Sramana Mitra: What period of time did you do that mode of existence of doing consulting to pay down your debt?
Ben Hodson: That was from about 2008 to 2012. During that time, I started a bunch of smaller companies that tried different things, but I made most of my money off of consulting. None of them went anyplace. They were ideas that weren’t to fruition. I think the big mistake that I made there was trying to run three or four different things at the same time.
I realized now that the only way to have a great company is to be 100% focused on it. That was my learning through that period. I was thinking, “Maybe I could run a couple of different things, and then one of these will hit and add iron to the fire.” That doesn’t work for me and I don’t know a lot of people that it works for.
Sramana Mitra: I would push back on that because we are using this method of Bootstrapping with a Paycheck constantly to build companies. We have case study after case study of people doing that. You have to pay the bills.
Ben Hodson: Yes, I totally agree with that. That is how JobNimbus came about. I consider consulting as not really a focus. When I say focus, I mean I was running two startups at the same time while doing consulting. That didn’t work for me. I should have just focused on one startup and my consulting.
Sramana Mitra: That makes sense. Let’s go back to where you are. What year are you in now?
Ben Hodson: That was from the period from 2008 to 2012. The company is called Repeatsys. It made good money. We did some big projects. We built the IT management system for the University of Utah. It was some high-level stuff. A lot of Venify contacts called me up and said, “You are so good at solving complex problems. Can you come over and do this project?”
We had a steady stream of work, but I realized that I don’t love consulting because of two things. One, you are only as good as your next deal. Two, cash flow was brutal. It was either feast or famine. Sometimes you have tons of money in the bank, and at other times you don’t. You end up stretching until the next deal. You are also doing sales and coding. You feel that you are split a lot. It was a lot of pressure and I felt that I wasn’t getting ahead.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do?
Ben Hodson: SaaS was becoming popular by then. We have been hosting on the side. We built a cloud-based system for a customer. The customer said, “I loved what you guys built. Who do you recommend as a host?” My partner, Nick Wood, who was in the Repeatsys company with me was just leaving as the CTO of Pro Hosting. I just said, “Hey, come over here and let’s work at this business together.”
We worked great together. He is super smart. When we had customers asking questions about hosting, Nick said, “We can host this ourselves. I know everything there is to know about hosting.” We had built a pretty good source of recurring revenue from hosting our consulting projects. It’s counterintuitive to what we thought we were in the beginning, but it ended up being fortuitous.
That got us thinking about other SaaS revenue. This is where the JobNimbus story starts. A guy named David Hickey invited us down to Colorado. He was an insurance adjuster working in the Colorado area. He was working with roofing companies. I didn’t know anything about roofing. I didn’t know about the insurance industry at the time either. He wanted us to build him a system to track his project file.
We were introduced to him through a friend of a friend. We went down there and scoped out the project. That was the first time I met roofers. We had lunch with them. I remember thinking, “Man, these roofers are interesting people. They are super transparent. They are straight-shooting people. They are also entrepreneurs like me.” I felt a kinship with them.
I loved that they were the no-nonsense blue-collar mentality people. They were the complete opposite of the Silicon Valley mentality that I was getting tired of. We got interested in this. The subject of software in the roofing industry came out. It turns out that the software in the industry was very poor. The best developers in the world were not trying to solve the problem of roofers or construction in general.
This was in 2012. They were working on problems about how to load Twitter faster. Here we were – a set of really good developers that have done a lot of projects, and we had the opportunity to help the people that nobody else is helping. All of the software in roofing was built by other roofers. They either have an outsourced dev team or they would have somebody in their company that would try to learn how to program and build a tool.
As you can imagine, the user experience wasn’t great. Most of the hosting wasn’t cloud-based. You had to install your own servers to run it. Nothing was mobile-based at the time and yet these are people out in the field all the time. Smartphones were finally catching up in terms of what capabilities to do cool experiences like this. We went back to Utah after meeting with Dave and we just kept on thinking about this roofing problem.
The problem was around CRM. They didn’t have any tools to track their customer list or their jobs. We built the first version of JobNimbus that did basic things. You can track contacts, tasks, and it would do some reminders. It was very stripped down. Nick and I just coded it a few months on the side while we were doing our consulting business. We gave it to the roofers and we said, “Hey what do you think about it?” They said, “We really like this.”
We then told them, “You can use this for free. All we ask is that you call us every week and tell us what you like and don’t like and we will improve it every week.” We would carve out time every week to code on that app. We would have our Monday 10 AM call with our roofers. There were about five of them. We started learning about the industry, the terms, and their problems. We became obsessed with their specific problem set and how we could solve it. The software started to get really good.