Nicole Schmidt describes herself as an “accidental entrepreneur.”
Her real expertise is in interior design for commercial spaces. She has worked lots of angles in the sector, from hotel designer at a large architectural firm to a manufacturer’s representative for tiles to business development for a cabinet and countertop supplier. The experiences showed her that everyone in the sector was struggling with the same challenges: a lack of centralized product information and tools for collaboration.
To find sales representatives, for example, everyone she talked to relied on out-of-date Excel spreadsheets. So she started there, spending nights and weekends building her own “rep finder” to help people search for and contact reps.
For two years, she spent nights and weekends building her platform, creating new tools and running them past her own beta testers.
“We were trying to figure out if this was a thing, and what features they needed,” Schmidt said.
And once she proved it was a thing and created a suite of useful tools, Schmidt decided in 2018 to launch her startup, named Krowdsourced. The company is based in Portland, Ore., and has four employees. The site covers products used inside and outside of commercial construction, including tiles, paint, carpet, brick, siding, glass, counters and cabinets. It has 400 commercial product manufacturers and more than 2,000 sales reps with contact information.
Krowdsourced customers can search for specific products using filters such as whether an item can be cleaned with bleach — a must for hospitals — and for environmentally-sustainable products. Then they can order samples, which automatically connects them to a local sales rep.
Krowdsourced has already spread digitally to Washington, Idaho, Hawaii, Alaska and Colorado. Schmidt said she’s aiming for a nationwide expansion by the end of this year. The company also has a physical space in Portland where customers can peruse product samples and plans to open a second physical location.
Schmidt said her competitors don’t offer as complete a service and structure their businesses differently. Schmidt allows manufacturers to share their information for free in her database and charges designers to access the products, reps and other tools. Some competitors charge the manufacturers, but that approach, Schmidt said, leads to lower participation by the companies and an incomplete database.
We caught up with Schmidt for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We connect people in commercial architecture, design and construction to the products and the people they need to do their jobs faster than ever before. More design. Less admin. No more BS.
Inspiration hit us when: I was a sales rep doing my regular updates in a dusty, old materials library when a box of stone literally fell on top of me. After I pulled myself up, I realized that this is how the industry is making decisions that effect 5 percent of U.S. GDP annually. You could say I was literally hit over the head with the idea that there should be a place with product and manufacturer information about building materials that was transparent and accessible to everyone in the industry — to level the playing field, so to speak. A place where you could sort by technical characteristics and values; the global impacts of the material; as well as the color, shape, size and price.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: My two cents, for what it’s worth, is to bootstrap first. Period. Then your funding paths will open up. Maybe it’s a revenue loan. Maybe it’s a few angels. Maybe it’s VC. Maybe it’s going to be revenue, because customers make the best investors! Go as far as you can on your grit and grace. Then you will be at a better place to decide what is the best path forward for you and your company. My path was to start by bootstrapping and is looking to be a mix of all of the above moving forward.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: People and the community we are creating. The construction industry is as much about the people as it is about the bricks and mortar. Buildings are created by people for people and what makes Krowdsourced tick is the ability to connect with all kinds of people across the project through one platform.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Joining local Northwest incubators Pie, Xxcelerate and Female Founders Alliance. Networks of people supporting underrepresented founders is powerful. Having a community in your corner with their networks at the ready to help us create our vision has been the strong foundation we needed to build on.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: We’re a year-old bootstrapped startup. The choices are myriad. Lots of opportunities for learning have cropped up.
Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Jill Nelson, CEO and founder of Ruby Receptionists, a virtual receptionist and answering service. She’s been an inspiration to so many women here in Portland. I’ve been lucky enough to bend her ear a couple of times and she is a wealth of information and insight. She bootstrapped an amazing company into a behemoth and has also managed to create a community and culture that inspires employees and customers alike.
Our favorite team-building activity is: Breaking bread together. Food is the great equalizer. We gather around tables and tell stories, talk about our dreams, and where we want to take the company. It is at once satisfying and inspirational.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Passion, execution and self direction. Most everything else can be learned. To succeed at just about any startup you need to be passionate about the mission and know how to get shit done. Ask questions, work as a team, but also be brave and figure out solutions to move the needle in the right direction.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Find a tribe of entrepreneurs that are going to be your rocks. Your ride-or-die team. I have a close group of entrepreneurs that I can cry with, scream with, celebrate with, plan with, run ideas past, help execute and the onslaught of things that come with every passing month. You need people outside your industry, outside your board and outside your family that you can get real with. Find them, then cherish and nourish those relationships.