I interview a lot of people about their entrepreneurial paths on this website, but this is the first time I’ve interviewed someone whose business exists to help others find their own paths!
Steve Benson used to work on the Google Maps team and also has a background in field sales. Through his tech start-up, Badger Maps, Steve has taken his mobile mapping know-how and used it to create a new application that helps field sales reps do their jobs faster, smarter, and more profitably.
Steve’s entrepreneurial story is a great example of taking what you know and using it to build a great product that really works to solve a market’s problems. I really enjoyed interviewing him and it was great to hear the awesome advice he wants to give new tech entrepreneurs.
Let’s see what he had to say!
Tell us about your business in as much detail as you can. What is it that you do and who are your customers?
The Badger map is focused on one particular type of salesperson – the Field Sales Rep. A Field Sales Rep does business with customers face-to-face. I believe that this particular type of salesperson has been overlooked by other sales solutions in the marketplace, so I created Badger Maps to help them become more successful.
Badger provides automatic territory management for Field Sales Reps by helping them take action on their customer data through visualizing it on a map. Reps use it to optimize schedules and routes , which helps them to get more meetings and sales. Badger focuses on solving their daily problems in minutes rather than hours and shows them the best opportunities along the way.
Sales Reps using Badger save time and gain focus, spending less time on driving and busy work and more time on what matters – sales. Reps using Badger drive 460 fewer miles per month on average, saving $75 in gas every month. Badger reduces driving time by 20% and creates 25% more daily meetings.
Field Sales Reps, also known as Outside Sales Reps (and a dozen other names,) are special because they’re always on the move. They need mobile solutions more than anyone. As a result, Badger prioritizes a great mobile experience via iPhone, Android, and tablet – not just a desktop.
What made you choose this path? Is it a family legacy or are you a pioneer? Did you go to school for it or are you learning as you go?
I didn’t start out with the goal of starting a business. My career has been spent in field sales, so I understood the challenges faced by field salespeople first-hand. When I was working on the Google Maps team, I got to know how powerful mobile mapping was and what mobile was capable of doing. Because of this background, I was well-positioned to bootstrap and launch a company to solve the problems of field sales based on a mobile mapping platform.
My educational background was an MBA. I think that this is actually a solid background for starting a business because it is broad and not deep or specific. To start a business, you need to be at least capable in most areas of business – so a deep understanding of one specific area like accounting would be less useful than a basic understanding of a bunch of areas like finance, accounting, sales, marketing, and HR.
They say that to be successful you have to be passionate, so share what drives you every day. Why do you love what you do?
I love that running my own business gives me the opportunity to create something. You get to talk to people every day whose lives are different and better because of the product that you envisioned and led the team to build. Entrepreneurship is the only thing that I can think of where you can see a problem, and create a business model around fixing it.
I also love the challenge. When you start a company, it feels like your job is to take off in an airplane, except you are standing at the beginning of the runway with nothing – you have to find the parts and put them together to make a plane that can take off while you’re running down the runway. When it works, there is no feeling like it – it’s hard for me to imagine a greater level of responsibility and accountability in a career than running your own business.
Has it been smooth sailing or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?
One of the hardest parts of starting a business was finding great co-founders. No one can do everything and bringing great people onto the team early on when you face insurmountable odds is one of the toughest parts of launching something. We really lucked out with the team, but it was very challenging.
Another key challenge was getting the product up and working in its basic form to a point where we could sell it and get people using it. Getting real paying users on the product and giving us feedback was absolutely crucial to building the product that people ultimately wanted.
I imagine that everyone that starts a business overcomes a fair amount of adversity. If it were easy, someone would have already done it.
Badger Maps branded apparel
We all know that crazy happens. What’s the wildest thing that’s happened on the job?
We used to share office space with another company. One of their employees said that one of our employees had stolen their property, so a meeting was called with me and the leadership of that company, as well as the HR teams. It was positioned vaguely, but it sounded like someone went through her purse and took money or something. It was a very serious meeting until about 5 minutes into the meeting, when we figured out that the person was talking about a slice of pizza that she had put in the fridge. We concluded the meeting immediately, biting our lips and trying not to laugh.
What do you do with your time off? Are you familiar with that concept?
I work a lot of hours, probably about 85 hours a week. However, I take time every week to spend time with family. When I go on vacation, I really try to unplug and not keep up with what is going on in the office. I like to travel and I try to attach a week-long vacation with my wife on the back-end of a work trip to Europe every year. This year was Italy and Austria after a work trip in Spain.
No office is complete without an office pet!
This is the age of the social network. How important is social media to your business and how do you make it work?
Social media isn’t that important to us yet. We post and try to interact with our communities through social media. Our Blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are the most important platforms and we regularly post content and resources for our followers. It’s been an okay form of communication with a small subset of our users, but email is far more effective. In terms of new leads, it hasn’t been very fruitful, neither organic nor paid social media activity has been able to produce high-quality, profitable leads the way that we are able to produce them with paid and organic internet search.
How are you involved in your community?
I have a philosophy that you do business with people that do business with you. At Badger, we try to buy local and do business with other companies that are based in our neighborhood, which is North Beach in San Francisco.
What does supporting local mean to you?
A lot of our customers are local businesses, so we are huge supporters there. One example of one of our local business customers is a small brewery that is selling their beer to local bars and restaurants. They use Badger to help manage their time when they are out in the field selling their goods and services to the local businesses that buy them. When you walk down Main Street in Anywhere, USA or you walk down a dirt road in Myanmar, the local businesses along the street frequently are buying their products from field salespeople. And those field salespeople are our customers.
We don’t have major physical inputs into our business – it’s software. So, for us, buying local means buying what we do have from businesses that are physically located around us. For example, buying lunches from local restaurants, flowers from local flower shops, etc. Personally, buying local means purchasing things that weren’t transported great distances, which reduces the carbon footprint of what I’m consuming.
How the Badger Maps team unwinds after a hectic work day.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
There are a lot of field salespeople in the world and we plan on continuing to solve more and more of their problems and challenges, in order to make their job easier and make them more successful. Badger is growing fast, so I spend more than half of my time hiring and training people. We’re looking to continue to serve our customers, treat our employees well, and solve real problems that field salespeople face every day.
Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?
For anyone who wants to found a software start-up, my best advice is to solve a problem that people are willing to pay to solve. Charge your very first customers to make sure they are willing to pay. Even if it’s still a piece of junk, don’t give your piece of junk away for free or else you won’t learn if it’s a problem worth paying to solve. A good line to use when your prospective customers push back on paying you goes something like this: “I’d love to get you on-board here and, as an early adopter, you’re paying 1/10th of what people are going to be paying in a year because we’re going to be doing so much more so much better. And your price will be locked in now. Also, you get to have a hand in shaping the direction of the product to solve your exact problems first.” That makes it feel a lot more reasonable for your prospects to buy early.