Tony Summerville – Founder and CEO of Fleetio

[quote style=”boxed”]Find a co-founder. It was just me when I started the business and it’s very tough to build a product-based business by yourself.[/quote]

Tony Summerville is the founder and CEO of Fleetio, an easy to use web-based software platform that helps businesses effectively manage their vehicles & drivers.

Tony is a passionate software entrepreneur with over a decade in the web technology game. Before starting Fleetio, he worked at a Fortune 500 bank and was an early employee of another fast-growing software company.

What are you working on right now?

Continuing to make Fleetio better and better. We have so many awesome things we want to build but right now we’re focused on making it easier to get data into Fleetio through better import tools, fuel card integrations and a device that plugs into a vehicle’s diagnostic (OBD-2) port and automatically sends vehicle data to our servers.

Where did the idea for Fleetio come from?

I actually started thinking about vehicle management more from a personal standpoint… It was a pain to keep track of maintenance, licenses, car tags, etc. for both my SUV and my wife’s car.

I also started to think about all the businesses that use vehicles as an important part of their operations, and figured if two vehicles are hard to manage, how are these businesses keeping track of 10, 50, 100+ vehicles? My father founded and still runs a successful electrical supply business all over the state that has a fleet of close to 100 vehicles. Having grown up working there in the summers, I knew the mentality of company that relies on a fleet to operate, but isn’t a logistics or transportation company. I knew there was a way to help these types of businesses carry out their mission with a safer and more productive fleet and could drastically improve their bottom line.

What does your typical day look like?

I’m an early riser – usually up around 5 AM. I like to get up, make coffee and start being productive before the sun comes up. I plan each day out and try to get started on the most important things first. I like designing new features or doing other creative tasks first thing in the day when there aren’t as many interruptions.

I’m in the office by 7:30 AM and spend the day executing the to-do list. I’m in constant communication with my team to make sure everyone is on the same page. We use tools like Asana and HipChat to make it easy to collaborate.

A few times a week I go to the gym and workout during lunch. I usually leave the office around 6 PM to go home and have dinner with my wife, walk the dogs, etc. If we’re not watching a TV show, I may read a book or magazine, or whip out the laptop to do a little more work before calling it a night.

How do you bring ideas to life?

First, there’s just keeping track of rough ideas. I keep a daily log in Evernote to get quick thoughts and ideas down so I won’t forget them. I also keep a lot of screenshots and example emails to use as inspiration and ideas for the future.

I’m a developer so most things I can actually build myself. I’m a visual person, so I always approach new ideas from the user interface perspective first. We’ll use Balsamiq to mockup new features or ideas for our marketing site as a starting point, or sometimes I’ll just dive directly into the code and start prototyping.

It’s a great feeling to take a fuzzy idea out of your head and into your customers’ hands, and have them love it.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The increased demand and appetite for a self-serve business model in B2B software. I believe a lot of it is due to the workforce getting younger and younger, and it will only continue to snowball. The old way of selling software with a large sales force, slow sales cycles and long-term contracts is quickly going away.

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

Stocking heavy supplies in a warehouse with no air conditioning was a tough job during high school and college…especially during Alabama summers when it’s 95º outside with 100% humidity. It made me appreciate how lucky I am to have a good education and be able to do something else for a living. I also learned how to work hard and put in a good day’s work each day.

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

Find a co-founder. It was just me when I started the business and it’s very tough to build a product-based business by yourself.

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

1) Talk to early customers as frequently as possible, and go above and beyond to make them happy.
2) Find other entrepreneurs and/or mentors in your city and get together with them often. You need to surround yourself with people who truly understand what you’re going through. Support and encouragement are necessary for any successful entrepreneur.

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

A tool to help product managers track and tag industry news, competitive research, etc. A lot of this work is done manually, if at all, but could be automated by pulling in Google Alerts, incorporating collaborative features, etc. This tool would be very helpful for many founders of early-stage businesses, as well as large companies…

Tell us a secret.

I met my wife at work (at a previous company).

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Hacker News – Best way to keep up with tech news.
Asana – How our team collaborates and stays focused on the right tasks.
Woopra – Awesome realtime website analytics tool.

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

Small Giants by Bo Burlingham. Even high-growth companies aiming for an exit can learn a lot for these entrepreneurs’ stories. These founders made the conscious choice to stay small and focus on being great.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I laugh each and every day, especially when hanging out with my wife. Yesterday we were laughing when I tried to close one of the top cabinet doors in our kitchen with my foot. The cabinet is about eye level and I didn’t even come close, but my wife was able to do it. Random and weird, I know. For some reason it was hilarious.

What is the one thing you wish you knew before starting a business?

I knew starting a business would be tough and success wouldn’t happen overnight, but I’ve had to learn to be patient while also keeping a “foot on the gas pedal” mentality. Things always take longer than expected and it’s easy to become discouraged. The key is to keep the ball moving forward each day, and look back often at all you and your team have accomplished. You’ll be surprised how much it all starts to add up, which will then keep you motivated going forward.

Tony Summerville on Twitter: @summerville
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