Joel McCoy started Sergeant Built in 2020 to bring custom, high-end carpentry services to the local Seattle community. McCoy is a graduate of the Krenov School of Fine Woodworking, and has focused his career on high-end woodworking products. Check out his beautiful work yourself here.
What makes Sergeant Built unique?
“A genuine care for the people I serve really shines through,” says McCoy. “Even as an introverted person, I am able to gain energy through interacting with my clients and helping them solve their design and construction challenges.”
McCoy takes what is often an impersonal exchange of products and services for money and listens to his clients with a “servant’s heart” as he meets his customers needs.
“My mission is to provide an exceptional experience through exceptional communication and execution,” he says.
McCoy understands “bootstrapping”
“Having already owned most of my major tools, and with access to equipment and shop space for lease, I was able to effectively start with cash flow from sales,” says McCoy. “I took no loans or outside money, and I had very little capital to start.”
He covered expenses like his license, insurance, bond, and other miscellaneous start-up costs with savings and advertised on Craigslist to find a couple of time-and-materials projects, and then a few large- scale commissions which gave him the cash flow to gain momentum. Fortunately, he already had a substantial portfolio and over 15 years experience, so along with being fully licensed, bonded, and insured, he was able to build trust and relationships quickly.
“Financing a start-up with cash from sales isn’t easy, but is absolutely possible in some cases, especially when the entrepreneur is well experienced, tooled up, gritty, and mission focused,” he says.
Bruised but not broken
Like many small businesses today, McCoy describes his credit as “bruised.” As a result, he hasn’t used any form of credit to get his business off the ground.
As he works to repair his credit, he says, “I wish I had more access to lines of credit some times, but I appreciate that I have found tactics and strategies to survive without it.”
“I’m new to Nav,” he added, “I would like to build a relationship in time to help me achieve my business goals in the future.”
What’s next for Sergeant Built?
“I am working on partnering with a larger contractor who hopes to retire in the next 5-10 years,” says McCoy. “By offering him value as an internal field operations manager, I have the opportunity to work-in/ buy-out by integrating myself into his company. This will help cover me financially, while I move on finding and hiring a high caliber (or two) employees to execute custom cabinetry and woodworking packages on his projects, and my own, simultaneously growing Sergeant Built.”
This partnership will ensure financial stability, mentorship, and a steady funnel of high-end custom woodwork and integrate the business through equity over the next few years.
How will Sergeant Built use the Nav grant?
McCoy was awarded $5000 as the runner-up in Nav’s Q2 2021 Small Business Grant competition. “I am going to purchase an enclosed trailer for my deliveries and installations,” he says.
Because Seattle is a rainy city, having a mobile and dry way to store materials for projects along with his tools will save the costs associated with renting box trucks or trailers, and help him increase marketing and branding through wrapping the trailer with his business logo and contact information.
Advice for other entrepreneurs
McCoy started his first company when he was 25 years old, fresh out of the Marine Corps. He say’s that being young and naive as an entrepreneur can have advantages, though. “When you don’t know what you don’t know, you are full of spirit and belief, and more willing to accept risks. Just be sure to learn and rebound quickly from the inevitable mistakes.”
“If you are young, embrace the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them, he says. “You will learn significantly faster by jumping into a sink or swim environment than you ever would under the safety net as an employee.”
McCoy says this is very unconventional, and requires a very strong work ethic and competency base; so he doesn’t offer this advice to just anyone, “But if you have grit, skill, determination, and a strong mental ownership for anything you commit to, I say go for it.” He’s found the book Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink especially helpful and recommends it to anyone thinking about or currently running their own business.
He is also suggests looking for ways to minimize the upfront costs. “In my specific industry,” he says, “equipment, space, tools, electrical and dust collection systems are huge upfront barriers to entry. If at all possible, find a communal shop that you can lease space in. All of the equipment and dust collection is in place, and it is not a liability to you. It will allow you to focus on marketing and sales, and allow you to maintain a day job while you build up your business on the side. Use the people in the communal space to give you insight as to where you can outsource components to make you more profitable, what suppliers are best to use, etc. They may also be a good source of referral work for you also.”
Good advice from someone who has built his business the hard way.
This article was originally written on June 30, 2021.