Proven.com in the Press
Pablo Fuentes - KGO Radio Interview (4/10/11)
KGO - Right now, you know, the biggest issue on our economic plate is jobs, we need more of them, right? More new ones. But we also need to connect those who need jobs with those who need to hire. Our system of doing that isn't very efficient at all. And there's need for improvement, but, producer Mel Baker caught up with someone recently. An entrepreneur, who like many others, figured out a way to fill that need-- and to make money. We spoke to Pablo Fuentes, the CEO of WorkersNow, (that's a California company,) that has come up with a way to connect construction industry workers with people who need skilled plumbers, painters, electricians, carpenters, and others, right? And to help the employer deal with time cards and insurance, and all that. You know, 2.2 million construction workers lost jobs since 2006 when the housing boom went bust, so this is a big need to fill.
KGO: Alright, thanks for joining us. Pablo, how does your business work?
Pablo: Now, most of our customers are businesses, so they're construction contractors and folks in the blue collar trades that need just in time delivery of labor, and the folks that they hire through us, they can be anywhere, and that's part of the beauty is that we figure out ways in which blue collar trades interact with technology. Because, they do interact with technology, they just interact in different ways through their cell phone.
K: Could you expand on that?
P: What we do is we use technology platforms and mobile platforms, text messaging, to really give folks in the construction industry a face and a way to prove themselves on their pages and then (also) we check through their references. They can also list their tools and the pictures of the work they've done. That will really show themselves to their employers, who in turn go to our website. They can directly hire folks, and they can see, using our matching technology, who's available, and see immediately who they can hire. And just with a click, handle the hiring process, and then we do all of the time card process and everything automated through folks' cell phones. And that's a really revolutionary break-through in the industry, because right now everything's done with phones, faxes, and pieces of paper.
K: So you could describe this as a cloud-based, or web-based temp firm. Now, you were getting a degree at Stanford University, when this got going. How did it happen?
P: We worked on the company while I was still a second-year, so still finishing up my masters' in business administration, but then the last quarter we took a class called "Launchpad" at the d.school, which the d.school is really like an inter-disciplinary program, where people from all different programs, like engineering, design, and business, come together and think about new ways to find needs and design products that people want to use.
K: Interdisciplinary approach-- that's what academics call it, but obviously it's working in the real world.
P: Absolutely, and I would say a huge part of our success has been our ability to take people, I mean our CTO is a Ph.D. in computer science, and his name is Sean Falconer. Then Joe (Mellin) has a background in design, and really the fact that three of us bring very, very different things to the table and, but at the same time, are able to feed off each others' ideas, that's really an asset that is invaluable in terms of our progress as a company, in terms of our prospects going forward.
K: (What advice would you give to listeners about finding partners) who are a lot different than they are?
P: Yeah, I would say be ruthless about meeting new people. Be very, very curious. If you look at it in hindsight, (our partnership) had fairly low odds of working out, it's just, when I tell people about the company, I don't tell people about the hundred other people I met before, with whom there was potential to work together, and it actually never came together. So, be relentless about meeting people, you know. Stand up on the mountaintop and scream your idea, because the odds of you finding someone that thinks like you and that can work with you (are) significantly higher than the odds of anyone stealing your idea or anything like that. Even if your idea is brilliant, you're gonna have to shove it down peoples' throats, because everybody is gonna say "this is impossible," and "this is not the way it's done," and so forth.
K: That's a big departure from the dot-com boom days! Everyone was so protective of their ideas. They all signed non-disclosure agreements. Alright, so how else did you move this thing from an idea to a reality?
P: Once you actually find someone you want to work with, don't spend a lot of time doing all this research (figuring things) out. Spend a few afternoons really doing (a) deep dive into the industry that you think is interesting to you, and have that industry be something that is naturally passion-inducing to you. But, at the same time, get out there and build stuff. You know, build paper prototypes, go out and talk to customers, because to quote Steve Blank, (an entrepreneurship professor who's very well looked upon)... He says, "No business plan ever survives the first contact with customers," so go out there and build stuff to test, and then go for it.
K: You launched WorkersNow in the summer of last year, right smack in the middle of one of the worst economic downturns in decades. Do you have any advice for someone starting a business today?
P: Generally speaking, a lot of the biggest, most game-changing businesses have come out of times when there's a lot of fertilizer around, proverbially speaking. So, yeah, if you build a business that works, and people are willing to pay for your product in the worst of times, you can be assured that you have a business that does very well when things are good. The opposite is not necessarily true. If you have a business that is doing 'okay' when things are gangbusters, your business really hasn't been stress-tested for times when things are not doing so well. So I would say go for it. I mean, if anything, the opportunity cost is lower, and there's a lot of folks out there who are trying new things. I would say, (in my book) there's a lot more shame in not-- in wanting to and not trying, than there is in trying and failing.
K: Given your timing, and the fact that WorkersNow was just a glimmer in your eye early last year, where's your business right now, a year later?
P: Today, we're placing workers all over the (San Francisco) Bay Area. We're exploring a number of different partnerships with folks to increase the reach of our system. We're really excited. We're growing. We've raised our second round of capital, and we have an amazing team at the office that's working really hard and really making an amazing hire experience in blue collar trades possible. (We) really want to take a good part in this recovery as we roll out across the nation.
K: Well, it may not be the easiest time to start a new business, but it may just be the best time. At least for someone with a good idea, and the kind of passion Pablo Fuentes is bringing to WorkersNow. I really hope we get a chance to talk with him again next year. Because I think this is a wonderful idea. Our thanks to Pablo Fuentes and to producer Mel Baker. Now, if you want to take a look at WorkersNow website... whether you're a company that needs vetted workers, or you're an employee who is proud of the skill and the work that you bring to the table, just go to www.WorkersNow.com. That's all one word, www.WorkersNow.com. In fact, there are even a few openings at the firm. This site is also in English and Spanish. You know, we've talked about how terribly hard-hit the housing market is, construction is... I just have to believe that this is an idea who's time has come."