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Fear & Greed, Fear and Greed

Anyone who’s tried to get a tradie over the last couple of years would know it’s not always easy. There was a surge in demand for home improvements during the pandemic, and supply chain challenges contributed to waiting times blowing out.

But as demand weakens, and the construction sector faltering, are we seeing more flexibility come back into the market?

Roby Sharon-Zipser, founder and CEO of HiPages, talks about the state of the industry, and also the changes he’s made to HiPages after discussions with the ACCC.

Find out more: https://fearandgreed.com.au

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Jennifer Duke: Welcome to the Fear and Greed business interview. I’m Jennifer Duke.

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Jennifer Duke: Anyone who’s tried to get a tradie over the last

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Jennifer Duke: couple of years would know that it’s not always easy.

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Jennifer Duke: There was this big surge in demand for home improvements

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Jennifer Duke: during the pandemic. And when you couple that with supply

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Jennifer Duke: chain challenges, waiting times blew out. But as demand weakens,

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Jennifer Duke: are we seeing more flexibility come back into the market? Now,

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Jennifer Duke: hipages is kind of like an ASX-listed marketplace, but for tradies,

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Jennifer Duke: it’s also a company with a wealth of data on

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Jennifer Duke: the trends in the industry and hopefully an idea where

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Jennifer Duke: we’re headed as well. Roby Sharon-Zipser is the founder and

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Jennifer Duke: CEO of hipages. Roby, welcome back to Fear and Greed.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: Oh, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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Jennifer Duke: So, Roby, you’ve spoken to Sean Aylmer a couple of

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Jennifer Duke: times, but for my benefit here, can you take me

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Jennifer Duke: through the hipages business model and it’s where tradies pay

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Jennifer Duke: a regular fee to get access to job leads? Right?

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: Yeah, it’s pretty straightforward. Trades buy a subscription off hipages.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: Usually, they subscribe for a 12- month period, and they pay that subscription

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: fee monthly. And what those trades receive from us is

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: access to consumers that want trade services done around their

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: house so they can pick and choose the type of

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: work they want when they want that work and in

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: the location of that work. So yeah, it’s really a

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: connection service in a way. And yeah, the trades pay

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: subscriptions to have access to those opportunities of work.

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Jennifer Duke: So you obviously get to see a lot of that

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Jennifer Duke: backend of, “Who’s asking for what jobs and who’s applying

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Jennifer Duke: for what jobs?” What have you sort of seen happen

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Jennifer Duke: in the industry over the past 12 months?

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: Yeah, look, there’s a lot of data that we capture,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: as you said in the introduction. We process through our

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: marketplace about one and a half million jobs, and we’re

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: also offering our trades as well, other services for them

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: to be able to do their scheduling and quoting, and invoicing.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: So we get a lot of information in hipages, and what

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: that data’s showing is exactly what you said. There was

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: a serious period of time from, I’d say, “When the

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: Delta (COVID) strain hit, if we can cast our minds back.”

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Jennifer Duke: It’s feels like a long time ago.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: Yeah, I think people were a bit restricted on what

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: they could do in terms of how they could dispose

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: of their income. The government was doing quite a lot

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: of quantitative easing, so people were relatively flush with cash.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: I mean, many people may not remember it, but the

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: data says that people had more cash in their bank

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: accounts than they have had for a while. And the

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: idea is that it would stimulate people to spend it

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: and keep the economy going while a lot of other

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: things are restricted. And interestingly enough, a lot of that

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: went into home renovations, home maintenance, repairs, which is where we

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: operate in, and we saw record numbers of job volumes,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: and yes, we also saw material prices increasing, subcontractors getting

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: harder to get, and the numbers were just astronomical. And

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: at the end of the day, it was hard to

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: get matched up or connected with the trade. What we

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: saw, though, is in January of this year, that flipped around, and

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: it’s become a little easier to find trade. It doesn’t

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: mean it’s cheaper. The price of materials is still pretty high.

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Jennifer Duke: That’s unfortunate.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: Yeah, I know, but it is more competitive. So you

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: know that you’re getting probably a fair price, and that

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: changed really around January this year. We saw some little

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: green shoots of behaviour in the data changing prior to

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: that around October, November last year. But really a proper

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: sustained change where consumer demands started to ease, trades started

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: to get caught up in the backlog of work that

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: they’ve been accumulating, and they’re coming back to the marketplace

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: for more of what we have to offer, which was

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: those one and a half million jobs that we offer

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: per annum.

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Jennifer Duke: Are you finding that demand’s really different in the different

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Jennifer Duke: sectors for tradies? So sort of a plumbers in higher

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Jennifer Duke: demand than sparkies right now. What can you see?

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: So it’s interesting. I mean, one of the things that’s

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: interesting about hipages is, we’re not really big construction. Well, we

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: do offer new homes and extensions, and additions as one

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: of the primary services. We have a huge number of

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: job or quote requests coming in for those maintenance and

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: repair type work. What we have noticed is that some

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: of the architectural type work, the building design, the large

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: landscape projects, new builds, extensions, and additions are down meaningfully.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: And when I say meaningfully down, like 20, 25% of regular volumes,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: but what we’re seeing is other things are up or

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: at least stabilising where people might be using things like

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: trades for refreshers, like a tiling job or a painting

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: job for the home. So those jobs are still in abundance, and,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: in fact, in some categories, they are higher. So there’s

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: still opportunity, and there’s renovations and repairs, and maintenance going on,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: it’s just moving around in different spaces.

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Jennifer Duke: And as you sort of alluded to there, the construction

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Jennifer Duke: sector has been pretty fragile lately. And even though you’re

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Jennifer Duke: not obviously getting a lot of those construction jobs, I’m

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Jennifer Duke: pretty sure no one is saying, “I want to build

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Jennifer Duke: my entire house and put it on hipages.” As you say,

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Jennifer Duke: it’s more that sort of renovation architectural stuff and those

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Jennifer Duke: sorts of jobs. But are you finding that there are

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Jennifer Duke: more trades that are looking at the platform now as

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Jennifer Duke: an opportunity?

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: Yeah, we definitely are. So we have the most active

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: trade database we’ve ever had, where they’re actually connecting with

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: consumers, and obviously, consumers are getting a great experience because

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: they’re getting responses from trades. So our commitment is to

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: get up to three trades to respond to your job.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: So if you’re in a metro area and you have

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: a plumbing job, or an electrical job, or any of

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: those traditional trades, you will get those three connections. It’s

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: very, very likely, unless it’s something really, really weird about

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: your job, but in most cases, you will get a

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: really, really good response. In fact, we’re seeing around 40%

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: increase in trades registering in our platform year over year. So there’s

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: definitely a lot more trades coming back in.
Now, there

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: could be many reasons for that. Obviously, consumer sentiment, is

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: a general thing at the macroeconomic level, has softened, and

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: as a result, trades they were seeing that come through

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: in their forward book of work, and as a result,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: they need to fill that forward book of work up.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: So they’re coming to hipages for that. But then also, there

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: are people coming back in, maybe from other sectors where

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: the things are slowing down, like the construction industry, a

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: lot of subcontractors might’ve been used up building bigger projects.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: There’s been some turbulence there. Obviously, there’s been some insolvencies

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: and our businesses going administration, those subcontractors coming back in,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: wanting work, and maybe just dealing more at the smaller

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: level, where they get a bit more certainty on payment and more

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: certainty about regular, sustained work. So we’re seeing those numbers really,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: really being high.

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Jennifer Duke: Stay with me, Roby, we’ll be back in a minute.

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Jennifer Duke: My guest today is Roby Sharon-Zipser, founder and CEO of hipages.

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Jennifer Duke: This has obviously been a lot of change over the

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Jennifer Duke: last 12 months. Do you have any thoughts on what

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Jennifer Duke: the next 12 months might look like?

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: Yeah, I think we look at the interest rates, they

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: appear to be stabilizing, there’s some discussion around recession or

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: technical recession, and all that. But I feel like we

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: are reaching a point where we are all really understanding

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: the rules of the game. We know where the interest

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: rates are, consumer sentiment will start to stabilize. There’s also

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: discussion that some of the pricing pressures, particularly on raw

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: materials, is stabilizing, probably go up a little bit more

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: but not too much more. I think supply chains are

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: starting to be restored, some of the international relations that

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: may have put some restrictions in play. They’re sort of

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: easing a little bit.
So I feel like we know

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: the game and we know what’s going on, and therefore,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: makes it a little bit more predictable. So my take

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: on what’s going to happen in the future is this

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: environment where consumer sentiment might be still a bit weaker,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: but that’s probably going to be like that for probably

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: the next 24 months. And I think we’ll start to

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: see maybe a bit more of a balanced approach to

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: what’s going on. So where we were at a year

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: ago was unbalanced, was just too much demand in the

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: market, not enough trades to service the market. Whereas now

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: we’re in a situation where it’s a little bit more

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: balanced, and that makes sense. I think that’s going to

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: be consistent for the next 24 months.

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Jennifer Duke: And some of that would’ve been a drawing forward of

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Jennifer Duke: demand as well. So we’ve got the cost of living

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Jennifer Duke: pressures on the one hand, and on the other hand, we

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Jennifer Duke: had all those building grants and all the rest of

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Jennifer Duke: it, and everyone went a little bit crazy through COVID.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: Yeah. A little bit. Yeah, they did. Absolutely, they did. We do, but let’s admit we all

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: did a little bit.

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Jennifer Duke: Yes, we did.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: I think from the hipages business point of view, what I

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: can say is that what it’s done is, it’s given

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: us some pretty good confidence around looking ahead. So for us,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: as the largest marketplace for trade services in Australia, we’re

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: transitioning our business to be a platform. And what we

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: can see is that trades want to engage with the technology,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: they want to provide a better service, they get very

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: good satisfaction by giving a good service, which we can see

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: is happening based off on consumer NPS and customer satisfaction

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: scores that we track. So it’s becoming a bit more

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: balanced in a better environment, which gives us confidence as

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: a business to provide a little bit of more clearer targeting.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: So we’re targeting around low to mid-teen growth as a business,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: hopefully we can make that better. But that’s based off

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: our strategy of improving pricing in our marketplace and then

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: also providing more services per customer as a platform to

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: traders in the future.

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Jennifer Duke: Definitely. And I hate to ask this, but earlier this

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Jennifer Duke: year, the ACCC did take exception to the way that

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Jennifer Duke: hipages was managing renewals and termination fees. What changes have

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Jennifer Duke: you made since then?

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: Yeah, I think that’s a good callout, and look really

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: transparent about that. I want to be clear as well,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: we worked really closely with the ACCC, Australia’s regulator, on

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: the matter. We have developed a process of subscription where

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: customers join us for an introductory six months so far,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: and then they auto-renew for 12 months. The findings from

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: the ACCC was that they didn’t have an issue with

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: the business model per se but wanted us to be

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: clearer about how our auto renewals worked and our termination fees

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: would work if they exited the contracts that they entered into.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: And we took that on board, and we also enhanced

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: our customer handling processes as well. So in a way,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: I think we acknowledged that what the ACCC’s concerns were,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: and we’ve addressed that by improving our lines of communication,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: we provide multiple notifications to customers about their subscription. Very,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: very clear contractual terms made abundantly clear upfront, multiple methods

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: of communication about auto- renewal, increased cooling off periods, better

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: handling processes when customers have concerns about things that might

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: come up in our marketplace. So I feel like we’ve

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: done a really good job and probably could write a

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: white paper on how to work closely with a regulator

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: on the topic.

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Jennifer Duke: Please do.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: Yeah. And it’s concerning, you get that, we have always

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: had good intentions. Remember, we’re an Australian company, we’re based all in

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: Australia. Our customers are Australian. We’re up against some big,

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: big international competitors that offer a different solution and service.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: But all our people are in Australia, our customers are

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: in Australia. I actually now in New Zealand, I should

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: say. So, of course, we want to do the right

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: thing, and if we can enhance the customer outcomes and

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: expectations and we’ll work towards that as part of our

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: values of providing great service to our customers.

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Jennifer Duke: I love that you’re able to take some positive out

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Jennifer Duke: of that and turn that into something really beneficial for

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Jennifer Duke: the business. I think that’s a good lesson for everyone.

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Jennifer Duke: And look, Roby, thank you very much for talking to

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Jennifer Duke: Fear and Greed.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: And it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me, and I hope to esee you again.

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Roby Sharon-Zipser: Thank you.

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Jennifer Duke: That was Roby Sharon- Zipser, the founder and CEO of hipages.

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Jennifer Duke: This is the Fear and Greed daily interview. Join us

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Jennifer Duke: every morning for the full episode of Fear and Greed,

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Jennifer Duke: Australia’s best business podcast. I’m Jennifer Duke, Economics Correspondent for

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Jennifer Duke: Capital Brief, and filling in for Sean Aylmer. Have a

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Jennifer Duke: great day.