Business partners Mahdi Chardi and James Morrell brought removal startup Muval to the market two years ago. Introduced by a mutual friend, they found that they both had previous experience working in startup environments and were the “yin to each others’ yangs” in terms of skills.
Now they have a team of nine operating across Australia.
They pulled their experience and funds together to bootstrap the business; counting on the marketing and customer service insights from startups that they already had rather than looking to hire external help.
In those early stages, they were “cautious” of securing Venture Capital funding. Past work with raising capital for startups showed James that that building a business around external investment can be precarious, and restrict your growth to outside expectations and cashflow.
Bootstrapping allowed them the freedom they wanted and they delayed investment until the startup had a compelling product-market fit.
Last July they reached the $1m mark, and since then they’ve doubled that. For James though, it’s more about the people behind Muval rather than the money it makes, in terms of what he most proud of.
We caught up with James and asked him about the lead up to Muval, how it’s disrupting a non-tech savvy industry and their joint decisions regarding bootstrapping, marketing and more.
What was your background (and Mahdi’s)?
I’d been working on a startup in New York, The Audio Hunt, for 3 years before I met Mahdi in 2015. When we met, Mahdi had been running his Sydney-based moving company, Move Me Group, for 4 years. We both had experience in digital marketing, and working with customers. Our previous work with our own respective companies also meant we knew what to drop, and what to carry over when it came to Muval.
A critical part of the tech stack is Stripe Connect. When did you decide to ‘partner’ or link up with Stripe Connect?
I’m a developer by trade, and so any software that’s built for developers is right up my street. Because I’d used it before, I knew Stripe Connect would suit Muval’s needs in ways no other payment technology can. Stripe solves a very particular problem for us as an online marketplace business that completely operates around online payments flowing from consumers to removalist services.
Stripe quickly enables money to move to the right destination, and ensures we don’t get bogged down in tricky payment authentication or verification processes. As Stripe moves payments directly from source to recipient, it also means we can avoid payments being delayed with banks or finance institutions. Being an entirely online payments-based company, using Stripe means we don’t need teams or employees to check or manage any payments flowing through the site. This is all automatically done for us. It means we can focus on what we’re good at, rather than worrying about payments.
We’re committed to prioritising customer experience, so Stripe is essential for us here.
How and why would a customer use Muval?
Moving can be extremely stressful. Mahdi and I recognised early on that making the removalist process as easy, stress free and cost-effective as possible was in fact a social mission. Online searches like “Removalists Sydney” or “Interstate moving companies” bring up thousands of results, with little transparency around who consumers can trust to move all their lifes’ possessions. There’s also little visibility into moving deals or discounts users can take advantage of.
Muval solves this problem with our curated network of quality moving providers. The site lets customers enter measurements and variables regarding what needs to be moved, and matches these details up with trucks, vans, containers, and boxes that fit the specs. We’re also unique in that we connect customers with the remaining space in trucks and containers already scheduled to move with other cargo. This means customers can avoid paying for entire trucks when they don’t need to.
Where did the idea for Muval come from?
Moving is ranked as one of the five most stressful experiences people go through in their lifetimes, and it’s often coupled with stressful events like relationship breakdowns, job losses or health concerns. Mahdi’s work with Move Me Group provided insight into the stress and worry people experience when moving house and workplace. We felt like we couldn’t ignore this; almost like filling in the gaps where traditional moving fails was our social calling.
How exactly is Muval improving the experience for businesses and customers through technology? Is it a case of greater visibility, booking is easier… etc.?
Searching online for removalists can be very confusing and overwhelming, and people looking for services usually lack a lot of insight into the most appropriate options out there. Muval makes searching for, comparing, and booking removalist services uniquely quick and easy, and lets users view options they wouldn’t be able to see in regular online searches, like empty space in trucks booked on separate trips. This not only connects users with cheaper options that better fit their specs, but also means removalist businesses can maximise profit by filling space that wouldn’t otherwise be purchased. We help users view options side-by-side, and users can also critically compare different services with our customer support personnel.
How have you marketed Muval effectively, in order to get over 1000 customers?
Digital marketing has helped us find a host of new customers looking for removalist services. Our marketing is primarily search term focussed so we pop up in peoples’ searches right when they need us. Marketing gets you customers, but customer experience keeps them. From the moment someone is browsing your website or app everything needs to be frictionless. Any friction and you could lose that sale.
One of the often underappreciated elements of customer experience is in the final purchasing stage: partnering with Stripe has helped us ensure payments reach removalist businesses swiftly and without complications, and is cause for these businesses’ ongoing work via our platform.
What are you most proud of so far with the start-up?
Last July, news broke that Muval had processed $1m. We’ve since doubled that. It’s not so much that I’m proud of the money we’ve made; what I’m more proud of are the staff who got us there. Our high calibre team has been instrumental in ensuring our customers are well looked after, and that the platform provides customers with the best service possible. We’ve also just taken on Adam Coward, formerly Youfoodz’s chief marketing officer, as our first chief revenue officer. We know Adam will complement our culture and plans for this year.
Forming a strong team has been a recipe for success, and I’m proud of the decision Mahdi and I made to hire strong talent we could trust – not only to work hard, but to approach their work empathetically. Our team tries to get inside the heads of Muval’s users who are stressed, possibly displaced, or going through major life changes, and shape a service that eases this dramatically. We couldn’t just hire anyone to work like this.
I’m also proud that we’ve decided to work smart, not hard. Working smart means Mahdi and I decided to take on smart technology to do the heavy lifting rather than painstake over time-consuming processes. This includes using Stripe for payments, and Slack for internal communication among the team. We also use communication tech like Fone Dynamics’s dynamic numbers and programmable SMS services to provide a seamless communication experience with customers. Working smarter instead of harder has helped us grow quicker, and really focus on the things that matter, instead of getting caught up in issues in the weeds.
How do you envision the start-up growing? What are your strategies for getting there?
This year we want to give more attention to digital marketing, with a focus on search optimisation and fresh content strategies. We also want to keep using the best tech to support customer service and the seamlessness of our platform. We’re ambitious, and keen to get $1m moving through the platform each month. But with more money comes more responsibility, so it’s important we have the best infrastructure to support large volumes of payments that flow from user to removalist. Taking our marketing and tech seriously will keep pushing us in the right direction.