What is a marketplace business, and how does that model impact each aspect of a company’s strategy? How do you choose the right business model to succeed in a market-place driven world?
In today’s episode, we talked with Robert Preville, an expert on marketplace businesses, serial entrepreneur, and investor that has founded and led several high-growth companies. Robert is the founder and CEO of Kwipped, a B2B marketplace platform headquartered in Wilmington, North Carolina that matches businesses who need to rent equipment with a global network of rental suppliers.
In this interview, Robert discusses his personal experience and growth in the marketplace platform industry, and how his company Kwipped, is managing and sourcing from a global network of equipment suppliers, reducing risk, and building a trusting relationship between renters and suppliers. Along with Robert’s personal experience, you’ll hear his thoughts on how other companies are being successful using similar platforms, advice on choosing the right business model to succeed in the marketplace world, and the core challenges of starting out and succeeding with a marketplace platform.
Tune in for Robert’s discussion about his growth as a young entrepreneur during his formative years, his personal experience with marketplace models to his role as the founder and CEO of Kwipped. Find out more on how Robert and his fellow colleagues are disrupting the B2B equipment rental industry with their marketplace platform, Kwipped!
In this episode with Robert Preville, you’ll learn:
- What a marketplace model is and how it’s evolving for the future
- How companies can win with a marketplace model
- The challenging pieces of a marketplace business
- How to choose the right model to succeed in the marketplace world
- The lessons of choosing the right business model in the marketplace industry
- Companies that are being successful using a marketplace platform
- How the Kwipped platform is impacting the B2B equipment rental industry
Please enjoy this chat with Robert Preville!
- Listen to it on iTunes.
- Stream by clicking here.
- Download as an MP3 by right-clicking here and choosing “save as.”
If you like this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes. You can also follow us on Soundcloud or Stitcher. We have an incredible lineup of interviews we’ll be releasing every Tuesday here on the Powderkeg Podcast.
Robert Preville quotes from this episode of Igniting Startups:
“I think I was always attracted to a certain sense of freedom that came with entrepreneurship and creativity.” — @Rpreville on @PowderkegHQ
“Because it’s so hard to control the value proposition or provide consistent you can control it but it’s hard to provide consistency to it because everybody gets something different out of it.” — @Rpreville on @PowderkegHQ
“You know investors are making bets on the people you know. I think a bad idea well executed is going to pay off a lot a lot more than a great idea poorly executed.” @Rpreville on @PowderkegHQ
“I think it’s important that anybody working, that’s interviewing for a job has to make sure that the company is the right fit for them.” @Rpreville on @PowderkegHQ
Links and resources mentioned in this episode:
Companies and organizations:
- Open Table
- Blue Origin
- Greater Wilmington Business Journal
- One Million Cups
Venture capital firms:
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Everything in his business should be should be measured, driven by data. And process should be plug and play. You know, there’s there should not be anything in this business where if if one element collapses, it cannot be easily replaced, right?
What’s up powder keg fans, I’m your host, Matt Hunckler. And this is episode 88 of powderkeg igniting startups, the show for entrepreneurs, leaders and innovators building remarkable tech companies and areas decidedly outside of Silicon Valley. Today, we’re talking all about marketplaces. And I sat down with my friend Robert Preble who is a serial entrepreneur and a total expert on marketplaces, the business model the scale points, and just the sheer power of leveraging marketplaces. So whether your business has a primary value creator of a marketplace, or you’re looking for a way to scale value, we’re going to talk about that in today’s episode, Robert shares some pretty interesting stories, including selling his first marketplace business to Jeff Bezos back in the day. So of course, we dive into some of the lessons learned there. Robert is from Wilmington, North Carolina, and he’s the founder and CEO of quipped, which is a b2b marketplace that matches businesses who need to rent equipment with a global network of rental suppliers. In this episode, you’re going to learn how to choose the right model to succeed in the marketplace world, as well as some of the core challenges of starting out and how companies can win long term with a marketplace model. Hey, Robert, thanks so much for taking time today to be a part of the powder keg podcast. It’s been a long time since we connected but you have been up to some amazing things. For those who don’t know, would you mind maybe giving us the quick high level of what quipped is?
Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate the opportunity to be on the powder keg podcast, you have built an amazing platform yourself. So quip is a b2b marketplace and platform for equipment rentals and leasing. Simply put, and I don’t want to oversimplify it. But it’s this is an easy analogy to understand. We are Airbnb for equipment rentals, and we are lending tree for equipment leasing.
And can you kind of give me some some sense of like size and scale? Whether that’s revenue, number of customers number of employees?
Yeah, absolutely. So we span about 30 different industry verticals, ranging from Latin medical equipment to construction engineering, audio, visual and food service. We have had approximately 15,000 organizations large and small use our platform to either source or secure equipment, or as nations like Apple, Coca Cola, General Dynamics, Lockheed, Boeing, governments, municipalities, it’s a wide wide range of organizations that use the platform. We have about 1100 suppliers, which which are primarily manufacturers and distributors on on the marketplace, and we estimate there to be about $200 million dollars worth of equipment available through quipped,
I’m so excited about the traction that you guys have built. I mean, not just traction, but momentum. Because when we first met you guys had traction when you present it on the powderkeg stage years ago, in I think we were in Raleigh, but you guys are based in Wilmington, is that correct?
That’s correct. Wilmington, North Carolina.
Nice. Well, I definitely want to get into why Wilmington, North Carolina, and how you can start equipped. But first, I’d love to just hear a little bit about your own personal backstory. I know every entrepreneur has an interesting origin story. So could you maybe like, give me some insight into what your first entrepreneurial memory is?
Gosh, you know, I, I remember being maybe seven or eight years old, and going to a restaurant to eat with my parents and the owner of the restaurant came out and he was greeting people that were eating there. And I remember saying to myself, like, I want to be that guy.
What was it about that guy?
Well, 20 years later, I decided there’s no way I ever wanted to get into the restaurant business for a restaurant. But I don’t know, I think there’s just I was always attracted to a certain sense of freedom that came with entrepreneurship. And the creativity, you know, what, what? You know, it’s a sort of expression of yourself and expression of creativity that you I was not able to find in working for another organization.
Yeah, I I can definitely relate to that in so was that something that was sort of like a seed that was planted for you when you were seven, eight years old? And you kind of carried it with you and nurtured it or was it like you went home and started your own lemonade stand?
I think there was a seed there. But entrepreneurship back in the early to mid 90s wasn’t called entrepreneurship. You know, there wasn’t that wasn’t really a buzzword back then. So you know, we were groomed to go to school and get a good job and do what our parents did. I’m so that’s sort of the path that I went down. However, I did start a company in college, I started a web development company. Back then it was it was sort of innovative now not so much. I did
I did the same in college, actually, how did you come across the the idea.
So I, I went to school for engineering and I lived in a in a dorm where they combined engineering students with computer science students, and I met some guys and they sort of got me involved in computers, I remember building a website for my friends were in a band, and they had it sign a label in Germany, and they were touring Europe, and I built this website for their band, and people were like, emailing me from Germany. And you know, the time that was like, it was weird. It was weird. Like, you know, I didn’t know anybody outside my hometown. Now I got people from Germany wanting to information about my friends, and where they’re applying and what they’re doing. So just, you know, that was a very exciting time to be part of, you know, the sort of the birth of the Internet and the World Wide Web. And it was it was your opening up the world in a way that was not ever done before. Very cool.
Very cool. What was it about software development that kind of attracted you into that profession?
You know, I’m not sure it was the idea of software development, they got me excited. It was it was the, you know, building websites, then. And still now, it’s more like being in the publishing business. It’s, you know, it’s, it’s creating content or applications or platforms, wherever it may be, but, but executing it in a way not unfamiliar to old school publishers, where, you know, you’re getting your message out to, you know, the world and you have that access in a way that, you know, only organizations with a lot of money and, and resources had prior. So that’s sort of what got me excited about it. And we started the web development company College, and we, we sold to, you know, our clients were commercial companies. We were building their first website, which I think at the time, they were they were early adopters. And they let us sort of do it. And I thought we did a pretty good job of it. But that actually led into that that was sort of the baseline for my career path there on out, you know, engineering, and I haven’t ever done any mechanical engineering.
How did you? How did you kind of navigate that? That means your first company in college, you’re doing software development? What kind of hard lessons did you have to learn along the way?
Well, So lesson number one is, it’s really hard to operate a company or sell a product or service while you’re taking 21 credits a semester. So it was it was a part time gig, which which the lesson was unless you’re willing to focus on something you’re not successful at. So I was successful at graduating college, because that’s where my focus was. But after graduation, I did actually spend maybe six months working at my parents basement to try to get that company going. I had three other business partners. They all got jobs. And I said, I’m going to try to get our business going full time. And, and quickly, quickly realized I probably needed to get a job to get out of this basement, make some money and get some experience.
What was that job?
So my first job was working for a engineering software firm that made CAD CAM software modeling. You ever see a TV show how it’s made? Yeah. So my job was to go around to all these manufacturing facilities and demo our software spend like a day or two learning how they make their their things like I got to see how Solo cups are made. How if f 15 fighter planes were made, how Philip Morris made cigarettes, right? So I’d go in there, I’d spend a day a demo our software and then and then that was my job. Oh, wow. How it’s me it was was pretty cool.
So was it sales?
It was I was I was an application engineer, and I was working with our reseller channel.
Okay. Okay, cool.
So what So the really the first big experience for me was we recruited a reseller out of Atlanta. And at that time, I started thinking about this idea, business idea related to what we were doing. I had this idea of building a engineering marketplace where people can download these CAD files that are software created. Yeah. And then we would build in purchasing data into those files. So if you downloaded a cap screw from our library, you pretty much locked in who you’re going to buy that cap screw from right.
And that’s brilliant. What year was this?
This was nine teen 99
Wow ahead of your time. and even Bezos.
So we’re basically we’re basically connecting to the whole idea behind that marketplace concept was connecting engineers that were designing stuff and sourcing or specifying components with the manufacturers that made that stuff. Sure. So we’ve recruited this reseller out of Atlanta. And, and he had a similar idea. His idea was, was a little bit different. But it was to create a marketplace where those that needed custom made components, you know, engineers would design and stuff, but then they would outsource the manufacturing to machine shops and job shops. So he built a little platform, which was really nothing more than forms, online forms where you specify what you need. And then, you know, that form kind of got emailed out to suppliers that he knew manufacturers that he knew that could could make it. And the business was called manufacturing, quote, or MFG.
And you had your minimum viable product
we had. So he had, you know, he had the he was a little older. So he had the experience and understood the process. And I said, I said, you know, hey, I started a web development company in college. And I got three guys up north that can actually build this build an application, not just have this sort of email exchange, right, right. So I went back home to up north, and I SPECT it out, and I have this like, product specification, and I created and I went back down there three months later, and I said, this is what we need. And for this for a nominal amount of money, I can get this built for you. And he said, That’s great. And so I went back up, I got my three guys, I said, Let’s build this, you know, and we’re all young, just out of college. So we weren’t really thinking about getting paid, we were more thinking about getting a job of stock options. And, you know, benefiting from the upside potential success, right? We built this and and it then landed us a strategic investor, in in Thomas publishing company out in New York, so if anybody, I’m showing my age whenever I talk about these guys, but if you remember the Thomas register manufacturers now thomasnet.com. They were our early investor. And then fast forward four years, we sold half that business to Jeff Bezos. Nice. So it was it was a fun ride and exciting. And then and then
fill fill me on a couple of details there. Because so many pivotal moments, I’m sure in this journey, and just a couple that I picked up on is, first of all, finding this guy out of Atlanta, who helped hack together sort of your minimum viable product, how did you find that person? And you said, you kind of recruited them? How did you find them? And then how did you convince them to hack this first version together?
Yeah, so So my job at that company was to manage a reseller channel. And there were companies that were reselling our software. In that space, typically, the companies would resell engineering software and manufacturing software. So on one side, they had engineering customers, and the other side, they had manufacturing customers. So between his two customer segments that he already had the, you know, the sort of the foundation of a marketplace, or at least the participants, right.
And that’s one of the most challenging pieces of a marketplace business. Right, is
there’s a lot of challenging pieces, but there’s certainly that that very early chicken, the egg sort of, you know, a challenge that you have to solve, right? Yep. Um, so so, you know, and he kind of did it sort of manually, right. And engineering customers would say, hey, I need to get this made, you know, anybody in town that can do it. And he’s given three phone numbers and or the manufacturing customers will say, Hey, I’m looking for some business, you know, anybody that sees anything made? Right, this is sort of doing that manually, right. And then, and then I think, you know, when we did, you know, the early web developing experience, I think we demonstrated a knowledge base that he knew we needed that that we had, and we were young and eager, and he, you know, took advantage of that and got us for cheap. And, you know, we picked up our lives and moved down to Atlanta to do this.
Wow. That’s awesome. And so then another big pivotal moment. Sounds like getting connected with Jeff Bezos, do you have any more insight into how that all came about?
So it’s interesting at that time, we had a term sheet on on the that was signed, to be acquired by by a company called the Sol Sol was a one of the larger software vendors of engineering software. Okay. And, and have you heard of Blue Origin? It’s gorgeous, Jeff Bezos private space race company, right. The building was
actually just down on the Space Coast, with Steve Case and the rise of the rest crew, checking out some of those those facilities.
So So back in early 2000s, like 2004, Blue Origin engineers were using our platform to source manufacturers, they were designing these things and they had to get there Right. Yeah. So, Bezos happened to be at Blue Origin. One day, he was talking to his engineers, and they were showing them how they were finding manufacturers to have parts made. And he called, he called, he called our CEO. Wow, did you see what you guys are doing? I’m pretty excited about this. Our CEO said, this is kind of crazy. Appreciate you, Colin. But we we’ve signed a term sheet to be acquired. He said, rip it up off front, the legal expense, and I’ll make it worth your while. That’s what he did.
The rest is history versus history. Cool. So that was your first marketplace that you’re involved with. Right?
That’s right. That’s right.
And what was the next step after that? So that company gets acquired? What’s next step for you? What do you think and in all of this process, so I
exited the opportunity about that point in time. I was the first employee. First. Employee Number one, I was a, I call myself a founding employee, not necessarily a founder.
Yep. And did you? Did you walk away with something that you felt was worth your while? Yeah,
I got paid. So that was good. That’s good. But more importantly, you know, there were a lot of lessons learned. Most of the lessons were lessons of what not to do. Yeah. There’s a lot of there’s a lot.
Can you share? Maybe one or two of those, so so that I don’t make them?
Yeah, absolutely. So this is within the context of running a marketplace business. MFG was a subscription based revenue model, we charge suppliers a fee to participate in our marketplace. In in practicality and markets, specifically, capitalistic markets, you know, 80% of the business is going to go to 20% of suppliers. This is sort of parados law, it holds true at 20% of the market has figured out how to be competitive, how to offer good quality, good pricing, be responsive, do everything that’s required to attract the business, right? Yep. So ultimately, what happens is 80% of the suppliers are not getting business and therefore do not find value in participating in a marketplace and tend to blame everybody but themselves and why they’re not getting the business. So yeah. So it becomes challenging, right? It’s challenging to grow marketplace, we had very high churn on the supply side. And I would equate that primarily to how our revenue structure, you know, worked. Okay, so we said early on with quit as a marketplace. While it’s, it’s, it’s, you can you can turn on cash a lot quicker with a subscription model. Yep. You don’t have the longevity there. So we said early on, we were going to be a transaction based model, it’s performance pace, we get paid when our suppliers get paid. And that keeps everybody happy. And that was probably the biggest lesson learned that you know, running the manufacturing early earlier marketplace,
go for more of the transactional fee model as opposed to membership or subscription.
Yeah, absolutely. Because it’s so hard to control the value proposition or provide consistent, you can control it, but But it’s hard to provide consistency to it, because everybody gets something different out of it. Right? They’re gonna get as much out of the marketplace as they put in. Yep. And there’s certain things that the marketplace simply can’t control. If you if your material costs are 10 times higher than your competitors, there’s nothing the marketplace can do about that you’re simply not competitive, you have to reengineer some back end processes within your business, not just to be competitive on my marketplace, but to be competitive anywhere. Right? So, you know, the performance based model just keeps the incentives aligned with between the, you know, the administrators of the marketplace, and those that are participating in it.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Have you seen any other marketplaces out there? I’m sure you study the model quite a bit. Have you seen marketplaces, buck that trend successfully with a subscription?
I think I think there’s sort of two to two hybrid models. One model is a marketplace that balances being a marketplace and providing software features, right? So an example that may be OpenTable. Yep. OpenTable, actually, I believe started as a software company where they built a reservation platform for restaurants. They had all these people using the reservation platform. They said, Holy cow, let’s make a marketplace. Yeah. So on one side, it costs you know, you’re paying, you’re paying for the value of the features on the other side, you’re paying for the value of getting customers that you otherwise would have gotten, right. So that’s one I think the second version of the hybrid model is transaction fee based model. marketplaces that allow you to differentiate yourself through through additional, you know, either subscriptions or paying, paying to differentiate yourself. So like eBay, right? Yeah. You know, eBay may charge a, you know, 15% transaction fees in a particular product category. But if you want a picture, you’re paying 35 cents more, if you want a bold listing, you’re paying $1 more, if you want to be at the top of the page, you’re paying X amount more. Yeah, so that makes sense to me to write in a capitalistic market, everyone, there’s, you know, there’s evil, even playing field. But the big, the bigger and better companies have the resources to differentiate themselves in the way that the smaller companies simply simply can’t think, you know, in capitalism, in capitalist countries, that’s, that’s fine. Right?
That’s yeah. Well, I appreciate you sharing those examples it really brings brings the model to life. And I think in some ways, it’s interesting to think about that 80%, right. You know, you mentioned in parados, law that 20% to 80% of the value off of a marketplace, how do you then engage with the other 80%? Or is it more like you kind of deprioritize those 80%? Because you know, that they’re not going to put in? What’s necessary to get more value?
Yeah, that’s a good question. So so the first thing is, there’s another key. There’s another sort of sort of big difference between what we did in Atlanta. And what we’re doing here at quipped. Atlanta was essentially there’s this, there’s sort of just terminology out there homogeneous for first heterogeneous. Okay, so homogeneous marketplace, which is what we’re building in Atlanta is a marketplace whereby every unit of supply is essentially the same. So think Uber, you know, every Uber ride is essentially a different card of a driver. Yeah, the actual what is being provided is the same service driving you from point A to point B, you don’t care who your Uber rider is, as long as he shows up and gets you to where you need to go. Yeah, Airbnb is a heterogeneous marketplace, every unit of supply is distinctly different. You do care which Airbnb you choose to, to secure when you go visit someplace, right? Yep. So So quipped, is very heterogeneous? You know, we’re our equipment solves very specific problems and very specific configurations of equipment, solve those problems, so you can’t just use anything, right? In our marketplace. The 8020 rule. It’s a lot more granular, you know, this, but but it’s very granular for each individual product category. And we have 20,000 different products on our website, right? Yep. In in the in the other world? I don’t know what the answer is. Because Because everybody’s supplying the same exact thing. Ultimately, it becomes commodity driven. And, and usually, in that environment, price wins out, right? Even though everyone says, Well, you know, we have quality, we have customer service, we do this, we do that at the end of the day, there’s too many people doing the exact same thing, and it becomes sort of commoditized. So in deciding on building another marketplace, we were we were we were sure to choose an idea where that was not a commodity commoditized idea.
Yep. And so in that scenario, do you find that the Pareto Principle still carries over even in the heterogeneous
for certain product categories? But but there’s different challenges with heterogeneous marketplaces? Yeah, the challenge is, it’s a lot harder to obtain critical mass and liquidity, it’s a lot harder for transactions to actually be executed. You think about Airbnb, if I have only three Airbnb hosts in a given city, it’s gonna be very difficult to make a match, right? Have 3000 It’s gonna be a lot easier because there’s a lot more options yet, Uber can get away with three drivers. You know, if you got three riders, you got three drivers, then doesn’t matter transactions are gonna happen. You’ve got a marketplace. Yeah. Now, the flip side is Airbnb has a much more defensible model than Uber. It’s very difficult to do what they done. It’s very difficult to create what quipped has built it’s gonna take a lot of time, a lot of a lot of supplier aggregation in order to do that. Yeah. You know, I think with Uber, you know, it’s defensible. But you know, Airbnb think about Airbnb as competitors. They have VRBO and Airbnb, there’s a lot of Uber competitors out there. And guess what all the drivers, you know, the Uber driver that you’d ride it we ride with is probably driving for Lyft as well, and maybe a taxi driver on the side. Right? Yep. The supply is the same. They’re just getting rides on a different platform. Totally. Yeah. So it’s, it’s it’s it’s interesting. It’s very interesting.
So So tell me a little bit about the genesis of quipped When did you first have the idea and what was what was the sort of like aha moment for you? Yeah. So
after after I exited from the manufacturing marketplace, I started another company not quite as sexy, called Global test supply. We’re a distributor of engineering equipment. Okay, buy low sell high model, nothing fancy, but except that we were, we went to market digitally online. And that’s where our expertise lied nice while at global customers came up to us and he said, you know, you guys sell this rather expensive equipment, we have a sort of short term need for it, would you be willing to read it to us? And being opportunistic, I said, Sure, why not write and write quickly, I realized how lucrative the equipment rental business could be. And we built up this just rather sizable inventory of equipment rented out, and it became a very significant portion of our business. I sold that business back in 2011, to a Canadian company and and then thought occurred to me, I said, you know, there’s got to be a lot of global test supplies out there servicing sort of these niche equipment rental, or specialty equipment, rental demand, right? You think about a quarter rental, we always think about construction, you’re thinking about excavators and scissor lifts and united rentals and Sunbelt and hurt but you’re not thinking about medical equipment, laboratory equipment, engineering equipment, food service equipment, you know, audio visual, there’s every industry has a equipment rental component to it. So our thesis was, you know, a marketplace marketplace like MFG could serve equipment, rental equipment rental industry very well, and there was nobody doing it, and scrapped together a website, scope that out, put a plan together, launched, it took us about a three month journey, and then and then almost immediately validated our assumption structure,
and what it validation look like there for that first version.
Um, you know, it never, I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a business where every single person, ranging from those that have deep domain expertise in what you’re doing to those that have no idea of what you’re doing, every single person says, this is a fantastic idea. Right? Customers are saying, you know, this is great, that suppliers are saying this was great investors were saying this was great, you know, people that knew nothing about what we were doing, saying it sounds like sounds great. Right? So it’s a lot of anecdotal validation early on. And then real validation came in the form of the data, you know, we started doing transactions. Yeah, our customers were happy they that we had repeat customers, we have suppliers that have been with us since day one. And we’re driving hundreds of 1000s of dollars worth of business to suppliers. And then you start hearing things like, you know, supplier last week said, you know, I get visits from tube Soos, to sources word of mouth and quipped, people have said, you know, crypto is great, I paid for my warehouse guy, or, you know, I’ve grown my business, my rental business, you know, 200%, just by being on quit, right. So you get a lot of anecdote, which is really what feeds the emotion. Yeah. And the data drives the decisions, right?
That’s awesome, man. What would have been the biggest breakthroughs? What were the some of the bigger breakthroughs early on with quit? I mean, I even though you’re getting early validation early on, I’m I’ve been around enough startups to know that it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows and up into the right, what are some of the challenges that you hit?
Well, so, um, you know, a business model, like ours cannot be done organically, you know, there’s capitalization required here. And we had to go out and secure that. I think, too, 20 years of experience and a little bit of gray hair goes a long way in
may have more than you at this point.
You know, investors are making bets on the people, you know, I think a bad idea well executed is going to pay off a lot, a lot more than a great idea. poorly executed. Right. Yeah. So but but I think in in recruiting, invest investment, you have to be just as careful about choosing your investors as they are about choosing you. Sure. And, and being pragmatic, you know, being optimistic, but balancing that out with being pragmatic and making sure everyone understands the risk involved. I think that’s key. I think we’ve done a good job with that. You know, it’s, it’s, and you know, we’re very cautious not to take money from somebody that I didn’t think lose that money.
Yeah, yeah. That’s great. That’s really great. Did you? Did you take it mostly out to your own personal network and high net worth individuals?
We did initially, we probably raised I had an individual who had invested in my prior company, when it sold he got paid. So those are always good, good people to start with. That was that was that was a great person to start with. Yeah, that was the person I could give him a give him a napkin idea. And he had trusted me to execute. So that was very, very early on, we raised $100,000. From one person. Yeah, that afforded us the ability to hire two employees. Yep. And, but then we reached out to our local network, and we probably raised another, maybe a couple 100,000. But then I then beyond that, you know, I had to get serious about fundraising. And that’s probably about the time you and I met, I started reaching out to organizations like powderkeg. 1 Million Cups. And then those organizations helped me find out, identify and get introduced to the investor networks. So the majority of our money raised has come from Angel networks. There’s a group out of the southeast called Venture south, and then we raised a bunch of money from the Wolfpack investor network out of NC State. And then we landed our first institutional investor just this past year.
Congratulations. That’s awesome, man.
So we talked to VCs all the time now, and they were no doubt we’re on the radar. We’re trying to get the business to a point where it makes sense for everybody to take it to the next level.
That’s exciting man and growing your team there in Wilmington, can you tell me a little bit about the culture of Wilmington, and why you chose to have your headquarters there?
Yeah, so. So this is the biggest lesson learned, primarily from the Atlanta experience with the manufacturing marketplace. I worked for a guy who was very entrepreneurial, but I’ll say he was a bit Donald Trump esque. He did not exactly create a working environment that was stress free. And there was a lot of unnecessary internal friction within that. I worked with some of the smartest guys that I’ve ever met there. But we could have done so much more with the right leadership in place. So I said, you know, early on, I said, you know, no matter what I do, if I don’t go to work and have fun every day, I’m simply not going to do it. That’s great. And I was fortunate to learn at a very young age, you know, when I left that, when I exited that opportunity, I could have stayed. And if I stayed, I probably would have, I probably would have cashed out 10x More than I did. But But I went through that sort of psychological decision early on in life, to understand that life’s really not about money, there’s no amount of money, it’s gonna buy happiness. And that’s, that’s a very true statement. I know, it’s easy to say that once you have money, but it’s very true. So I said, I said, you know, quick, the quick culture is going to be about having fun, it’s going to be about coming to work, loving what you do, loving who you’re doing it with not having a whole lot of tolerance for for anyone that’s going to try to disrupt that flow. And Wilmington, you know, a lot of people if you’re not if you’ve never been to Wilmington, this is the greatest place one of the greatest places in the country to live, right. And people move here because the lifestyle, there’s live on the ocean, we have this beautiful downtown and culture and weather’s great, and there’s so much to do here. People move here for the lifestyle. So, you know, the culture equipped is we are we’re, you know, working to live not living to work. Yeah. And, and we have fun. And if you’re not having fun, that’s a good reason to come into the CEOs office. And and, you know, gripe, yeah, that’s what it’s all about. So, and it turns out, if you get a whole bunch of people in a room, and they’re having a lot of fun every day, and they really like each other, guess what, they do amazing things.
Absolutely. Well, talk to me a little bit about how you grow that team. What’s, what’s the out the talent acquisition model for you in a place like Wilmington,
we interview about 100 people we choose one or two. You know, I say that jokingly, but it’s probably not far from the truth. I mean, we are highly, at least, you know, we’re at 15 employees right now. You know, the first say 30 employees, you hire you, those are the probably the most critical decisions you’re going to make in your business because those employees are the ones that are going to effectuate your culture and ultimately make future hiring decisions and if they’re not making the same cultural decisions that you are as leaders as leadership, and then you’re going to be in for trouble later on that road. So, um, so we’re very careful, you know, and we put them through, you know, we want to get to know people, we kind of want to get to know them over a period of time. You know, we’re, we’re, we’re big on you know, we like or I appreciate referrals from other employees, but I’ve said this for a long time. I said, I don’t mind to hire somebody as long as you don’t have a problem firing them. didn’t work out? Yeah, that gets people thinking about whether or not they’re the right fit, right.
I like it. Do you have any other go to interview questions?
You know, we just outside of skill set questions, we want to know what drives people, you know, what do you do for fun? What motivates you, you know, what doesn’t you know what, what rubs you the wrong way? You know, what, tell me about, you know, what do you? What are your personal goals? You know, are your personal goals going to be aligned with what our business goals are? Right? We don’t we look for the talent, knowing that we can train the skill set, right? I mean, skill sets are easy to develop talents are not and you can’t, you can take somebody that went to accounting school, or has a master’s in accounting. But if they don’t have the ability to pay attention to detail, no matter how much schooling they have, they’re never going to be a good accountant. There’s nothing you can do about that. Right. So, so you don’t want to hire any dyslexic accountants?
Probably not. You have any advice for people who might be interviewing at a startup or considering working at a startup?
Well, I think I think, you know, our society and culture has always viewed certain things as one way. So you know, the, the employee employer relationship was always viewed as a one way relationship where the employer was, you know, sort of sort of in charge that relationship or steered it right. Yeah, Master cut, you know, entrepreneur investor is always perceived that the investor is really the one charge, charge that I think it’s important that anybody working, you know, the, you know, that’s interviewing for a job has to make sure that the company is a right fit for, for them. And I can tell when people are thinking that way, because they come in loaded up with questions about what this experience can be like, for me, you know, and is it going to do? Is it going to align with what I’m looking for? Personally, what I’m looking for culturally? Right? The people that come in and are, you know, only answering what’s asked to them, they have no interest in making sure this is the right fit for them. Right. Same thing with investors, I talk to VCs all the time. And usually, you know, historically, those conversations are VCs investor, entrepreneur question. And and, you know, there’s not a whole lot of the entrepreneur asking the VC a question, I have a whole slew of, you know, questions that I want to know about the VC firm, you know, what’s motivating them? Who their LPs are? What ratios? Are they being held accountable to what, you know, what’s their tolerance for risk? What are they going to do when you know, you know, things don’t go the right way? What are their experiences? What are their backgrounds? Because Because at the end of the day, if you’re not a good fit for us, we’re not going to be a good fit for you.
Sure. That’s really good advice. I appreciate you sharing that, from both perspectives, both from the potential employee standpoint, but also the potential investi potential. It’s a really good perspective to take when, when looking at any sort of partnership at any level. I think Steve
Jobs province was always a Steve Jobs, quote, and a good podcast and I forget exactly what the quote is. But he basically said something happens, something magical happens when you turn 40. And you stop giving a shit about other people’s perceptions. And that doesn’t mean you don’t do what’s right and what you know. But it just it what, you know, that’s your 20s it says all about impressing people, so you can build a foundation for your career. And then the 30s is about proving yourself 40s is about having fun, just like think everything that you’ve done for the last few decades and leverage that do it right and do in a way that makes you that satisfies you. Right?
I love that. That’s great. Well, what are you most excited about right now? Where are you having the most fun equipped?
Well, I think what I’m most excited about is you know, we are we are in a stage that I’ve not personally been at prior and that is we are in scale mode. We are we are scaling this business. You know, I’ve been in the creative upstart mode. I’ve been in the proof of concept mode. I’ve been in early success mode. We are now in this works. We know this works. We know this is a big opportunity. We got the right people in place, we got some money in the bank, let’s make it happen. And that’s that’s fun. That’s, that’s exciting.
Has there been some hard lessons in that that transition from startup mode to scale up mode?
There are definitely lessons but once again, like I said when once you once you turn 40 Your art anymore because that’s not your that’s not what your take on life is right? Yeah.
Any any mindset shifts that you’ve you’ve kind of learned, I would imagine. Because I’m in the same boat. I’ve either joined at US scale up, or I most of my career has been in startup mode. Yeah. And so making that transition, I feel like it would be very hard to turn off the like, Okay, what else? Are we going to launch? What What else are we going to create? Well,
I think you hit the nail on the head. The biggest mind shift change for me is I have to start thinking outside of creation mode in more more operationally, and I actually brought a strategic person in place to help me with that, because it’s not something that that’s not a strength of mine. I’m very anecdotal. And let’s create an idea. Let’s throw it out there. Let’s test it. Let’s try it. Let’s see if it works. Let’s evolve it. We now have an individual here who is very analytical focused on the data, data drives decisions, there’s framework for decision making. Everything in this business should be should be measured, driven by data. And process should be plug and play. You know, there’s there should not be anything in this business. Where if if one element collapses, it cannot be easily replaced, right? Yeah. So you know, he’s helping us really write our recipe. And then and then just bake over and over again. I mean, that’s, that’s what scale is its, here’s the process, it works. It’s driven by these data’s and these frameworks, and you just keep doing it over and over and over again.
I like the recipe. Metaphor. That’s good. Yeah. Well, cool. Well, for people that want to learn more about quipped refer someone who might need to rent equipment, or refer someone that might want to join the team. As you guys continue to scale and join you there on the coasts in North Carolina. Where should they look you up? What’s a good place to go?
quip.com Kwi, PP Edie? That’s a good starting point. We’re a very, at the moment, we’re a very accessible organization. So our contact informations on on the site where you can follow us on social media. We,
where are you most active personally? Are you on LinkedIn or Twitter or Snapchat,
I am on I’m on LinkedIn, I’ll say that I’m probably I’m not overly most I am most active personally, in my office dealing with my 15 people,
you got to visit you’ve got a business around, I totally get it.
So that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s what I do. Go. I would invite anybody. No matter who you are, if you have an interest in learning more, or have questions reach out, because, you know, there was a point in my life where I felt like certain people were unapproachable. And I told myself, I never want to be one of those people.
Well, I don’t for what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re one of those people. It’s been it’s been really great to follow along last couple years as you guys have scaled, and I love that you guys are just on a tear right now scaling. And I really appreciate you sharing some of your own personal lessons, as well as some of the lessons you’ve learned and scaling marketplaces is is almost like a little mini masterclass and marketplace model. So I really appreciate it, man. Thank you for the opportunity. And hopefully we have you back on the shows zoom. Absolutely. Alright. Until then, man. Thank you. Thanks, man. Thanks so much for tuning in. I hope you walk away feeling inspired and armed with a lot of insights about marketplace, businesses, and the model and strategies around that. You can find quipped on Twitter, that’s Kwi pped underscore calm, so quipped underscore calm on Twitter or go to quip.com To find out more. Now, if you’re a professional in the tech space, power kid can help you connect with a job you love. Hopefully, you’re already at one right now. But if you’re interested in what’s out there, you can join 1000s of top professionals in the powderkeg community to get connected with the hottest tech companies between the coasts. Visit powderkeg.com to join the network and see what’s out there. And to be among the first to hear the stories about entrepreneurs, investors and other tech leaders outside of Silicon Valley. Subscribe to us on firstname.lastname@example.org forward slash iTunes, and we’ll catch you next time on powderkeg igniting startups