If you’re a home renovator, a construction worker, a DIYer, a woodworker, a craftsman, or any other kind of hands-on hobbyist, you know that the worst feeling is when you have to stop what you’re doing to go get more materials. It takes time, it disrupts your creative flow, and it’s difficult to pick up your momentum and motivation when you return. And for businesses in the construction industry, not only is this inconvenient — it costs time and money.
This exact pain point is what led Bernard Parks to found TommyRun. TommyRun, a Venture Atlanta alumni company, is an on-demand delivery service that brings construction materials onsite to jobs as needed. We sat down with Parks to learn more about his experience starting and growing a company in Atlanta. Here’s his story:
How did TommyRun get its start?
I actually started in the music business and had a great career there, but I’ve always been interested in real estate investment. On top of that, it’s important to me to give back to my community, so I’ve been in the construction world in underprivileged/low-income areas, specifically in the neighborhoods where I grew up, for a long time now. The lessons I learned in the music industry, my interest in real estate, and my passion for supporting my community all were crucial steps that led to me founding TommyRun.
It started with one job in particular — the remodel of a 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom house into a 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom in Grove Park. We needed a big container to sit outside the job site to house all the materials we were working with. It was inconvenient, it was expensive, and what I really wanted was to have the materials delivered to me as I needed them.
With the ever-growing list of new builds and renovations in the Atlanta area, I saw an untapped market and an incredible opportunity. That’s where the idea was born, and it really got its legs when I remembered something a friend of mine in the music business always told me: Don’t be afraid of technology. Music was the first place where guys were really involved in tech: cutting mix tapes, unplugging a speaker from here to get the sound here, those kinds of things. So when I looked at construction and how technology could improve that industry as well, everything just clicked.
What have been some memorable milestones along the way?
When we first got started, I remember laying on the sofa just hoping for one order. At first, we offered our services for free just to get people to try us out. We quickly learned that this was a bad idea — people thought we were a gimmick that was too good to be true and that certainly there was a catch. When we decided to charge, we actually started getting orders. That was the first big milestone because once we understood that someone would pay for our service, the business was legitimized and the excitement went way up.
The next thing was being accepted into Techstars Austin. It was a real milestone for me because the tech world was acknowledging my business and its potential for success. There’s a lot of people who apply but don’t get accepted, and I’ll be honest, I was sitting in a room with a bunch of kids from Harvard and MIT. When I became a part of that circle, it was a gratifying point, and it let me know that I was moving in the right direction. I went in with open arms and no expectations, and I left knowing the language of the tech world, and how to take my business to the next level.
Why was Atlanta a great place to get started?
This goes back to my experience in the music industry. One of things you’re always taught is that you have to control your own backyard. I started TommyRun in Atlanta because I’ve worked here…I made my name in this backyard. There’s always going to be competition, but I started in the place where I’d made my mark and had built valuable connections.
TommyRun recently expanded into Austin. What made that city a good next step?
That happened organically when we were introduced to the Austin Impact program through Techstars. We started establishing relationships there, and one of the things people wanted to talk about was our scale. Could we do another market? There’s always a “can you” question, but the challenge of entering a new market was something I was excited about taking on. Based on what I did in the Techstars program, I knew I had relationships to start with.
On top of that, Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. and there’s a lot of construction going on. If we were going to take a risk, this was the perfect place.
How did you get involved with Venture Atlanta? What was it like to be a Showcase Company?
Living in Atlanta, it’s impossible not to know about Venture Atlanta.
I finally jumped on the bandwagon and experienced the conference in 2017 — it was a great time and a great place to be. That year challenged me, and I decided that VA was what I wanted to do. I checked out the caliber of people, what was going on, and what I could expect. At that time, I had been in business for three months so I was like a fly on the wall, learning and soaking up everything that was going on.
Then in 2018, we were selected to be in the Showcase. It was a great experience. I always say it was like being the pretty girl at the party. Everyone sought us out and wanted to talk to us. We worked the room and made a lot of connections. Just today I had a VC who I met at Venture Atlanta call me to get an update on where our business is now — they were interested in us then, and were calling to say that they’d been paying attention to us and they wanted to see what we’re building next. So our big takeaway from VA was exactly what we wanted: We got into the business of getting opinions from industry leaders and building a foundation of people and resources that wanted to stay updated with us. That’s a great experience and a great place to be.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Work hard and be honest with yourself — that’s the key to motivation. I tell my kids, put your best foot forward and understand that if you work hard, people will take notice. But it’s really for yourself, you work hard because you’re setting goals for yourself. Especially when it comes to entrepreneurship, you have to have the confidence of knowing where you’re going and you have to self-evaluate.
What’s up next for TommyRun?
Right now we’re finalizing an agreement with a big-box retailer in the Austin market to be their last-mile delivery service for all building and construction materials deliveries. We haven’t officially announced the partnership yet — it’s slated for later this summer — but we’re excited about what is in the works. With this deal, we’ll get to go to the next stage of our business and provide value not just to our customers through the app, but to the construction industry as a whole.
Interested in learning more about TommyRun? Check out their website here. Want to learn more about being a Presenting or Showcase company at Venture Atlanta 2019? You can apply here. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram to stay updated on the latest conference updates, and we’ll see you at this year’s conference on October 16-17, 2019 (don’t forget to get your early-bird tickets here)!