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Bootstrap First, Raise Money Later: Ben Hodson, CEO of JobNimbus (Part 6)

Posted on Tuesday, Jul 27th 2021

Ben Hodson: By the end of 2013, we were in a position where these guys would say, “Hey, we would pay for this. This is better than a lot of stuff out in the market.” We decided to take the money that we earned on our latest project RepeatSys. We had about $50,000 each. We were going to put it in JobNimbus to feed it with our own money and then sell off RepeatSys, which we basically sold at cost.

We were able to close our debt. All in, we had $140,000 that we had put into JobNimbus. We launched JobNimbus and went full-time on JobNimbus. We weren’t getting any money or getting paid, but we believed in what we were doing and we had very engaged customers. At the time, the average selling price per user was $85 per month. We decided to do a predatory pricing strategy of $25.

This was unheard of. Even though we didn’t have as many features as the other guys, we had something better, and since our price point was so low, we were able to start getting those early adopters. By the end of 2014, we had over 200 customers that were paying us an average of three users. We were making enough money to live off of.

We had hired two employees. My brother was one of them. He was working for almost nothing. We also hired a developer that was a long-time friend of ours out of India. Now we come to 2014. Now, we go into trying to figure out product-market fit and getting past the early adopter stage. We had a lot of problems with support. We were automating the entire onboarding for customers and so they were watching videos.

We added a lot of complexity to the product. It was much more advanced and harder to learn. We ended up spending a lot of time creating videos. I was doing support and sales. We identified our roles in 2014. I became the business side of the company. One of the nice things about having a degree in business and computer science is the ability to play on the side and/or the business side.

At this time, Nick was more on the tech side, so he took over as our CTO. I took over as the CEO. We didn’t use those terms at the time, but that was what our roles were. We started scaling the company. A typical day for me was to talk to customers on the phone. I was taking support calls and sales calls.

This is a funny story. We didn’t have enough money for a phone system, and there weren’t a lot of good cloud-based phone systems in 2015. We ended up having a message play on a phone number that would say, “Press one for support and two for sales. Welcome to JobNimbus.” Whatever button you pressed, it still goes to the same person. It would always ring me first, then it would my brother Brad. If no one answered, it would go to a message and say, “We will call you back.” We had several hundred customers at this time.

It was very nice in 2016 when we were finally able to have enough money to hire some support people. Some of the first support people were hired in 2016 to help. I was able to get off the phone and work more on the business daily. It was so valuable because by then I knew the entire problem that the customers had. I knew everything there was to know about roofing and how it worked.

We realized that we expanded to more home exteriors. We were working with companies that were working on the outsides of homes. We are talking about roofing, siding, and gutters. Even solar companies were joining JobNimbus. We were adding a lot of capabilities to the software. 

Sramana Mitra: I was just checking where we are timeline-wise.

Ben Hodson: This is at the end of 2017. In 2018, we finally could start scaling. We had about five employees. Remember, we’re still bootstrapped, so money was very tight. The way we were running the finances, we were reconciling every month, and whatever money is leftover, Nick and I split it to live off of. A lot of months, the money might have been $1,000 each. You just made it work. Maybe you don’t pay your house payment that much.

We were having creditors going after us, but we really believed in the company. We knew that the worst time to raise money is when you need it. If we could just get through this product-market fit phase and get the engine going and scaling, then we can raise money at a good valuation. We just kept suffering through the times, especially in 2016. That was a hard year for us in terms of our personal finance.

There was one thing that happened in 2017 that was really neat. There were three competitors in the market when we came in. We were one of the three. The number one was really big. The number two competitor in the market was a little bit smaller. We targeted those customers because they had a poor product experience. By late 2017, we had brought them down to having only 20 customers left from over 1,000 when we started competing with them.

Some people switched to our other competitors and some switched to us. They went out of business at the beginning of 2018. That left us free to target the main competitor. Now, we have a strong feature set and a better product. Our price point was hurting them because they just couldn’t drop their margin low enough to compete with our $25 per user price point. We were winning on the volume.

In 2018, we crossed the mark to have more customers than the number one competitor. We became the number one software for roofers in the US. This was a huge celebratory moment for us. That year, we also went heavy on a product integration strategy. We realized that the future of the industry was consolidation. We took all these different software that people were using and we built a sophisticated API and started integrating and building a marketplace. Today, we have over 60 integrations. Our next closest competitor has five. We are just way ahead.

This segment is part 6 in the series : Bootstrap First, Raise Money Later: Ben Hodson, CEO of JobNimbus
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