What’s the inspiration behind DigiBuild?
I grew up in the construction industry. I saw firsthand just how difficult it can be for businesses, as well as the impact it can have on the mental health of many of the people working on construction projects—both in the office and on the job site. My father struggled and was beaten down by the industry for years. When I saw this, I made it my mission to change his life, and I was fortunate enough to be able to do so through my contracting company. Now, it is my mission to help fix the entire industry.
April Moss, our co-founder and EVP of Operations, also experienced the effects and pain of the industry at a young age. Her father was a custom cabinet maker and finisher. The high-pressure environment, seasonality, loneliness, and alcohol culture within construction was a main contributor in her father taking his own life when April was 8 years old. Most people don’t realize that the suicide rate in construction is nearly 4 times greater than the national average and 5 times greater than the rate of all other construction fatalities combined.
This work is personal for us and we won’t stop until we help fix construction projects and construction people.
What does your dad think about your work at DigiBuild?
He is thrilled! Once a week, I get a call from him about a construction friend or contact that he wants me to present DigiBuild to. He has been building across the country for the last 40 years, so he knows a lot of folks in the industry.
Robert (my dad) even attended the joint innovation summit we held with IBM in late 2019. As I began presenting to a room of industry executives and experts, a cell phone went off. I thought, "No problem, it will stop and I will keep talking." Ten seconds later the same phone rings and I noticed it is coming from my dad’s phone, which was on the table next to him in the front row. I walked over with a smile, picked up his phone, and silenced it for him, which caused a lot of confusion and surprise from the audience. I remember turning to the room and saying, "This handsome gentleman right here who is having difficulties with his cell phone is my dad Robert, who taught me so much about construction, and we’re happy to have him here.” Everyone laughed and we many of the attendees shared afterwards that they appreciated our father-son bond over the construction industry.
For our Republic raise, he has told everyone from his bowling team to his friends at the American Legion to take a look at our funding page. Some of them have become investors.
What was it like starting your first construction company? Did that change the way you build DigiBuild?
At first, it was a lot to handle. I had saved $5,000 to get everything going. However, construction is notorious for slow payments and it became necessary to float payroll anywhere between $25,000-$100,000 for commercial projects. Luckily, I was able to utilize some resources and friends in the industry to bridge the gap, and the rest is history.
These early struggles as a contractor taught me so much about emotional intelligence, patience, and resourcefulness. Surviving and succeeding as a startup contracting company is an incredibly difficult thing to do. The two industries that see the most companies go out of business every year are restaurants and construction. I think those early challenges prepared me for the notoriously competitive tech startup world that DigiBuild is now a part of.
A key part of DigiBuild’s product is blockchain. How did you first become interested in cryptocurrency, and what was the “aha” moment that connected the two for you?
I learned about Bitcoin in 2015 through the online poker scene. However, I didn’t dive into the technology until a year or so later, during the 2017 bubble, when everyone and anyone was talking about cryptocurrency. At that time, I became obsessed with blockchain technology and the “truth” that it could bring. I realized that the ability to digitally inject trust into a business interaction or relationship was game changing for many industries. This is especially true in construction, where 50-100 disparate parties need to transact by sending workflows and data back and forth. My construction background helped me quickly realize that the underlying blockchain technology could be industry-changing in regards to automation, risk management, and data.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenge(s) you’ve faced while launching your company?
Education and messaging have been two challenging areas. The construction market and blockchain technology are two very different and unique things; there aren’t many people with expertise in both areas. An important part of what we do is help both clients and investors understand exactly what we do and why it benefits them.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
It turns out I’m more patient than I realized! Startups take time and require a lot of effort put towards things that may seem trivial. Many of these things won’t have direct benefits for months or years to come, but are necessary to build a company. This may be less out of discipline and more out of necessity, but hey, whatever works!
How do you handle risk and competition?
In regards to risk, we try to look at short-term vs long-term risks. We will use that information to assess the best options for decisions we’re making that may affect us in the near term and down the road. The goal is always to mitigate risk as much as possible. Obviously, one of the necessities of building a successful tech startup is the ability to pivot and “move fast and break things,” as they say. We look to balance both planning and being flexible.
As far as competition, we think it's healthy and motivating for us, or any startup. Construction is a massive industry that is far from penetrated, so we like to keep our focus on building innovative software products that our customers love. We look at other companies in the industry to learn from both their successes and failures, but most of what we do is dictated by our customers. After all, if Elon Musk decided to wait with his ideas because there were no EV competitors, he wouldn't have gotten very far. We feel the same way. Our technology will make the centralized cloud systems being used today irrelevant because blockchain allows us to do everything they can do, and so much more that they CAN’T do.
You’ve participated in numerous accelerator and television programs, including Meet the Drapers. What did you learn from these experiences?
Being selected as one of twenty seven companies worldwide by Tim Draper and his team was an incredible honor and validation. Tim has been an early investor in top companies like Tesla, DocuSign, Twitch, and many other unicorns, so hearing him say, “we think DigiBuild has the potential to change all of construction,” stands out as a special moment on the show. We also love the fact that the viewers got to invest alongside the venture capitalists and share in our future success.
One favorite moment: at the end of the first episode, I put on a Bitcoin tie that I had custom-made to match the one Tim wears. We’re both big believers in Bitcoin, so we shared a nice moment and a laugh.
Any advice for other entrepreneurs applying new tech to traditional industries?
Think about who your end users are and talk to them nonstop. If you know the industry and the pain points from experience, that is a great start, but at the end of the day, it is the customer who will dictate your success. Listen to them—it's the only way to build something 10 times more effective than what they’re currently using.
Most importantly, have thick skin and eternal optimism. You’ll hear “no” a lot and you will probably fail many times over before you succeed.
If you’ve validated that your product is needed, then don’t take 'no' for an answer. An idea is only crazy until it’s not.
If you were to have built one project or building throughout time and space, what would it be?
The first construction project on Mars. Let’s do it Elon Musk! SpaceX and DigiBuild on the first Mars settlement?
What’s your team culture like?
A hint of crazy with the main ingredients of support and acceptance! We encourage outside-the-box thinking. We believe no idea is stupid and everyone has a voice to be heard. We have some of the top talent from many industries like construction, computer science, finance, and more. My job as CEO is to encourage a culture of constant ideation and support. We have diverse backgrounds, but being part of the DigiBuild family binds us together and makes everyone feel like they can be open, honest and creative.
As CEO, I’ve been so lucky to have a loyal team that believes in one another and has kept the faith from the beginning of our journey to now. From our full-time team to the part-time contributors, I can’t say enough about our DigiBuild family and their commitment to me and each other.
What is your superpower?
My motor. I won’t stop. I love working 80 hour weeks. At dinner, I find myself on my phone accidentally pulling up an article about construction waste, blockchain consensus protocols, or some other piece of information that can help DigiBuild. Some of the biggest mentors I’ve had in my life both personally and professionally had that attitude of “always plugged in." The output of success or failure can be directly attributed to the input of the key drivers in any company. As actor/entrepreneur Dwayne Johnson simply says, “Rent’s due."
I get the most validation from making progress for the company; my family, friends, teammates, investors, and network are all behind DigiBuild and rooting for me which fuels me and keeps me motivated. There will come a day when I need to find more work-life balance. However, right now the motor is in high gear to help us reach our goals!
What’s your kryptonite?
Tacos. Pizza. Tacos.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
Whenever I am on creative calls, I pace back and forth nonstop. Sometimes I feel like I walk a mile in my office because I just go back and forth. It helps me think, but I’m sure I look pretty funny to anyone watching from the outside.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
I love going to the gym, playing sports, and being active in general. I think it is important to keep up a high-efficiency lifestyle.
I love learning and researching in general, anything from particle physics to biohacking. I'm a big Game of Thrones and Harry Potter nerd (okay, maybe total nerd in general!). I consider myself a professional in laughing at my own jokes and I often repeat lame jokes many times over hoping they eventually catch on.
I was a semi-professional poker player in college and thought that would be my profession one day. The game theory and psychology I learned in poker definitely pushed me towards a love of business.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Invest more in Bitcoin. Eat healthier food.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
“It’s called self esteem, not everybody else esteem.”
It’s so true. As humans, we care way too much about what other people think, about external factors. Worrying about the opinions of others holds us back in business, socially, and in life in general. Learning to focus on how you feel about yourself, and not the opinions of others, is a huge benefit.