Check out what Shawn Peterson, CEO of UnderBuilt, has to say about the inspiration behind the company and the challenges he’s faced as an entrepreneur.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for UnderBuilt?
__A:__ Back in 2012, I was showing some developers properties around Los Angeles. We ended up driving all over the city and at every stop they’d ask: “Shawn, what can I build here?”. I was on my iPad trying to calculate maximum square footage using city data on the fly, and it was exhausting! After about the ninth house I turned to them and said, “If I had a program that could calculate maximum build for you in a few seconds, would you pay for it?” They said, “Absolutely.” And the idea for UnderBuilt was born.
Q: What problem does UnderBuilt solve? What distinguishes UnderBuilt from a Zillow or Redfin?
__A:__ UnderBuilt tells you the maximum build size on a given property. Currently that information isn’t easy to find – you’d have to spend a day or so combing through city data and records or hire a surveyor for $5,000 and wait six weeks for the results. UnderBuilt gives you the information in seconds, for a fraction of the cost. Zillow and Redfin, while great companies, don’t provide that service.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge in terms of building the business?
__A:__ After we hit 2,000 units in sales, we received a cease and desist letter from the California Board of Engineering. They were concerned we were measuring land, which would require a license. After many conversations, they realized we were not in violation of their codes and were in fact a fantastic lead generator for their licensed professionals.
Q: How do you keep UnderBuilt members happy and coming back for more?
__A:__ Here at UnderBuilt, customer satisfaction is our number one goal. I developed this product to help people, not to create more roadblocks. We strive to answer all customer emails in 24 hours or less.
Q: What’s one mistake you made early on?
__A:__ Realtors look at dozens of homes a day, so they’re the key players in delivering the information we provide. We didn’t pitch realtors early with a membership option, and I think that was a lost opportunity.
Q: What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned since starting UnderBuilt?
__A:__ Everything takes much longer than expected! Our software team created an amazing custom software to create the reports. But with custom software comes unique challenges—it usually takes 2 to 3 times longer than estimated to fix issues. Luckily we spent three years in beta to iron out these kinks.
Q: What have you learned about yourself?
__A:__ Being a CEO is incredibly challenging. I’ve been tested in ways I could never have imagined. Everyone talks about the difficulties of entrepreneurship, but it’s hard to understand unless you’ve lived it. My ability to face and conquer each challenge confirms to me that I’m the right person for the job.
Q: What’s the toughest part of being in charge?
__A:__ As a leader, there’s a lot of pressure to make the “right” decision, so I carefully analyze the risk and reward of each situation. Once I decide something, I let go and trust my team to charge forward. I can be a bit of a micromanager, though, so letting go is a challenge. There’s only so much I can do, so I try to surround myself with smart, competent people I can trust.
Q: Under what conditions do you get your best work done?
__A:__ Sunny and 70….and caffeinated.
Q: What advice do you have for someone interested in starting a company?
__A:__ Get ready for four to 10 years of being uncomfortable. Building a company from the ground up takes perseverance, and you’ll encounter obstacles you never could’ve predicted. You need faith in yourself and your product to stay the course during the hard times—and there will be hard times.
Q: How do you motivate the UnderBuilt team?
__A:__ I set very clear expectations and monthly goals for the team, including myself, and I’m open about our metrics and projections. Setting clear expectations eliminates a lot of stress I see in other companies, and creates an environment where employees feel comfortable coming to me to express concern about a metric that’s low or a projection that’s unreasonable. We work as a team, not as individuals. I also strongly believe people do their best work in positive environments. If someone is doing good work or got a shout out on a partner call, I make sure that person is acknowledged. As a leader, it’s my job to encourage and motivate my team.
Q: Any tips for staying cool under pressure?
__A:__ In our line of work, no one’s going to die if we aren’t perfect. We all just type, talk, and write things down. Keeping everything in perspective alleviates a lot of stress.
Q: What’s the best piece of constructive criticism you’ve received?
__A:__ When I was starting out in the design field, a friend of mine brought up my business model. He said something that changed my perspective on my business—I needed to work less in my business and more on my business. I needed to hire employees and work on growing my business to maximize my profits without burning myself out. Otherwise I’ve just created a job for myself.
Q: Which business leader do you most admire?
__A:__ Parrish Whitaker, the CEO of Never Too Hungover, a vitamin-packed hangover prevention drink. He’s created and sold three companies since I met him in 2009. He’s got an incredible sense for business opportunities and is a great friend.
Q: What have you sacrificed for success?
__A:__ Time, hair, and money.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
__A:__ Get more time, hair, and money.