Jay Olsen – Founder of Jobsite Unite

People will judge your capabilities based on your position, but your position doesn’t limit your capabilities.

Jay Olsen has been around construction his entire life — you could even say it’s in his blood. Jay grew up in Leon, Iowa, and his dad was a shop teacher and his grandfather owned a construction company. After high school, Jay earned an associate degree in construction and building trades from Southwestern Community College. After working for a few small-town builders, Jay moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where he spent the next 10 years networking and building his career in the construction industry.

Jay started his career as a finish carpenter with a subcontracting company. At the peak of the recession, he moved into an administrative role to manage the entire finish carpentry division. The industry was at a standstill, but as other companies were closing their doors, Jay was figuring out how to grow.

Although he was able to expand the company’s offerings and increase revenue, he wasn’t satisfied. He saw how fast the world was changing and knew that the industry needed to keep up. In particular, he was frustrated with how workers were suffering because of the communication breakdowns that plagued the industry — from the offices to the construction sites.

Jay founded Jobsite Unite in 2012 to solve this communication problem. Over the next three years, he continued to run the subcontracting division and bootstrap Jobsite Unite. Staying closely involved with the industry has allowed Jay to develop his product with real-life feedback, and keeping those close ties has kept the problem top of mind.

Jay launched Jobsite Unite after creating beta versions for the web, Android, and iOS in December 2014. Currently, the company is on three construction sites and has moved its business to St. Louis for a three-month stint with Capital Innovators, one of the top tech accelerators in the U.S.

Where did the idea for Jobsite Unite come from?

Jobsite Unite was born from my experience in the construction industry. I recognized that the way people were communicating on construction sites was highly inefficient, and as a result, mistakes being made on a regular basis. It wasn’t until I set out to solve this problem for myself that I realized there would be demand for a solution that would drive efficiency.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

I’m not sure there is a typical day. Everyone knows that when you’re a startup founder, you wear many hats. For me, these include raising money to keep gas in the tank, selling to new customers, working through new site flows with the development team, and testing and collecting feedback on a construction site.

At our stage, we’re trying to keep the ball spinning in all areas. As CEO, it’s my job to make sure we’re focusing our energy in the places that will move the meter. If it’s not driving metrics, then it’s probably not doing much to show traction. To stay focused, we set team goals on a weekly basis and divide them into nine different areas: product, marketing, sales, strategy, operations, pitch, materials, legal, and financial.

We set our goals based on what’s going to drive our metrics. At the end of the week, it’s pretty easy to see whether we’re hitting our goals and where we need to focus more energy. Right now, I’m spending about half of my days working with the product team and the other half building relationships with customers, collecting feedback, and establishing partnerships. In three months, my focus will probably shift back to fundraising.

How do you bring ideas to life?

For me, bringing ideas to life is all about execution and passion. Obviously, the idea has to be validated to justify pursuing the opportunity, but without execution, it will never be more than an idea.

It’s fun to sit around and think about all the cool startup ideas, but the biggest step is always the first. Most people are so overwhelmed and intimidated by not knowing where to start that they never do. Once you’ve taken that first step, you have to follow through. I think a lot of people underestimate the kind of sacrifice and discipline it takes to grow a company from start to success. If you’re not truly passionate about what you are doing, you’re going to get bored.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The idea of students entering trade schools after high school really excites me. For years, students were told that they had to attend college and get a four-year degree in order to be a respected member of society. As the need for construction employees is expected to outpace the overall labor market ) through 2020, we’re realizing that we need those roles.

Let’s face it — college isn’t for everyone. Some students want to be welders, construction workers, machinists, or electricians. And for those students, college might not be the answer. As wages increase with demand, I think more students are going to stop looking at trades as jobs and start looking at them as careers.

What’s one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I always keep weekly goals, and my daily tasks help me hit those goals. I prioritize my goals based on what moves the metrics, and I prioritize my daily tasks based on what needs to be done to hit the goals. I think day-by-day planning makes achieving progress more manageable. I’m also very conscious of my team’s skill sets and interests. Making sure that the right person is handling the right task makes all the difference. If your teammates like what they do and are good at it, you’ll see results.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

The worst job that I ever had was working with the subcontracting company. We did snow removal in the winter as a way to keep guys busy when they couldn’t build. During big storms, my crews would be pulled off regular jobs to help with the snow removal. When it was really crazy, I would venture out of the office to help, too.

It’s backbreaking work in harsh conditions, and we had to be really conscious of the general public. I remember one instance when I was helping the guys after a long night of storms. Everyone on that crew was a college graduate and had consciously chosen to work in construction. As we were finishing up a job, someone drove by and yelled, “I bet you wish you would have gotten an education.”

People will judge your capabilities based on your position, but your position doesn’t limit your capabilities.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

If I could start over, I would be more selective in terms of hiring. Early on, when you don’t have a ton of resources, you take the help you can get. But looking back, I can see that I invested a lot of time and resources in people who didn’t share my goals. I wasted a lot of time that I could have spent on finding the right people.

As an entrepreneur, what’s the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Tell your story, and show your passion for what you’re doing every chance you get. No one can do it like you can. People will remember you and your product if you’re truly passionate about what you do.

What’s one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

I’ve found that seeking out mentors who have accomplished similar things in similar spaces is crucial. Their experiences aren’t going to be exactly the same, but they’ll be similar enough that you can learn from a lot of their mistakes.

What’s one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I’ve had several learning experiences as an entrepreneur, but having my teammates leave is always difficult. The first one is tough, and the second one is usually pretty difficult, too. But by number three, you start to realize that it’s just a part of business. The biggest thing to remember is not to take it personally. Rather, focus your energy on what needs to happen moving forward.

What’s one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I had an idea for bike locks that would attach to parking meters to encourage biking instead of driving. A city could use the existing infrastructure, and the biker could pay $1.50 to secure his or her bike.

What’s the best $100 you recently spent and why?

I spent $100 on my vinyl record collection because it’s a huge stress reliever. A big part of being an entrepreneur is managing stress. There are healthy ways and unhealthy ways to do this. My favorite way is sitting down with an ice-cold Budweiser and letting the vinyl spin.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

We recently adopted Lucidchar for mapping product and business processes. It’s extremely flexible and can create visual maps for almost anything.

What’s the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I always recommend “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth” by R. Buckminster Fulle because he is my favorite inventor and has some really interesting perspectives on civilization. The book also represents my philosophy on innovation: It must be sustainable. Be the trim tab!

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

I’m inspired by anyone who supports critical thinking and sustainable innovation. Elon Musk is at the top of my list, and R. Buckminster Fuller is right up there, too. But I also enjoy work by and about Theodore Roosevelt.


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