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BuilderTREND’s founders look back on 10 years of insane growth

Photo by Josh Foo.

BuilderTREND founders Steve Dugger, Dan Houghton, and Jeff Dugger, in their west Omaha office. Photo by Josh Foo.

Founded in 2006, BuilderTREND has become one of Omaha’s premiere high-growth, bootstrapping SaaS companies.

Today the BuilderTREND platform serves over 5,200 customers in over 40 countries around the world. 240,000 users, from homeowners to subcontractors, use BuilderTREND. In 2015 alone, $40 billion worth of residential construction projects flowed through their system.

It’s clear when you sit down with the company’s founders—Dan Houghton, Jeff Dugger, and Steve Dugger—they are proud of the impact they’ve had in the lives of their 110 employees.

“It’s one of the most rewarding things when you see new cars pull in the parking lot, people having babies, people buying houses. That’s exciting, but it’s a big responsibility,” said Houghton. “We’ve potentially got 110 mortgages that we’re responsible for.”

Without a board of advisors and no formal CEO, the three founders have developed a form of consensus-style leadership that has served them well since they started as young college grads with an idea.

The early years

BuilderTREND started after Jeff and Steve’s mom kicked them out of the house.

“It was a nice kick out,” said Steve Dugger. “She threw the apartments section [of the paper] on my bed, and it was like, OK, you don’t want us to live here anymore.”

The two bought a house and started BuilderTREND in their basement with Houghton. Their focus in the beginning was simple: get customers, make money.

“Everything was so exciting. It was fun,” said Houghton. “We used to get one or two deals a day, and it was like a New Year’s Eve party if we got three deals. We get about 20 deals a day today.”

By October 2006 they had moved into a their first office space. By 2007 they were profitable.

One thing that made it easier to cashflow early on was that expectations for enterprise software were different then. It was assumed customers would write big checks at the beginning.

“In those first couple years most of our deals were for a year of service, in advance, up front. Slowly we converted that into a subscription model,” said Steve Dugger.

You could also charge “setup fees” without anyone giving it a second thought.

“Setup fees were 100% common back then. Now, unless you’re doing some kind of on-site training, nobody is paying setup fees,” said Jeff Dugger.

Betting on mobile

It’s easy to forget the speed at which technology has evolved. BuilderTREND started only two years after Facebook (2004) and a year before the first iPhone (2007).

By continually reinvesting time and resources into improving their platform, the company found itself in a perfect position when mobile and tablets started to revolutionize everything.

“They were things you couldn’t anticipate 10 years ago,” said Houghton. “We were fortunate to be in the right place. But five or six years ago, when a lot of our competitors were not making the investment [in mobile], we made a relatively large investment. We’re seeing the dividends of that today.”

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BuilderTREND makes culture a priority, without a making a lot of rules. Photo by Josh Foo.

Surviving the housing crisis

Just as they couldn’t have anticipated the mobile revolution, they certainly didn’t anticipate the housing crisis of 2008. It was a wake up call to the company that they needed to diversify while still staying within the residential market.

“We started marketing to different subcontractors of the housing market,” said Houghton. “Years ago 100% of our clients were homebuilders. Today that’s more like 50%.” 

The upside of the recession is that the best construction companies were looking for solutions.

“We got some great customers during the recession, because they were the one’s that lasted. They were forward thinking to focus on tech, and they put investments back into their business,” said Jeff Dugger.

“We want to make a splash in Omaha”

Even so, Houghton recalls during the recession being “in tears,” trying to push his sales team.

By the end of 2008, BuilderTREND registered 80% in revenue growth.

“Overall for the business, the recession was probably a good thing for us,” said Houghton. “Less competitors, more competitors fell out, less venture capital into our sector, so we were able to come out of that as the leader in 2013.”

Becoming the industry platform

BuilderTREND continues to set ambitious goals. They shoot for 50% revenue growth every year—a goal they’ve hit the last four years in a row.

“And we’re profitable,” said Houghton. “That’s pretty unique in the SaaS world to have that much growth and be profitable.”

Beyond project management software, the company is expanding its offerings into payment processing between contractors and subcontractors.

“This is the first year where our goals are tied to branching out from just selling our software product alone to several additional revenue streams around it,” said Jeff Dugger. “That’s going to allow us to exponentially grow. We’ve got a lot of customers, a lot of data, and a lot of cool stuff we can do with that.”

The goal, according to Houghton, is to make BuilderTREND the industry standard.

With such a focus on continued growth, the founders expect they will need 60 new hires within the next 12 months or so. They’ve found a way to fit those people into their current space, which they moved into last October, but they may need more office space soon.

“Ten years ago this building would’ve been a dream come true, and now we could outgrow this building in two years—200 employees, 500 employees. That’s the vision,” said Houghton.

The BuilderTREND team is decidedly not taking its foot off the gas.

“We want to make a splash in Omaha,” said Houghton. “And provide a lot of jobs.” 

Ryan Pendell is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.