An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Willy Schlacks (co-founder and president) of EquipmentShare, which was honored in our:
- 2021 Best Tech Startups in Columbia (Missouri)
- 2020 Best Tech Startups in Missouri
- 2020 Best Tech Startups in Columbia (Missouri)
- 2019 Best Tech Startups in Missouri
- 2019 Best Tech Startups in Columbia (Missouri)
- 2018 Best Tech Startups in Missouri
- 2018 Best Tech Startups in Columbia (Missouri)
Tell us the origin story of EquipmentShare – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
Since we were kids, my brother Jabbok and I have been building businesses. Over the years, we started a couple of construction companies and worked as contractors ourselves, and EquipmentShare was really born because of the experiences we had together in those days.
We were frustrated with the lack of technology in construction and the lack of tools we had to proactively operate our businesses. If you’re in construction, you know it’s a chaotic environment, and we constantly felt like we were working reactively, in the dark. There was no visibility around equipment rental and utilization data. There was no technology to connect all the pieces of jobsites (your assets, your people, your materials) together. It made it insanely difficult to consume and measure any meaningful data so we could be proactive about how we ran our businesses.
We wanted to build an ecosystem of solutions that created visibility around those integral parts of construction and create momentum for companies to increase their productivity. We saw the ecosystems as addressing two parts of construction: equipment distribution and technology. EquipmentShare is a reflection of that. EquipmentShare’s technology and software connect all the parts of the built environment, so contractors suddenly gain real-time visibility around all their business data. When they’re able to measure that data and learn from it, then that empowers them to increase efficiency, make better business decisions, and ultimately increase their productivity. EquipmentShare is a connected platform that solves the visibility problems we felt as contractors. It solves those problems not just for us, but also for every other business in this space.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
We’re building something new to the industry, something that doesn’t exist. We constantly deploy, refine, and gather feedback around our products. We’re always trying to get it right for our customers, and so we live in a heavy iteration cycle. We’re constantly pushing boundaries, and that is an uncomfortable environment to live in. But being a leader isn’t about being comfortable. That’s a challenge, but it’s one that defines us because it identifies us as a company that cares about our customers and cares about producing the best experience and the most valuable solution for our end users.
Growing from one employee to 2,000 in five years also presents a unique set of challenges around building great teams, hiring the right people to carry out the company’s mission, and financially keeping up with that massive scaling. We’ve grown the way we have, though, because what we’re building resonates with our customers, and we have to keep up with their demand. So while it can be difficult to keep up with immense growth, it’s also rewarding, because it signifies that we’re actively meeting our customer’s needs and constantly growing to better serve them.
What does the future hold for EquipmentShare?
What is certain for our future is our continued growth and evolution. We will never be a static business. Our objective is to increase productivity for the construction industry by digitizing processes with our technology ecosystem, and we’ll find validation when our technology has a global reach and the industry sees measurable impact from our technology. The future holds enormous growth and change for the industry as a whole, and as we grow and evolve, we’ll also push to understand our customers even better so we can give them the tools to work more productively and build a measurable impact. EquipmentShare’s future holds an infinite amount of potential to change the industry, and that will be our North Star no matter how we evolve as a company.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Columbia?
Like many other cities, Columbia has an enormous amount of potential just waiting to be realized. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to believe in your vision and support it. That’s definitely been our experience. That support is often the bridge gap to someone’s success. Fortunately, we’re headquartered here and are able to witness the graduates coming from the city’s various colleges and universities. We get front-row seats to the potential that’s constantly emerging from the community. As a business, we’ll devote a part of our energies to identifying those aspiring leaders in our community and helping them realize their potential through educational opportunities, job opportunities, or mentorship, just like others did for us when we were in their place five years ago.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Failure always precedes success. Everyone is afraid of failure. There’s no other word for failure; it always comes with a negative connotation. But that doesn’t make it any less crucial to success. It’s a part of learning and is built into the cycle of success for everyone. You have to be tenacious! Don’t stop in your tracks after you’ve failed. Accept that failure is going to be part of the journey to success, and keep moving forward.