UpKeep Maintenance Management CEO Ryan Chan took a hobby project that he bootstrapped with a paycheck and managed to get into Y Combinator. From there, he raised a $10 million Series A from a top-tier Silicon Valley firm, Emergence Capital. Excellent execution thus far.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s
start from the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were
you born and raised? What kind of background?
Ryan Chan: I was born in
Kentucky. My family moved there for my father’s job. But then, we quickly
relocated to California. I grew up and was raised in a small suburb in Los
Angeles called Oak Park. Not many people know where that is, but it’s about 20
miles west of downtown Los Angeles.
been fascinated with building things and I think that’s one of the reasons why
I got into entrepreneurship. I went from elementary school to middle school, to
high school in that small suburb. I went to college at Berkeley up in the Bay
I pursued a
chemical engineering degree and my first job out of college was working in a
manufacturing plant, driven by my fascination for building things. That was
where the first inspiration for Upkeep came.
Sramana Mitra: What
did you do when you came out of college? What year was that? What time frame
are we talking here?
Ryan Chan: I graduated college in
2013. My very first job was working in a manufacturing plant that was spun out
of DuPont Chemicals. We manufactured membranes for reverse osmosis for a little
bit of brackish water. So, these big cylinders can be pushed in dirty water and
they suck out very clean water that you can use for even things like drinking.
Interesting. So I actually know quite a bit about reverse osmosis because we
invested in a company out of the East Bay in San Leandro called Energy Recovery
Incorporated. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this company.
Ryan Chan: I actually haven’t.
But yes, we were manufacturing reverse osmosis membranes.
Sramana Mitra: Where
was this based out of?
Ryan Chan: My first job was in
Santa Barbara. So I took the leap from Berkeley to Santa Barbara. My title
there was Process Engineer. A Process Engineer thinks about how to improve
manufacturing lines. How do we make it go faster? How do we reduce downtime?
How do we speed up efficiencies and productivity of our entire team?
where I got my first start into building things and also thinking about how we
can improve the lives and processes of our company.
Sramana Mitra: What
happens after that? Bridge us into the story of founding Upkeep.
Ryan Chan: It might help to give
a little bit of context into what UpKeep is. We build software for maintenance
teams. The most common use case that I always give is imagine you’re in a
manufacturing plant and a piece of equipment breaks down.
basically use UpKeep to snap a picture, create a work order, and shoot it over
to the facility manager who can prioritize and send out a technician to go fix
it. It’s this group collaboration task management tool geared towards facility
and maintenance managers.
So you can
probably see where this ties into my very first job. I was thinking about
improving our process and improving efficiency around the plant.
One of the
big things for us was thinking about how we can reduce downtime for our
equipment. If we’re able to reduce our downtime for equipment, that basically
meant that we could produce more goods and generate more revenue for the
company. So what we said was, “We’re going to purchase a very expensive piece
of software that will help us manage all of our preventative maintenance and
streamline our operations.” We did that.
We paid a
lot of money. Everything was desktop-based. If you imagine a manufacturing
facility, no one is sitting at a desktop. What happened is our techs are out in
the field with that same exact use case. They get a work order. They’d write
all the notes down on a piece of paper and pencil.
Now that we
have this new software, they had to come back to the office at the very end of
their day and retype all of their notes back in. Instead of making their days,
lives, and jobs easier, this software actually made it way more cumbersome.
So I said,
“I want to find something that’s extremely easy for technicians out in the
field to use.” That’s where they are spending 90% of their day. I want to do it
with this mobile-first approach so that, again, it makes their day, lives, and
jobs easier. While I was working as a process engineer, I couldn’t find
anything that was mobile-first that our company could really use.
So I taught
myself how to code. Out in Santa Barbara, I took a community college class on
weeknights and weekends. This iOS programming class is the very first
programming class that I had ever taken. It was from 6 PM to 10PM, three times
a week. That was my very first introduction to programming.
I said, “I
want to use Upkeep as my first project.” I never thought it was going to be a
big thing. I never thought I would turn this side project into a full time
career; let alone a company that it is today. I just started building.