What’s the inspiration behind Hidrent?
I married into a family of firefighters, and soon after found myself moving from Chicago to Dallas. Before we could sell our house in Chicago, we needed to make some improvements. I enlisted the help from a handyman through Thumbtack. I was telling my brother-in-law, who was a Fire Chief in the area, about the Thumbtack app and the service I requested. He looked at me and said, “Dave, I could have done that for you. In fact, every firefighter at our station works a second job and it’s usually handyman related.”
I then asked my brother-in-law if firefighters have their own app that people can use to find them specifically. I mean, who wouldn’t trust a firefighter over some random person found through Thumbtack?! He said not that he was aware of. I asked how he and other firefighters market their services, and he simply said, “we’re firefighters, not marketers.”
Armed with this knowledge, and a 15-year background in marketing, the light bulb went off and we immediately started working on the business plan.
You’ve spent much of your career in marketing and sales - how have you navigated this new role as founder?
Most of my career in marketing and sales has been with ad tech startups. I was usually the first hire in Chicago for a company based out of Silicon Valley or New York. My responsibilities were to grow revenue and build the territory. In doing so, there wasn’t much supervision. Again, these were startups, so I was expected to move quickly and independently.
It really fostered my entrepreneurial spirit and made me fall in love with the startup lifestyle. Although I was never the founder of any of the startups I worked for in the past, I knew all of the founders and knew that I wanted to be one someday.
What drew you to working with firefighters?
I think most people have an inherent trust and reverence for firefighters. However, it wasn’t until I married into a family of firefighters that I really got to know about their lives outside of the station. They do so much for us, and Hidrent is a perfect way for everyday people to give back to them.
How did your previous experiences lead you to founding Hidrent?
Hidrent is a marketing company that connects supply (firefighters) with demand (homeowners and businesses). My entire career has been spent in sales and marketing which was a perfect fit for the business model we built at Hidrent.
How do you handle risk and competition?
I had a lot of success working for startups in the past, and was fortunate to participate in some great exits including Photobucket, YuMe, Tapad and Shazam. Therefore, I think I underestimated the amount of risk involved with creating a scalable startup. That naivety may have allowed me the courage to dive right in. However, it is through faith and a complete understanding of the end goal that helps me handle risk today.
Hidrent is the only on-demand home service marketplace that is dedicated exclusively to using off-duty firefighters as the labor supply. There are similar companies that we compete with who have been successful like: HomeAdvisor, TaskRabbit and Thumbtack, and I look to these companies to learn from their successes and failures.
How have you seen changes in Hidrent’s community since the recent historic wildfires?
Hidrent is not currently available in California, but we’ve seen our fair share of hurricanes in Texas and Florida. When natural disasters occur, it can throw a wrench temporarily in our supply availability. For example, a hurricane in Houston may result in many firefighters getting deployed from Austin, Dallas and San Antonio to help out. This is inevitable, but what we’ve noticed is that by and large our customers understand and admire firefighters for the work that they do. They are happy to reschedule.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
In the beginning, the top challenge was surrounding myself with the right people, and knowing who to trust. When you have a good idea and start building a promising startup, you start getting bombarded with outsiders looking to capitalize on the opportunity. Some are genuine, but many are not. I had to be selective and strategic with the people I let in. Being accepted into the Capital Factory was a big help as it allowed me access to a group of pre-screened mentors that I could trust.
The main challenge now is cash flow management or “float”. When firefighters finish their shifts at one of our Covid-19 testing sites, I pay them at the end of the day. It isn’t until the end of the month that I invoice the customer, and it isn’t until 30 days after then that I get paid. Now that business has picked up at such a rapid pace, it has become difficult to maintain cash on hand to pay our firefighters. However, we are adapting and managing.
What do you hope for Hidrent to accomplish within the gig economy?
Our vision is to become the most trusted source available for gig labor, that simultaneously improves the financial well-being of neighborhood firefighters.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
I’m a lot more resilient than I give myself credit for. Some people might start a company at a younger age without much to lose. They can decide to give it up and move on to something else with ease. I was supporting a family with 3 children, and I had a really good income. I left that to start Hidrent. I learned that when failure isn’t an option, your odds of being successful increase dramatically.
What upcoming changes, challenges or opportunities do you see for Hidrent in the near future?
We see a huge opportunity moving forward with an increased focus on the B2B side of our business. When Hidrent began, we were only serving homeowners. However, once we started getting press and showing up on TV, several businesses reached out to us as well. I love B2B because the jobs are steadier, higher priced and have very low acquisition costs.
The challenge is going to be revising our tech stack to meet the different demands of the B2B side of our business. This is something we are currently working on.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd?
We have a business that is easy to understand and a marketplace composed of some of the most revered and beloved members of our communities. For us, it was a no brainer. We also have an existing database of over 40,000 users that we can market the crowdfunding campaign to. Not to mention Republic is one of the top platforms around.
What’s your team culture like?
The team is small, but it’s collaborative and fun. I had a manager say something years ago, and it has stuck with me ever since. He said, “Do what you are supposed to be doing, when you are supposed to be doing it, to the best of your ability...and have fun.” I think if I can get members of our team to follow this advice then we will be unstoppable.
What is your superpower?
Learning from mistakes, letting it go and moving on. If I’m not failing, then I’m not trying hard enough. The majority of my career has been spent in Sales and Marketing. Sales is a great microcosm of life, in my opinion, where the harder you work the higher the reward. With that comes a lot of rejection and you have to believe that the last “no” only gets you closer to the next “yes”.
Marketing is also similar. The only way to know for sure that your marketing campaigns are achieving their optimal level of success is by failing along the way.
You need to test, measure and refine your marketing campaigns. Making mistakes is a part of the process in that journey.
What’s your kryptonite?
Work/life balance. Knowing when to step away to find time for friends and family.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I’ve gotten into yoga recently and I try to get it in at least 4 days a week. This may not seem unusual but when you are in your 40’s and 6’ 4” tall, I’m pretty sure anyone who might see me would think that it is. That’s why I do it alone in my garage.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
Most of my spare time is spent with my family. My wife and I have 3 boys, ages 10, 12 and 14. They keep us pretty busy. We have a huge back yard in the suburbs of Dallas, and I nearly throw my arm out every night tossing the football around with them. I love it though.
Do you have a(ny) mentor(s)? If so, what have they taught you?
We were fortunate to be accepted into the accelerator program offered by the Capital Factory in Austin, TX early in 2019. This continual program has granted us access to hundreds of mentors throughout the entire state of Texas. Through them I have learned everything from creating an investor pitch deck to building a solid foundational team.