Willy Schlacks – President of EquipmentShare

At some point, you need to make money. Build something people will buy.

Willy Schlacks is the president of EquipmentShare, a peer-to-peer platform for contractors to lend equipment to one another. With more than 16 years in the construction business, Schlacks and his brother, Jabbok, created the company at Startup Weekend in Columbia, Missouri. Soon after, they moved their company to Silicon Valley for three months to experience the Y Combinator.

Willy’s great success with EquipmentShare comes from his impressive entrepreneurial background. He created his first business when he was 15 years old, and since then, he has started nine more companies across a variety of industries. Highlights of his notable career include Schlacks Construction, a large commercial and industrial contracting business; North American Service and Supply, an e-commerce equipment wholesaler; and TheONE KTV, an Asian-inspired karaoke bar.

Willy is a life-long Missouri native. He, his wife, and their three kids currently reside in Columbia, Missouri.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

My brother and I were frustrated with the equipment rental industry while we were running our construction companies, so we started EquipmentShare to solve our problems.

The equipment rental industry has failed to innovate and embrace technology. As a consequence, prices continue to rise and push contractors to buy their own equipment. This has led to a huge amount of underutilized and untapped supply in the market, so we decided to create a platform that allows people to rent out their own equipment. After a few disastrous attempts on Craigslist, we realized that there was a need in the market for a safe, secure platform that was built by contractors.

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

I usually start the day by sharing a carefully crafted cup of coffee with my wife in the early morning hours. I try to get to the office before anyone else shows up so I can have 30 minutes free of distractions and lay out what needs to be accomplished by myself and others. Then, I just do it. Some days, it all goes to hell and things get wild and crazy. I call that “organized chaos.”

How do you bring ideas to life?

Bringing an idea to life involves a lot of trial and error. If an idea survives the process, there are likely a lot of very talented people involved. After I create an idea, the process of testing it begins. The first hurdle is getting past my brother — he’s naturally skeptical about everything I say. After several intense discussions (if the idea survives), the next step is talking to customers. User input is invaluable. It has the biggest impact on idea iterations — which is a never-ending process.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Independent thinking. The status quo is entropy. Individuals who push our world toward progress are independent thinkers. A great company isn’t made up of a leader and his or her followers; it’s made up of independent thinkers.

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

I always try to take care of problems immediately. I’ve ignored problems in the past, and they never actually go away.

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

As a young kid, I had a job where all I did was sort industrial screws. I don’t like repetitive, banal work.

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

Nothing. I’ve learned too much from past mistakes — I’m very careful not to make more of them.

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

At some point, you need to make money. Build something people will buy.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Focus on growth, and always be measuring customer satisfaction. If you’re growing and your customers are happy, you’re doing great. If you’re growing and customers are not happy, disaster awaits.

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

In one of my businesses, I didn’t treat every customer equally. Eventually, this caught up to me, and I lost many customers. I learned that if you can’t give them your time and attention, don’t make them a customer.

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

A website that aggregates all of your credit card rewards into one portal and automatically enrolls you for the things that no one has time to mess with. Then, it tells you how much cash (or points) you have at your disposal.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

I just spent $15 on books for my daughter. She loved reading them, and that gives me tons of joy.

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

We use Slack and Trello for team communication and task management. They’re both well-thought-out and simple.

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

Good to Great” by Jim Collins emphasizes the need to hire good people for your company. Everyone knows it’s important, but few leaders actually live by it. Companies live or die because of the individuals they hire.

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

The Y Combinator network was very influential to me. I spent the most time with Jessica, Michael, Geoff, and Aaron. I was impressed by everyone’s humility.


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