Interviewed by Dennis Seeds
Matthew Cowan and Adam Block have known each other since their first day in first grade more than 37 years ago.
The young boys were fascinated by technology, and by the time they reached high school they were already trying to match their curiosity to potential business ideas.
“One of the questions that we asked ourselves in the course of brainstorming exercises was what parts of enterprise in the workforce have really been touched on by technology?” says Cowan, CEO at Breezeworks Inc.
“It started out as an innocent question. The more work that we did, the greater we came to understand that there was this huge segment of the population — service professionals and smaller service professionals with 20 employees or fewer — that generally do not have any custom technology solutions.”
As they did more research, they discovered that this segment represents 8 percent of all companies in the U.S.
“And yet at the same time, these guys have not had technology,” Cowan says. “So that was really the inspiration for us.”
The inspiration would eventually become Breezeworks, a company that strives to empower independent service professionals to run their businesses entirely from their smartphones.
Find your niche
It should be explained that people in this small service professional segment knew about technology and many of them made great use of it in their personal lives.
“The vast majority, 90 percent plus, have smartphones and are actually pretty sophisticated as users and as consumers,” Cowan says. “So these guys pull out their beautiful android or iOS smartphone and look at sports scores and movie times and local news. Then they put their phone in their pocket, pull out a metal clipboard and go to work.”
The opportunity was obvious to Cowan and Block, as well as those clipboard-toting workers.
“These guys have become very aware of this disconnect in their own lives,” Cowan says. “In many ways, I think it framed the opportunity from our perspective.”
The ideal segment for Breezeworks to go after initially were businesses with at least three to five appointments a week.
“So if you were an electrician and you only did new home construction and you ran the same job site for two months before moving to the next one, there was less utility to drive from the Breezeworks platform,” Cowan says.
“Among the problems we solve are scheduling logistics, keeping track of where you need to be and what time you need to be there, communicating that information to the end customer and collecting payment.”
One of the technology challenges of creating the new application was it had to exist completely offline as well as online.
“If a particular vendor has his entire schedule and work history in their device and they happen to be in a customer’s basement with no reception, the platform needs to function seamlessly and flawlessly,” Cowan says. “So we had to do a lot of custom work.”
Foster strong relationships
Venture capital played a key role in getting Breezeworks off the ground. Cowan says it was the opportunity and the inability of anyone else to pursue it before Breezeworks that drove interest.
“If you are raising money for the 50th photo-sharing site, it’s hard to argue how you are making the world a better place or addressing a part of the market that hasn’t been addressed,” Cowan says.
“Maybe you will build a better photo-sharing app, but I think there are not a lot of companies doing what we are doing on this underserved part of the market.”
What specifically resonated was the idea that Breezeworks “empowers small business owners to remain independent.”
In November, the company announced it had raised $5 million in the first-ever investment led by Evan Williams’ recently formed Obvious Ventures.
The key to maintaining growth will be the company’s ability to foster existing relationships as well as build new ones.
“We’re very interested in getting relationships with people who have expertise in the payment space because part of what we do facilitates the collection of payments,” Cowan says.
Beyond that, it comes to basic principles of building a solid business strategy and then following through on the execution.
“How do you surround yourself with the right talent and the right people?” Cowan says. “In many ways, it’s a question of aligning yourself with quality engineers and quality team members. If you have the right idea and the right team, then I would suggest through pure tenacity you will be able to access the capital you are looking for.”
Cowan admits it’s not always easy to secure both funding and the talented engineers you need to get your business off the ground.
“You can’t get the engineers until you get the money and you can’t get the money until you have the engineers,” Cowan says, referring to the Catch-22 entrepreneurs often face. “So I think you definitely need to work on team-building as much as your idea itself because ultimately, both are requirements for being able to successfully raise venture capital.” ●
How to reach: Breezeworks Inc., www.breezeworks.com