Technology startups conjure images of young, clever entrepreneurs brainstorming in the corner of an uptown Starbucks. You imagine them in some cool city like Austin, Seattle or San Jose. It’s a small team and they’re dressed casually, exchanging ideas with intense conviction, hardly distracted by the flow of text messages pinging their iPhones.
The founders of iRoofing actually did much of their early brainstorming in the corner of a Starbucks… smart, hungry, and gripped by a concept they knew would fill a need in America’s tech-starved construction sector. By 2012, they had prepared to launch their company after years of living close to the bone, saving enough of their own startup funding by making portable apps, including for a few big players like Hanson Building Products, now Forterra.
Today, after seven successful years in business and serving thousands of subscribers, iRoofing shares its insight on getting through the lean startup period, maintaining a spirit of innovation, and outsmarting the competition.
If you can average two steps forward for every one step backward, you’ll reach your objective. Just be prepared for things to take twice as much time than you ever anticipated. While you yearn for the grand vision to be realized, it’s going to take patience. Steve Job’s vision for the iPhone actually emerged back in 1999 when Apple registered the domain “iphone.org.” The ambitious concept germinated for years. Then, in 2004, what started as the secretive “Project Purple” at Apple, eventually brought forth the iPad. Close, but still not Apple’s pièce de résistance. It would not be until 2007 when the first iPhone hit the market. While the idea for a great innovation can come about in a dream, bringing it to market doesn’t happen overnight.
There Needs to be “Chemistry”
A great invention usually sprouts from the mind of a single sage, but it takes root when others join in to validate the concept and contribute their special skills and perspectives. Unless partners formalize agreements on roles, responsibilities and how future profits will be divided, the startup can sputter.
Snapchat started when Reggie Brown, a student at Stanford, got the idea for disappearing photo posts. He brought it to a classmate with a lot of business acumen, Evan Spiegel. Together they pulled in another classmate, Bobby Murphy, who had expertise in coding. Spiegel later wrote about some of the team’s first attempts to launch a big idea. “Our first project was Future Freshman – a site that would forever improve the way high school students applied for college. Although the site failed to gain traction, we learned something important – we loved to work with each other.” Two years later, the trio launched Snapchat and the rest is history. When Snapchat went public on March 2, 2017, its opening share price was $24 with a market capitalization of $33 billion, roughly the same size as Marriott and Target, at that time.
Have a Higher Purpose
Startups don’t attain success without creating something of value from which consumers derive benefit. Self-enrichment can not be the sole purpose of a startup. From the very beginning, iRoofing’s co-Founders saw more than just a solution to help roofers do their jobs more efficiently and more safely. iRoofing was simply their on-ramp to a set of solutions affecting the entire construction industry. They saw the digital solutions they created for roofing contractors, distributors and manufacturers branching out to other sectors of the industry. Today, the progress they’ve made on their platform, and its proven value, puts them on the threshold of delivering technology that will reform conventional processes in the construction field. In its next evolution, the platform aims to solve larger scale problems such as material waste mitigation. The company also sees benefits to the traditional workforce and its practical transition from brute, manual tasks to more efficient, technology-driven alternatives.
When a startup goes through its phases from incubation to active participation in a commercial environment, there are needs for capital infusion along the way. That runs the risk of relinquishing interest to those who might not align with a founder’s original vision. iRoofing managed to grow slowly and methodically. It was able to self-fund each phase and even go live with modest marketing expenditures never accepting a dime from outside investors. After seven years it gradually built a healthy subscriber base. Today, iRoofing remains independent, beholden only to the wants and needs of its customers. “At iRoofing, the amount of development dedicated to our customers’ expressed or inferred needs is immense compared to other companies. That focus is possible, in part, because we’re still independent. It’s not all about EBITA this year or next. We can work on both the future of the company and the present needs of our users,” said Daniel Meridor, co-Founder of iRoofing. “If we do open things up to others, they’ll be more likely to be getting in when our trajectory is ripe for its greatest acceleration.”
It’s great to assemble leaders with depth of subject matter expertise, but having too many chefs and not enough dishwashers can sink a start-up. In order to take a great idea and turn it into a fledgling business, there must be hard workers punching away at the keyboards, taking phone calls, and keeping up with the books. At the beginning, this workforce might only amount to the startup’s founders, but at some point, they’ll need support. An innovative idea can attract smart, experienced people who sense the economic promise in the endeavor and who want to get on board. That’s great. But if these would-be associates aren’t willing and able to deliver value on a day-in and day-out basis, a startup should look elsewhere to efficiently progress. A business needs do-ers, people who do not mind helping out with the necessary details and daily execution that go into a startup’s climb to success. Consulting, advising, brokering connections… these are all fine and good, but nothing materializes without grunt work. Think about warfare. Ultimate victory is rarely achieved until the infantry penetrates the Parliament, regardless of distant blockades and repeated airstrikes. Those that commit to the daily grind are the soldiers that will win the day.
Reward Good Talent
Running a company “lean and mean” depends on getting the utmost effort from each highly-skilled person on the team. By effectively conveying their long-term vision to make major, positive impacts on the construction world, iRoofing’s founders have been able to assemble outstanding talent – people who are willing to accept short-term sacrifices to accomplish a worthwhile goal. Startups can struggle to afford providing competitive salaries, benefits, bonuses, 401Ks, profit-sharing and stock options. Yet, few startups succeed on the backs of their workers. In the early years of a company, when a dedicated team of employees toil toward a better future, vesting them in the business is a great way to achieve startup success!
At its most critical stage of growth, the same-day delivery service startup, Shipt, recognized that its survival depended on its employees. Shipt’s founder, Bill Smith, quickly needed his team to pivot to a new business model focusing on grocery delivery. That would take a leap of faith and monumental effort from his team. So, Smith did what so many startups do. He gave each of his ten employees stock in the company. Motivated by their collective belief in the business model and incentivized by their stake in the company, the team rallied, reprogramming the app and driving thousands of new memberships. In 2018, Target came knocking at Shipt’s door with $550,000,000. The transaction was done. To say the least, Shipt’s employee-shareholders earned the compensation they deserved by their sacrifice and belief in the company.
Have a Sense of Humor
Startup entrepreneurs can attest to the fact that things don’t go smoothly all the time. Anyone contemplating their own startup needs to expect a little chaos. “If you’re not prepared to get knocked down, only to get back up again, don’t bother starting a business in the first place,” said Daniel Meridor. “It’s important to shrug things off and wear a smile. A positive attitude is an absolute prerequisite for success.”
Paraphrasing the words of Scottish poet Robert Burns penned shortly after running his plough over a nest of terrified field mice, “You are not alone in proving foresight may be vain: The best laid schemes of mice and men can go awry, leaving us with grief and pain.” Well over 50 percent of startups fail, leaving plenty of entrepreneurs with grief and pain, but for those making it through the challenging times, humor is essential.
In an article in Economic Times, Praveen Suthrum, founder and President of NextServices, a healthcare technology and management company, shared his thoughts about the importance of having fun. “As we built up the company, I realized that the joke is always on us. People quit. Investors disappoint. Clients complain. Cashflows disrupt. Regulators knock. Infrastructure fails. Starting up is only half the story… Having fun is a mindset. It makes the entrepreneurial journey more joyous for you and the others who join you on the ride. Really, do it for fun!”
When you think your vision for the startup is “complete,” especially if your solution is past the proof-of-concept phase and generating some revenue, you should never stop innovating. When iRoofing launched in 2012, it was the only do-it-yourself roof measurement software on the market. It didn’t take long for copycats to follow, looking for their piece of the pie. “New companies are continuing to pop up and nip at our heels,” said Oded Shemla, co-Founder of iRoofing. “We look at such competition as a healthy thing and a good sign that the construction culture is moving rapidly to technology solutions. A rising tide floats all ships, they say, and by being the best platform in the market, our growth is at least proportionate to the small guys, if not favorably disproportionate.” Smart buyers initially attracted to a competitor’s app eventually realize that iRoofing is the leader for good reason. “Our platform is the most robust, feature-rich and backed by unlimited training and support, plus, we were the first.”
“But you can never rest on your laurels… never ever get complacent,” warns Shemla. “We constantly develop new and improved ways of streamlining construction projects. We are always several steps ahead of those trailing us. We are fortunate to now be entrenched in the roofing sector. The company also has a strong infrastructure for identifying, developing and deploying new features relatively quickly.”
Looking Ahead to the Next 7 Years!
Running a technology business can be likened to surfing. You’re out there bobbing around in relatively calm waters, knowing you must be prepared for the next big wave. After seven years, iRoofing has developed a keen sense of ebb and flow in the construction ecosystem. Always innovating, always adjusting, and always moving forward with manageable growth, iRoofing optimistically looks forward to its next 7 years.