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The founders of Flashtract, early contestants in Tiger Cage competitions and some of the first participants in what is now known as the New Venture Accelerator (NVA) at Auburn’s Harbert College of Business, recently announced the closing of a $15 million Series A financing round led by Addition and Shine Capital. The four-year old company plans to use the proceeds from the financing to accelerate the growth of its team and more quickly scale its network of new construction industry customers. The funding is expected to cement the company’s position as the industry standard for sending, receiving and managing payments across its connected ecosystem of construction contractors, subcontractors and suppliers.
The announcement marks the second time in the past six months that an NVA-member company has secured Series A funding in the double digit millions of dollars, matching the $15 million Series A round announced this past September by fellow NVA start-up participant Yellow Card.
“Flashtract’s latest milestone funding is a shining example of what hard work by a dedicated team of young entrepreneurs can produce,” noted Lou Bifano, Director of the New Business Accelerator, “especially when that commitment is backed by the broad range of support service available to aspiring entrepreneurs here at Auburn.”
“From their first Tiger Cage presentation, it was clear that Flashtract’s founders had identified a tremendous need in an underserved market,” said Cary Chandler, Senior Director of the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation. “The company’s growth path from those early days to their recent Series A funding is a testament to their hard work and the value that can be found by working with the NVA team here at Auburn.”
The Harbert College of Business sat down with Ben Conry, co-founder & Head of Customer Success at Flashtract, to find out more about their early days at Auburn’s NVA, how he and his team built the company into an emerging success since then, and what he sees for the future.
Founded in March of 2018, Flashtract launched the initial product in early 2020.
|HCOB:||Let’s begin with where the idea to start Flashtract came from – how did you and your co-founder come to recognize the need in the construction market for a billing and payment solution that fit their unique challenges?|
Back then, both co-founder Blair Chenault and I were students at Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering – I was studying civil engineering and Blair was studying mechanical engineering. I always had a passion for the construction industry, working at construction sites over the summers while I was attending Auburn. Those experiences impressed upon me what an awesome industry it is.
During that same time period, Blair – who is much more of technology-minded person, a real hands-on tinkerer of sorts – was spending some of those same summers as an intern at a large financial institution. We got together at the end of our respective internships and reflected on what we had seen, and how the construction industry was one of the last major sectors to leverage technology in streamlining and optimizing office operations. At that time, billings and payments in the construction industry were typically done via Excel spreadsheets, paper checks were the norm. Recordkeeping for issues like lien tracking and enforcement were also well behind the digital evolution curve.
|HCOB:||So, how did those initial realizations fuel your decision to start a company focused on solving the needs you identified in the construction industry? And what did you do first?|
|Ben:||Being students at Auburn, we had heard about the Tiger Cage competitions, and we thought
it would be a good idea to enter one. To be honest, at that time we had what amounted
to a 30,000-foot level appreciation of the problems and needs of this highly fractured
marketplace. We didn't really have a clear sense of the core problems we were intending
to solve or how we were going to solve them. But we made it through the first round
and into the second round before getting knocked out.
|HCOB:||Your Tiger Cage experience didn’t end there, though, did it? You came back to Tiger Cage and entered other Alabama-based business pitch competitions – with quite a different outcome, to say the least. Can you tell us the steps you took after your first Tiger Cage – what you did differently, how the support you found at Auburn’s NVA helped you pivot to much more successful results?|
|Ben:||When we were knocked out early in our first Tiger Cage, we met someone – Cary Chandler
– who became a critical mentor for us. He pulled us aside and said, “While you were
eliminated in your first attempt, you seem very passionate about the opportunity you
see – it certainly is a big problem you’re planning to address.” He told us that they
were about to start building a childcare facility at the Research Park and that he
would love to use our software to help administer the billing and payment process
on that project. Wow. That was a golden opportunity that seemed to literally drop
out of the sky and into our laps.
|HCOB:||You mentioned, though, that all you had at that time was a general idea of the need, the market potential, but that you had not yet developed anything resembling an actual product, right?|
We had an idea, a dream, a vision. We had some PowerPoint slides, but no software. And we didn’t have a team yet – it was just Blair and me, although we had just brought on Blair’s brother, Alex, a software engineering major, to help formulate some of the key technical components of the product we envisioned.
So, with a first customer in hand, we set out working day and night to develop version 1.0 of what became our flagship product. We were struggling to get it off the ground, but that first customer experience taught us a lot about the billing and payment process between contractors and subcontractors – better defining the problems we were trying to help them solve.
|HCOB:||And then you decided to reenter Tiger Cage and the Alabama Launchpad competition – winning a total of $70,000 between the two. What changed?|
Let’s first note what didn’t change – the problems we were focused on solving. The more we got involved directly with the real-world, practical challenges contractors and subcontractors face in that initial customer experience, the more we knew we were on the right track. During early days we were talking to as many contractors as we could, literally hundreds from across the country. Those engagements were critical to confirming the customer needs as well as defining version 1.0. That’s been a key element of our success to date – listening to and engaging with customers to learn more about their challenges and needs while developing our initial products from what we learned.
What did evolve was our ability to better articulate those problems and the solutions we were working to solve. Our mentors at NVA – Cary, Lou Bifano, Lakami Baker, among many others – taught us a lot about the sales, marketing and promotional aspects of our business. Everyone was very generous with their time. And when we graduated, they even provided us with office space as we continued building out the product.
|HCOB:||Let’s fast-forward to today. You have $15 million in the bank, a team of 32, and tremendous momentum. What’s next?|
On the one hand, we will be building out our team, particularly our customer-facing team, with additional sales and marketing professionals to help drive revenue growth. At the same time, we continue to work closely with our rapidly expanding customer base to refine and improve our core product offering to better address their needs. Looking forward, we are beginning to research and identify extensions and expansions of that core product to address adjacent needs our customers have that are also going unaddressed.
Suffice to say we are extremely pleased and excited to be taking this huge step on our journey. We couldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for Auburn’s New Venture Accelerator and the awesome team there.
The New Venture Accelerator is a partnership between Auburn’s Harbert College of Business and the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation. To Learn more about the New Venture Accelerator and Auburn’s entrepreneurial offerings, please visit https://harbert.auburn.edu/news/auburn-entrepreneurship-innovate-accelerate-soar.html.