Kia Ricchi, Founder of iCheckContractors.com, is not your typical General Contractor. She's much more than that. She's an author, a speaker, a consultant, a contributor to radio programming such as NPR and an entrepreneur. Her newest project is unlike anything she's ever built before. iCheckContractors.com is an online service that gives individuals the ability to check the credentials of General Contractors and subcontractors before hiring them for a project.
Kia explained in more detail. "We're an online service that verifies Florida contractor’s professional license, workers’ comp, and corporate status using government data in real time," she said. "This helps consumers avoid being ripped-off. Without our service, people either receive a paper document from the contractor, which can easily be forged, or they can visit the state's website to find the information they need. Unfortunately, the state websites are clunky and navigating them can be laborious. Our solution is quick, easy and accurate. Information is updated nightly."
The idea, Kia explained, was born out of a desire to automate an inefficient process. "As a General Contractor, you're always checking the credentials of your subcontractors," she said. "Insurance expires after you don’t pay a premium. I thought to myself, wouldn't it be great if someone could invent a report that would get you the information you need in 5 seconds." The idea was born, and with it, Kia was determined to take action.
"I speak at a lot of conferences around the country," Ricchi said. "At one particular conference, one of the founding executives of BlackBerry liked my idea and offered to help me build out the first version for free. He basically helped me set up a bare bones version. Eventually he had to turn his attention to his own projects and I hired a team of developers. I found a group of committed Phython Programmers through a Meetup group. I also reached out to the UCF Business Incubator for entrepreneurship guidance and mentoring." The idea slowly became a reality and Kia was now managing the development of a website that would completely streamline the process of verifying contractor credentials.
There were and continue to be plenty of challenges with getting her idea to market and taking it to the next level. "The biggest challenge is making the public aware it," Ricchi said. "Since we're the first service of its kind, and also the first to market, it's entirely up to us to develop product awareness. The second company to market gets to ride the product awareness wave. We don't have that luxury. It's also been very slow going. I'm learning that entrepreneurs really need to have stamina and patience. These traits are essential if you want to introduce something new and change protocols. It can be an extremely grueling process. I recently reached out to Farmer's Insurance to talk about licensing our solution as a service for their policy holders. They told me this process can take a long time." Part of her long term plan to monetize her service is to license it to companies like Farmer's.
If there's anyone that's up for the journey, it's Kia. "My biggest piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to be prepared for a journey that's long and emotionally and physically draining. Also, never be afraid to ask questions from experts. Most people enjoy helping others. The worst they can say is no. Another great piece of advice shared with me by the BlackBerry Executive is to not let paranoia drive your life. Don't let the fear of others stealing your idea keep you from taking it to market or getting feedback from others."