Yves Frinault is the founder and CEO of Fieldwire, a company that connects office and field staff in the construction industry via a collaboration platform that lets them share files, access information, and chat in real time. What started as a spark of an idea is now powering 200,000 construction projects worldwide across about 100 countries.
Why did you start the company?
I had a dual background in construction and computer science. I came to do grad school in the U.S. at Stanford. I focused on how to apply technology to construction. It was very interesting and a bit frustrating because I realized a lot of tech was focused on the structural engineers and architects, but very little was done for the guys in the field.
I put that aside for a few years and went to work in tech in Silicon Valley. Fast-forward to 2012 and I started seeing guys on construction sites taking their gloves off at lunch to text their families. I realized everyone was going to get a smart phone, no matter what job they had. That was the missing piece to bringing technology to job sites – The widespread distribution of smart phones. That’s when I decided to quit my job and start the company.
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How did you finance the company at the start?
My cofounder and I gave ourselves six months to get somewhere tangible. We financed it ourselves. I did the first version of the app myself. Three months later, we were part of the AngelPad accelerator, which was one of the top programs in the Valley at the time. Six months later, we raised some seed money to get the company started. Then, we started building a team.
What’s the biggest mistake you made at the start?
One of the big questions is, “How fast should you grow?” It’s a little bit of sorcery to know how much exposure you can take. It can feel like your investors are always pushing you to spend faster and you’re trying to figure out how to stay alive. It’s hard to strike the right balance. Could we have grown a bit faster? Maybe. Would we have died along the way? That’s a possibility. You’re always trying to hit that middle ground. I think we could have hired a sales team a bit sooner. Obviously, it’s worked out, but hindsight is 20/20.
What’s the smartest thing you did at the start?
It goes back to talent. I have no idea how we’ve attracted the people we’ve attracted. We couldn’t pay big salaries, but we needed to hire really talented people. Somehow, we’ve found a team that finds what we’re doing really rewarding.
Running the Company
How do you manage cash flow?
We’re a SaaS company. For a long time, we didn’t have a sales team. It was all about acquiring people from Google AdWords, organically, or through other sources. That business model is actually very predictable. We’re able to predict very accurately how much cash flow exposure we take each month. We’re capable of projecting that super accurately about six months ahead and somewhat accurately about a year ahead. We take that and decide how much burn rate we’re ready to take on each month.
What’s the most challenging thing about running the company?
Hiring is the most difficult/game-changing piece. When you hire someone, they take a part of the company under their control and direct supervision and you have to trust them with it. It’s hard to attract good talent because there is a lot of competition in the Valley. But, when it works out, it’s amazing.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the company?
You never have to do something you think is stupid. I think there is a lot of frustration in larger orgs where you think, “I don’t think this is actually useful, but that’s what my boss wants me to do.” We try to only work on things that are important. That doesn’t mean that everything is fun to do, but at least we understand why we’re doing it. I think that’s why we’ve been able to retain talent.
The second piece that is good is, for me, the job has been changing every year. The first two years, I was still doing a lot of programming. Then, I started spending a lot of time on recruiting. Now, we have recruiters, so I’m focused on training the new headcount. It’s a constantly evolving challenge, and I’ve found it refreshing every year.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
It’s going to take a bit longer than you think. We like to joke in the enterprise SaaS segment of the market that it takes 10 years to do an overnight success.
What’s next for Fieldwire?
We have some big product releases coming up. We’re giving people the capacity to keep that paper look they’re used to on construction sites and have the ability to fill in forms and store all the data on databases.
The biggest challenge for us is to maintain service quality as the company grows. Product releases are important, but we are focused as we grow on staying as good as we were when we were small and nimble.
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