. Zimmerman: Our target customers have typically started out managing their business with paper and pencil or by stitching together tools like Google Calendar, Microsoft Excel, and a traditional credit card processor to handle their disparate business needs.
CEOCFO: Are there many companies that offer services like Front Desk?
Mr. Zimmerman: A variety of companies offer Front Desk’s features, like scheduling or billing, as standalone products. There are also a handful of companies that have tried to put it all together in a single package. Business owners generally find that they’re too complex and get in the way of building stronger client relationships.
CEOCFO: What were the challenges technologically in creating the offering?
Mr. Zimmerman: One challenge was building something adaptable enough to let our customers operate the way they want and to look the way they want. Although personal services businesses share many similarities, most business owners have business practices that make their business unique. A second challenge was to build a tool that is powerful yet simple. We had to build something powerful enough to meet the business owner’s needs but simple enough for staff to quickly learn and clients to interact with immediately without a great deal of training or instruction—essentially marrying the power of enterprise software with the simplicity of consumer software.
CEOCFO: What about the security?
Mr. Zimmerman: We take security and the protection of customer information very seriously. We take great care to ensure that the data we collect from the clients on our customers’ behalf is secure and we never share it with third-parties. Given how integral payment processing is to our service, we have also adopted industry best practices like “tokenization” when we handle credit cards.
CEOCFO: How are you reaching potential customers?
Mr. Zimmerman: Since launching in March 2013, we’ve added nearly one thousand businesses through word-of-mouth. The growth has been organic. Starting with early adopters like the 250 location Fit4Mom franchise, we’ve grown primarily from business owners telling other business owners how much Front Desk has helped them reduce administrative overhead and increase revenue.
CEOCFO: Are there pieces you would like to add to the offering?
Mr. Zimmerman: We have the pieces in place that make Front Desk a great solution for many businesses. We continuously gather feedback from existing and prospective clients to determine how to refine and expand Front Desk.
CEOCFO: What has changed since you first put out the offering?
Mr. Zimmerman: Our software has continuously evolved since we launched last year. But the biggest challenge for us is operating at scale. Like many of the businesses using Front Desk we started out with a small number of clients and didn’t think about the complexities of operating at scale. Over the past year we’ve automated many critical internal processes in order to grow our customer base without scaling expenses linearly.
CEOCFO: When you talk to a prospective client do they understand immediately? By the time they get to you do they know they need help?
Mr. Zimmerman: Our prospective clients have the same pain points. They went into business because they love their client relationships and are good at it, and are now facing administrative overhead and feeling overwhelmed maintaining a large number of client relationships. Most are aware and surprised that a solution like Front Desk exists that is easy to set up, simple to learn, and effectively systematizes their client management tasks.
CEOCFO: When did you get the idea?
Mr. Zimmerman: Around 2004, Dave Werner, a friend and fellow entrepreneur, started running small format fitness classes as a passion project. I invested when Dave turned CrossFit Seattle into a full-time endeavor. Over the past ten years CrossFit Seattle has grown to nearly a dozen full-time staff and upwards of 500 members. During that time it became clear how hard it is to scale a business like ours that is focused on personal services. Around 2010 we started thinking about how technology could improve business operations and provide a better experience for our clients. Together with some like-minded co-founders, we set to work and built Front Desk. It was more an evolution than an epiphany.
CEOCFO: What did you learn in your previous ventures that is most helpful in developing Front Desk?
Mr. Zimmerman: I’ve been fortunate to have had exposure to small business ventures like CrossFit Seattle and tech startups like Expedia. CrossFit Seattle provides a lot of context required to understand the needs of the business with which we work. Expedia, on the other hand, taught many valuable lessons about building consumer-facing technology, including keeping things simple for our end-users and designing for scale. Interestingly, both CrossFit Seattle and Expedia taught the same lesson—the importance of staying focused on your customers.
CEOCFO: Would you tell us about your recent funding and intent?
Mr. Zimmerman: We announced a $4 million Series A led by Floodgate Fund. Floodgate partner and Silicon Valley ‘Super Angel’ Mike Maples will be joining our board. We plan to use the funding to further invest in the Front Desk platform and for strategic marketing initiatives that can boost our organic growth.
CEOCFO: Are there groups or certain types of professionals that could benefit and do not seem to have even paid attention yet?
Mr. Zimmerman: The personal services economy is a massively underserved category. By our estimate, there are over three million business focused on providing services like personal training or guitar lessons to their clients. We have barely scratched the surface of the opportunity. We’ve seen a lot of early adopters in fitness-related businesses and businesses focused on kids’ activities. Over time, we anticipate the “long tail” of personal services businesses to pay attention.
CEOCFO: What is your geographic reach?
Mr. Zimmerman: We decided from day one that Front Desk would have an international focus. Front Desk is already localized in seven languages ranging from Swedish to Spanish and we have businesses using Front Desk in over twenty countries.
CEOCFO: Why the decision to start on that global scale-that does not seem to happen very often?
Mr. Zimmerman: It goes back to your question about lessons from previous ventures. At Expedia, we started primarily in the US but went global very early, and our international business became a huge part of our growth story. We believe the same will be true with Front Desk.
CEOCFO: As you are going to be increasing your team, what are the intangibles that you want from people that come onboard at Front Desk?
Mr. Zimmerman: A big part of building a great company is building a great culture inside of the company. As we hire, we are looking for people who are both customer-focused and passionate about building something bigger than themselves. We want people who are genuinely excited to help our customers and to make Front Desk a company that will stand the test of time.
CEOCFO: Why pay attention to Front Desk? What sets Front Desk apart as an exceptional company?
Front Desk is worth paying attention to because we’re attacking a very
important problem for the personal services economy, which has been
massively underserved. These small and mid-sized businesses have not had
access to the powerful tools available to the enterprise, particularly in a
form that is simple and mobile-friendly. We are helping these personal
services businesses, large and small, to become more successful. It is good
for the business owners and their clients, and it is good for the economy.
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