Editor’s Note: Roofers are an entrepreneurial bunch. From coast-to-coast, roofing contractors have shared their stories with RC about how they started their businesses in home attics, bedrooms, garages and backyard sheds. They’ve shared how they stayed determined, focused on customer service and fair value to build client bases strong enough to hire more crews, complete more jobs, and start to gain traction and market share. RC has come across many roofing contractors that have found success and used their own business ingenuity to grow companies beyond their own initial expectations. The industry is full of those stories, and they continue to be the driving force for up-and-coming roofing contractors to stay motivated and even attempt to go out on their own.
But there’s also another group of pros out there that operate on another level. A group of entrepreneurs that are meant to do business beyond the rooftop — that not only have good ideas for new businesses, but also have the courage, swagger and purpose to get their ideas to market.
If you’ve been around the roofing industry for an extended period of time you’ve likely come across them — and might not ever imagine they were multi-dimensional. RC was recently lucky enough to catch up with three such individuals who started their professional careers in roofing, and used their success as a springboard to launching other successful ventures.
Luke Hansen remembers exactly where he was when the inspiration for CompanyCam first struck. The second-generation residential roofing contractor was driving back to a job he estimated the year before in rural Nebraska to check the gutter color.
“I knew I had taken photos of that gutter, but I couldn’t find them on my phone, so I had to drive all the way back out to the middle-of-nowhere Nebraska to check it again,” Hansen recalled. “It seemed incomprehensible to me that no one had built an app to solve the problem I was having — organizing photos by location.”
He and his team developed a user-friendly app that allows anyone on the roofing crew to take photos that stream directly to a server accessible to all stakeholders on a project in real-time. Using GPS, the system connects the photos with an address and keeps them organized by that location so roofing contractors can easily find them. The app is also being used by contractors in other trades and is making inroads in insurance, home improvement and property management.
Given the scope of the idea, Hansen acknowledges the company’s growth was a little slower than what he anticipated — largely due to a learning curve of not just operating a tech company, but navigating the ropes of entrepreneurship.
“Moving from roofing to a tech business is a real learning experience,” Hansen said. “But while there’s a lot that’s different about running a tech company the principles are still the same. Make a product that makes your customers happy. End of story. It’s easier said than done, but the game is the same.”
In Rich Spanton’s case, the spark that launched his journey to start Acculynx generated from his overwhelming success as a roofing contractor. Once the residential roofing company he launched in Wisconsin as a 23-year-old college dropout reached $45 million in annual revenue, Spanton recognized he needed a better way to manage jobs and customers to keep everyone satisfied.
“Viola! AccuLynx.com was born,” he said.
The system is packed with features that help roofing contractors manage all aspects of their business from one application. It helps them communicate both externally and internally on projects, manage production schedules, track sales and more.
Spanton said he ‘selfishly’ kept it in-house to start, but once he recognized its potential — and when colleagues tried to buy it from him — he decided to incorporate the business in 2008. It went to market a year later — making its debut on the 2009 International Roofing Expo (IRE) showroom floor in Las Vegas.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he recalled. “We were the very first cloud-based CRM/ERP application offered to roofing contractors. So needless to say there was a lot of speculation by the industry. ‘Where’s my data?’; ‘How do I know you’ll be in business?’; ‘What if the Internet goes down?’”
It didn’t hurt that they created a lot of buzz on the floor by offering a home run derby with the Nintendo Wii system, and generated a tremendous amount of leads — and momentum.
“It was a lot of fun getting to know our initial customers around this game. I am proud to say that we still have customers from that 2009 IRE, which is a very big thing in software,” he said.
Taking the Leap
Steven Stencil believes he’s always been an entrepreneur. As a child, he watched his mom living paycheck to paycheck — sometimes struggling, and decided that wasn’t going to be him. He worked hard at sales, excelling in home exteriors and eventually roofing in the Baltimore area. But he always wanted to build his own business.
His opportunity came upon realizing a customizable spreadsheet he developed as his own personal sales tool had the potential to streamline the sales process for roofing contractors and thus had its own market value. Unable to find an app that allowed his spreadsheet to interface with the iPad and other emerging smart-technology, he set out to develop his own. With no computer programming experience to speak of, he picked up coding as a hobby, attained a developer’s license and went to work in his home.
“It took me about a year to develop all the functionality that I thought I wanted, and then I just started to build more,” he explained. “I kept learning to do more and more, and the company I was working with started to take notice.”
It was hard not to. Sales reps Stencil was training began telling his bosses he was only spending about an hour on his leads and selling 30 percent more than anybody else.
“I was a very good sales rep that did the job long enough, and became a good software developer, which I guess is a rare combination,” he said. “But I knew that companies wanted to go digital, and that this was something that could completely change how they do things.”
Stencil kept selling roofs and worked at his ‘hobby’ for another five years before getting to demo the product to a software company. He then stopped direct selling home exteriors and delved into software development for the home improvement industry full-time.
He partnered with talented and seasoned software developers who had pushed products to market before, and could build the proper infrastructure and support systems needed to move the company forward.
“You can build the perfect estimator in-house as a roofing contractor and it can be built to perfection, but you’re still going to need to support it going forward if you want it to be successful,” said Leap COO Wauker Matthews.
“It’s exciting to be part of this,” he said. “The home improvement space is ripe for innovation. It’s one of the few markets left where innovation and technology haven’t saturated the market.”
Spanton said he felt the same when he started developing AccuLynx. There were a fair share of naysayers and doubters, including friends, leaders of prominent companies in the roofing industry, and even employees in his own roofing company.
“They were wrong and I knew it in my heart, that’s all that matters,” he said. “You have to believe 100 percent that you will make it, that your product will help people and they will want more of it and pay for it. You can’t listen to naysayers.
“Most people never take the leap of faith as an entrepreneur so they are envious or ignorant to it,” he continued. “They sometimes even want to see you fail. So prove them wrong. That has always been my philosophy for life. Keep moving forward no matter what anyone says or does to you.”
Each of the entrepreneurs have officially left their roofing companies and have likely installed or sold a roof for the last time. While each has a certain aspect of the job they hold some nostalgic connection to, they’re unquestionably proud of the products they’ve launched and continue to develop them based on customer feedback and market demand. All are individually excited about the potential each has shown to help move the industry forward.
“One of our customers just told me that he goes home an hour earlier every day because of CompanyCam, and that just blew me away,” Hansen said. “The idea that people would get to spend more time with their family because they started using our product just makes me insanely happy. I’ve now made it our company mission to try to save our customers an hour a day so they can spend more time with their families. It would feel real good to accomplish that.”
Stencil said he’s proudest of creating a product that benefits everyone involved in the home-services purchase process from the business owner to the contractor and to the customer.
“Purchasing a roof or any home service for that matter can be a nerve-racking process,” he said. “Homeowners are accustomed to buying things online, yet when it comes to a home services project, most of the buying process is still done the old-fashioned way, with paper. Leap is dragging the industry out of the 20th century, eliminating a sea of paperwork and collateral — and providing their customers with the digital buying experience that they now expect.
“The number of times we’ve heard, ‘this is exactly what we’ve been looking for’ from contractors is too many to count. It’s a great feeling knowing that we’ve built something that fills a demand in the industry.”
Spanton takes a lot of pride knowing that his product has improved the businesses and lives of roofing contractors, who he said on average increase revenues by at least 25 percent after fully adopting the technology.
“We help contractors manage their businesses and lives better. We help make them more money and save them more time, which is every roofer’s goal,” he explained. “We help get them out of the stone ages and innovate at a minimal cost. If a contractor does not innovate they fall behind. Working with our products causes de facto innovation for the contractor leading to enduring success.
“Certain entrepreneurs want to change things in their respective industry,” he continued. “I wanted to change things and create a better way.”