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Setter’s David Steckel learned business skills from waiting tables



setter david steckel
David Steckel, cofounder of Setter.

  • There’s a lot in common between working at a restaurant and
    running a business, said Setter cofounder David Steckel, who’s
    done both.
  • Both roles require workers to negotiate between several
    parties and anticipate problems to best serve the customer,
    Steckel said.
  • He still uses the skills he learned from waiting tables in
    college in the home maintenance-management business he founded.

There’s a surprising amount in common between working at a
restaurant and running a construction project.

David Steckel would know. He went from waiting tables in college
to founding Setter, a company
that manages home maintenance projects. The startup announced a

$10 million Series A
, led by Sequoia Capital and
 in November.

Steckel told Business Insider that he gained many of the skills
he uses today from that early restaurant gig — the most important
one being how to negotiate between customers, clients, and

“If you actually think about the structure of a restaurant, you
have a very similar environment to a marketplace,” Steckel told
Business Insider. “The language you use with a customer is
very different than the language you use in back-of-house with
the kitchen staff.”

“In front-of-house, the lights are warm and low, in the back
they’re fluorescent and bright,” he said. “You get back into the
kitchen and you have to negotiate with the kitchen on behalf of
your customer. Then you also have the bartenders who are busy
trying to serve all the other waiters, so you have to negotiate
with them to make sure your customers are getting what they

Read more:

Here’s what it takes to make $100,000 a year as a waiter in

That constant push and pull is similar to what Steckel said he
faces at Setter. The Toronto-based company, founded in 2015,
pairs customers with “home managers” to take charge of their home
maintenance and repair projects. Whenever the customer needs
their plumbing fixed, their walls painted, or their yard
landscaped, for example, Setter contacts vendors and contractors,
negotiates a rate, and arranges the appointment.

That’s a lot of moving parts.

“You’re kind of changing gears with your language, your ability
to negotiate, and you’re using all your skills at the same time,”
Steckel said.

Of course, restaurant patrons are usually less anxious than a
homeowner in need of a new countertop. Home maintenance is
naturally stress-inducing for most people, Steckel said, while
diners typically don’t get upset unless something goes wrong.

But regardless of the situation, a good worker puts their
customers’ fear at ease by anticipating problems and taking
action to correct them, Steckel said.

“No matter how good your restaurant is, at some point the food is
going to be cold or it’s going to be late,” he told Business
Insider. “You don’t just go to a table to your customer and say
the food’s late. You say, hey, here’s something to snack on, the
kitchen is a little behind, and I’m going to offer a solution.”

Steckel learned from his restaurant gig that if you’re proactive
about fixing a problem, customers will remember how you helped
them more than they’ll remember the problem itself. That leads to
them having a better experience and being more likely to come

“If you have the ability to take a deficiency and turn it into an
opportunity to add value to the customer’s life, we’ve found
their loyalty,” he said.

“So in effect, when something goes wrong, it’s an opportunity to
have a better relationship.”

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