Tell Us About Your Journey
My journey started back in 2010 in the United States Navy. I was a supply and logistics officer working on a minesweeper. Minesweepers were a 30 year-old platform, wooden chips, really broken down supply chains. And one of the things that I got to learn about was just how amazing our industrial base is in the United States. You can make almost anything in this country. The limiting factor, though, is really being able to access that industrial base. And as I went through my time in the Navy, one of the things I really got to see is manufacturers; they’re running their businesses on antiquated technology, and so that makes it really challenging to work with them, to communicate with them. And so what we did is, we built Paperless Parts to make manufacturing more accessible. And by making manufacturing more accessible, that allows innovation and the pace of innovation to move much, much more quickly.
Tell Us The History of Paperless Parts
We started Paperless Parts in early 2017, and the mission was to make manufacturing more accessible. And our initial thought was, let’s go and we’ll build a marketplace. We thought providing the manufacturing community, buyers, suppliers with a Kayak-like experience was going to solve the problem. And what we learned is we’re completely wrong. That did not work at all.
We built this amazing marketplace that was powered by awesome technology and it didn’t solve enough of the problem. And what it did for us is it really highlighted the true problem, which is manufacturers inability to communicate effectively with their buyers. And so what we did is we built Paperless Parts out of that, and we turned our marketplace into a quoting and estimating solution where manufacturers could leverage our core technology. So if you think about an analogy, is Amazon. Amazon, they aggregate, and they have all kinds of products, and you can buy almost anything on Amazon.
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Well, Shopify, on the other hand, is much more like Paperless Parts, where they provide the technology to each individual retailer so that those retailers can offer their customers an Amazon like experience. So that’s what we do at Paperless Parts. We give our customers the ability to leverage modern technology to give their buyers the best possible experience. And that comes back to, and I believe every relationship is deeply rooted in, communication.
What Are Some Inspirations That Motivate You?
Some of the things that motivate me the most, and I think my inspiration is, I really like watching our customers succeed. Entrepreneurship is super hard. And every one of our customers is run by an entrepreneur. And the vast majority of them are running their businesses by sheer brute force; at long hours, working hard, doing everything they possibly can to be successful. And I know what that feels like. That was the first five years of our business. Just you do everything you can to survive.
And when I look at our customers and I see how underserved they are by modern software solutions, how many companies overlook this piece of the market because they’re not viewed as a sexy business, they’re not going to go spend a million dollars a year on software, so they just get forgotten. And the thing that inspires me and motivates me is helping our customers be successful by giving them access to this modern technology.
Tell Us About Some Of The Challenges You’ve Faced
I think the most challenging thing about building Paperless Parts was the ambiguity of running a start-up. There are so many things you could choose to do each day. It’s how do you prioritize your time? How do you invest in all the right areas without investing in too many and getting spread too thin? And how do you go out and how do you plant seeds and how do you make sure that you’re doing enough to create the opportunities for your business while at the same time staying focused and prioritizing?
What Advice Can You Offer Other Entrepreneurs?
There’s a saying, you can be a vitamin so you can make your customers better, you can be a painkiller, you can be solving a problem, or you can be oxygen. And oxygen is required for life, and that means you’re creating so much value for your customers that they live and breathe and survive and thrive using your product. Some of the best advice that I’ve been given is be oxygen. Don’t be the vitamin, don’t just be the painkiller, but be that thing that makes your customers live and thrive.
Where Do You See Paperless Parts In The Next 3-5 Years?
My goal and our team’s goal is to grow Paperless Parts into a public company. When we’re supporting generational businesses, customers that have been around for decades, we need to build a company that’s going to be around for decades. We can’t just build a company that grows two, three, four years, sells off, gets incorporated into some other software, becomes harder to use, less customer-focused. We need to build a business that lasts. So in three to five years, I see us going public, being around, being in that generational business that our customers can rely on.
What Value Has Gesmer Updegrove Provided Paperless Parts?
Working with Gesmer Updegrove has been invaluable to our business. It’s really interesting because a lot of folks look at working with legal counsel as working with legal counsel. So you’re putting it in that box and you’re saying, okay, I am only going to go to this person when I need to solve a legal issue. And that’s very different from the experience that I’ve had with Gesmer. It’s much more of a strategic partnership for me, and a thought partner for me, than a lot of the other transactional relationships that I have with service providers.
So maybe I’m talking to our insurance person, and it’s not like they’re helping me think through the strategy of how to most successfully achieve our goals. Whereas, when I’m working with Gesmer, I can get on the phone with Russ Schlossbach or I can get on the phone with Steve Snyder and we can talk through a piece of my business. And I’m getting real advice from real entrepreneurs. I’m getting support, and I’m getting the level of intentionality that I would want from anybody on my team internally from them. So it’s just an extension of my team which has been incredible for me and it’s really accelerated us through the last couple of years where we have signed huge partnerships. In 2021 we did two fundraising rounds, two strategic partnerships and Gesmer was with us the whole way and that’s huge for me. It’s being able to count on the team here, it’s huge.
Why “Go With Gesmer”?
“Why Go with Gesmer” is an awesome question and I think there’s a few reasons. One as an entrepreneur you can’t afford surprises so that’s like my life rule: no surprises, good, bad. I just do not want to be surprised. Because there are so many things happening every day in your business that consistency and that predictability is huge. With Gesmer there are no surprises. I know exactly the support I’m going to get I know exactly when they say they’re going to do something, the team does it and that is as an entrepreneur having that level of confidence in a partnership is incredible. If you’re getting ready to start a business, or if you’re just getting started, it is such a phenomenal time to come and work with a firm that understands businesses at that stage. There’s not been a day, or a time of day, where I have not been able to get on with my team here at Gesmer there’s not been a time on the weekend where “hey, we’re trying to get this done I got to get it done before the end of the quarter. Can you work with me?” where they haven’t jumped on and made it happen and that’s the kind of relationship that you establish with a firm like Gesmer.
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