by Corrine Casanova
The path to success in the startup world is rarely straight. Like 95 percent of the successful startups out there, pivots and morphs are a necessary part of startup development. How does a startup initially design a product for the wine industry end up in the construction industry? I sat down with TrenLot’s CEO and co-founder, Greg Howard and CTO and co-founder Jeff Urmston to find out how. I also wanted to know what it’s like being a startup in Nevada and how the culture differs from other regions.
TrenLot provides software to construction contractors that automates accountability and profitability by bringing the office and field closer together. TrenLot makes it easy to keep everything organized by optimizing crew management and tracking real time project profitability.
What is the local startup scene like in Reno?
GH:Every region has its own start up scene and its own flavor and culture. The most iconic of all is Silicon Valley. In Reno, we are just starting to see momentum moving us forward. Organizations like StartUpNV are making a big difference by providing resources along with advice and guidance. As entrepreneurs in a small company, we have to be jack of all trades because we have to cover a lot of stuff. The curse of that is you are master of none.
JU:We are starting to see the community connect around us. Real ideas are being developed, not just aspirations. Startups can’t survive on islands. They need ecosystems whether it’s funding from the community or just involvement. Here, we can reach out to other companies and say, “Hey, we don’t have this expertise, you do, can we get some advice and perhaps trade resources?”
What is essential as a startup in Reno?
GH:We are not the Silicon Valley where the technology can often go before the business model. There, you often just need to get as many subscribers as you can, then monetize later. In this bootstrap startup community in Reno, we need the business model fully developed. We need to understand the customer’s problems before and be prepared to develop the product and prove our market. The startup community here is coming together with a specific Reno flavor.
What is different in the Reno startup community from previous years?
JU:Hiring technology talent to come to Reno is always a challenge. We are starting to get that build up. Part of building that talent is attracting them here. The engine is starting but it takes a long time to build momentum on the development side. Initially, even for billion-dollar tech companies, it’s hard to get people to come to Reno. It used to be the first half of the interview was evaluating the candidate’s technical competency and the second half was convincing them to please come to Reno.
What are some of the biggest challenges for small startups?
GH:You can have the best talent but if personalities don’t match it won’t work. Think about being stuck in a submarine with somebody that doesn’t like you. Personalities and culture really matter more in smaller start-ups than in larger companies.
How did you go from wine and whiskey to construction?
GH:When we talked with wine industry operators and owners, the issues boiled down to quality and finding problems before they happened. We built a system of IoT sensors that can be used to gather information in order to predict issues before they happen. Culturally, it’s a hard sell because wineries are super protective about their reputation.
JU:The data learned through the winery IoT system was interesting. The data themselves is interesting to look at but was not super useful until you begin to layer actions and behavior with them. The wine industry wanted to be told what to do with the data. Ultimately, it became all about project management. That is where it really started taking off for us.
JU:We fell into developing a custom project in the construction industry. It turns out they were looking at some of the same issues as the wine/whiskey industry. Issues include project management, real time project costing, collecting data in real time and converting it into actions and behaviors. The majority of businesses are centralized, everything is right there. The construction model is flipped. The gathering of data from the field is costly especially when using a pen/paper or an Excel spreadsheet. Our goal is to bring that field information to the office in real time, automating accountability and profitability.
What is TrenLot’s current status?
GH: Right now, we are entering our soft launch. We want to talk to as many potential customers to onboard them. In this first phase we have people using the system but we need more. This is not just for revenue’s sake, we need feedback to improve the system and make it more marketable. We are about to embark on a huge customer acquisition period.
Who would you like to talk to?
JU:Any contractor either general or sub who manages their own crews should be talking to us. Almost any subcontractor is going to have crews that they are managing if they are growing. We are also seeking investors to scale our business.
And that is how you go down the winding path from wine/whiskey to construction.