On Tuesday, October 17th, Residents of The Garage gathered together for their weekly Family Dinner to hear from Kellogg School of Management alum, Ben Preston ‘21. Ben is the co-founder and COO at Gearflow, a company working to simplify the parts-ordering process for heavy equipment fleets by providing better supplier access, communication, and reporting - all in one platform.
Ben initially met his co-founder, Luke Powers, when Luke was his landlord. Luke came to Ben with the idea for Gearflow after working in the construction equipment rental industry. Luke noticed that the largest cost for contractors was equipment downtime, but the process to order parts was long, difficult, and ineffective. In 2018, the pair went full-time working on Gearflow, a company that has now raised over $10M in Venture Capital funding.
In 2019, Ben began to take evening and weekend classes at Kellogg. While there, he got involved at The Garage’s (now closed) Sardine Bar and took home first place and $160,000 at VentureCat 2020. Ben was eager to share a variety of lessons he learned during this time with the student founders in attendance.
“Product market fit is not a milestone, it is an endless pursuit,” shared Ben. He went on to explain how even after 5 years of building Gearflow, the idea of the ‘perfect fit’ is still endlessly evolving. Although the company started as a marketplace, they noticed they were attracting numerous suppliers but were struggling to retain customers. In time, they discovered the marketplace was only being used by customers as a last resort for parts that were hard to find. While this was the first step towards revenue, the goal was for Gearflow to be used for all parts - regardless of how easy they are to source. To this day, the team is continuing to develop as they enter the role of end-to-end procurement by reaching out to original equipment manufacturers. Ben emphasized that ‘with product market fit, there is always another way to expand.”
Ben then encouraged students to uncover a variety of problems within their specific process or industry. While customers may not pay to solve one pain point, there might be many other problems that pile up later down the line. In order to discover these subsequent pain points, Ben explained you need to be willing to explore other aspects of the process. He then said that it was important to be able to frame whatever you learn in the best interest of the consumer. For example, when a new part is purchased it might cost $100, but the downtime of the machine might be $300. This number is what will attract and convince customers that they need you.
Next, Ben shared his insights on leveraging the customer. “Listen and learn to prospective customers’ experiences. Get out there, keep pulling on strings, and be willing to adapt,” said Ben, adding, “Your customer is your best salesperson. Focus on one customer who loves you and that will lead you to 10 others.” Gearflow’s very first passionate customer became their champion, speaking about the company on a podcast and attracting other customers in the field. “From there, 10 customers will lead to 100,” shared Ben.
To wrap up, Ben emphasized that “Persistence is key. You need to have enough conviction around your idea in order to make it a reality.” It is critical to be able to explain your idea to others and have the passion behind why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Residents left Ben’s talk excited to continue their own development within their product, market, and customer base.