“Build it and they will come.”
A great movie line, but also the mantra of how many tech companies rolled. Remember the wild, Wild west of Internet 1.0, when software architecture and hardware infrastructure were things you couldn’t fund with the founders credit cards? You looked skyward when someone said cloud. Connecting to the internet came with great sound effects. Dial-up was revolutionary.
The big ideas, and heady valuations of companies like WebVan and Pets.com flamed out in spectacular fashion. March 2000 may have marked the beginning of the Dot-Com meltdown, but the entire industry wasn’t turned to ashes.
Founded by Jeff Booth and Robert Banks in 1999, Vancouver’s BuildDirect weathered that, plus the mess of 2008, and has earned it’s place as one of BC’s tech successes.
The company currently employs more than 175 employees, and is planning to double in size by mid-‐2014. They have recorded eight-figure revenues, posted 70 percent growth in 2012 and saw over 100 percent growth in 2013. In January they announced closing a $30 million series B round of financing to help continue fueling their growth.
BuildDirect is North America’s largest online retailer for heavyweight, home improvement products such as flooring and decking. With 10 warehouses in the US and two in Canada, it seems easy to overlook them as a technology company.
A conversation with Jeff Booth it part history lesson, cultural insight, and vision of tomorrow. Booth didn’t hesitate saying, “from the get go this was a technology company. It was using technology to solve a problem.”
“It was not about building a marketplace, it was about building a platform,” Booth told BetaKit. “Our win is because we take two sides of a very fragmented marketplace and make it more efficient. Manufacturers and the buyers win. It turns out there was another side to that platform, it’s the logistics providers. They’re winning too.”
Right out of “no plan survives contact with the enemy,” (Helmuth von Moltke), it’s evident how different the startup playbook was over ten years ago. He shared that “from 1999 to 2002 we were pre-revenue, and building what we thought the market wanted. Without feedback, we set out to build the platform first. All the technology, the infrastructure, the manufacturing relationships, was done prior to delivering our first product or even knowing if we were right. We didn’t know for three years.”
“We made a lot of mistakes. At first we tried outsourcing building the tech. It was a hard lesson to learn. It failed the first couple of times we tried to deliver it. It was only when we hired some of the best people to create that technology internal to the company that we got it right.”
“Now with the whole Lean Startup Movement you can get a faster iteration: fail, fail, fail, and then find success.”
“So incrementing off someone else’s idea and using technology to solve that can deliver some success, but I would say the giant successes of our time are a different problem, and take on an entirely different look,” he said. “Take a look at what Amazon and Google did, what Elon Musk is doing, these are big, really difficult to solve problems. You have to be there first and build everything. What you lack in that type of environment is having the quick feedback loop.”
In terms of leading and fostering the company culture, it’s fair suggesting Booth is a ‘buck stops here’ guy. He said they ask “are we better today than we were yesterday?”
“I think about it personally. Am I better today? It drives my curiosity. The best minds are constantly curious, they’re looking for what they don’t know. They’re never satisfied with what the know. I see it across our team. The best future leaders, the best individual contributors, the best people in general are constantly curious about how do they do things better. Typically doing so in service to somebody else.”
Booth is generous sharing entrepreneurial advice too, in that “1 in 45,000 companies that startup create revenues north of $10million, It’s a huge risk. So why do you do it? If you can find the WHY that you do it, is more than just money, because for most entrepreneurs if you look at the odds don’t make money. If you can look at why you do it as solving someone else’s problem, and that inspires you to put all of your heart into it. Go after it!”
Great tech, sure. But I saw the real success of BuildDirect in this comment: “every single person I meet inspires me. I’m a sponge. I don’t see the world through a lens of above and below. I can learn something from every single person simply by allowing myself to. Humility matters.”
Booth doesn’t just inspire others, he’s able to mobilize people into making a difference.