They learned great lessons in launching Great Pros
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Being an entrepreneur requires more than a good idea and solid business plan. It also requires patience, passion, perseverance … and, sometimes, pivoting from your original seemingly great idea and supposedly solid business plan.
For proof, look no further than the experience of three Grand Canyon University graduates, Ahmad Saleem and twin brothers Brad and Brian Scruggs, who won GCU’s Canyon Challenge entrepreneurial competition in 2015 with a company called Joblyt. With a team of 20 GCU interns, they were going to use their software application to hook up people who need tasks done with people who can do them.
What has changed since then? Oh, just about everything.
- They’ve changed their focus to home in on the market connecting homeowners to contractors. How did that happen? They continued to meet with Tim Kelley, assistant professor for entrepreneurship and economics at GCU, long after they had graduated, and he helped them find the right path. “He’s always been a mentor to us,” Brad Scruggs said.
- They’ve changed the name of the company to Great Pros. No more Joblyt. “People couldn’t pronounce it,” Brad Scruggs said. “They didn’t know what it was.” To which Saleem added, “In this industry, there has to be a memorable name.”
- They’ve changed their website to give it a sharp and professional look. “Software development is so huge,” Brad Scruggs said.
- They’ve changed their business plan by partnering with the Better Business Bureau to vet all contractors. “With the BBB, every professional is licensed, bonded, insured, has had a background check and has been in business for more than a year,” Brad Scruggs said.
- Most important, they’ve changed because they’ve learned. Boy, have they learned.
“A lot of people when they launch a business, they have these ideas in their head and they have all these aspirations,” Saleem said. “‘We’ll put together an app, throw it in the marketplace, users will come, it’ll grow, we’ll have billions of dollars tomorrow and we’ll be good to go, right?’
“Well, sorry to burst that bubble, but that’s not the reality of it. What we learned is, you can sit there as founders in a room with these four walls, and you can come up with all the ideas in the world and all the features you want to put into an application. But until you go and talk to your customers who actually are going to pay for your service, you really have no idea what the heck you’re doing or what you’re building.”
The phone calls would drift long into the evening, seven days a week. Not a big deal … except for the fact that they usually would arrive at the office around 6:30 in the morning. Seven days a week.
“We talked to hundreds and hundreds of customers — not only homeowners but professionals as well,” Saleem said. “We spent a year researching the industry, studied competitors and figured out gaps in the market.
“When you build your software incrementally based on what the market is telling you rather than piling up all these features in front, your product slowly builds to something that the market will definitely use and you can scale. You launch something into the market, you learn from customer feedback, you build on top of that, and you incrementally grow that product.”
But the growth doesn’t happen overnight. The biggest challenge is to keep going back, day after day, and keep making all those calls.
“What I admire most,” Kelley said, “is their tenacity.”
Brad Scruggs said, “There are so many ups and downs. One day it’s like, ‘This is great. We had something amazing built onto our platform.’ And the next day, it’s like, ‘No one’s using it,’ or you’re not getting feedback on it. There are so many roller-coasters with a startup.”
Dr. Randy Gibb, the CCOB dean, helped turn them toward the Better Business Bureau (BBB), a corporate watchdog that was incorporated in 1921. Gibb got them in touch with a BBB board member, who helped them arrange a January 2016 meeting with officials from the organization’s Arizona branch.
Perfect fit — for both Great Pros and the BBB.
“There’s a higher standard with the BBB,” Saleem said. “For us, the peace of mind of the homeowner is a very important thing.”
Felicia Thompson, the BBB’s vice president of communications, said, “Our value is our data — we have all this great information. We’re looking to work more with startups and entrepreneurs. This just fits into our vision going forward.”
The Great Pros vision, honed from feedback both inside and outside GCU, is to establish itself in the Phoenix market and then expand to other cities. “The partnership we have with the Better Business Bureau allows us to do that,” Saleem said.
And, just as they have used the advice of Kelley, Gibb and other mentors, the Great Pros guys now are pros who can properly advise GCU students following in their footsteps. They have been frequent attendees and even presenters at the monthly GCU Shark Tank meetings.
“They’re on campus all the time,” Kelley said. “It’s pretty impressive that they keep coming around.”
They’re coming around to give as much as they get. Other budding entrepreneurs consider them a resource as they try to market their ideas.
“The answer I always give is, ‘Don’t talk to me, talk to your customers,’” Saleem said. “Some entrepreneurs have an idea but don’t want to tell anyone. You can’t do that. Ideas are a dime a dozen. You’ve got to talk to people and get as much feedback as possible.”
That’s how you change. That’s how you grow. That’s how you become Great Pros.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.