SIOUX CITY — Geoff Arnold envisions a day where downtown Sioux City is plastered by the shiny green hard hat that serves as the logo for Lienwaivers.io.
The 36-year-old serves as CEO of the start-up tech firm he co-founded in western Iowa's largest city, alongside Chief Revenue Officer Luis Trejo and Chief Product Officer Sean Richardson.
But before Arnold's grand vision can come true, he and his partners have to convince more members of the $1.73 trillion a year construction industry to use their product, which simplifies the construction payment process.
“What we do is build a payment platform for construction payment,” Arnold said. “In construction, it’s not just about sending money from ‘A’ to ‘B;’ it’s invoices involved that have to get approved and all this other stuff.”
Most transactions in the construction industry involve lien waivers, a legal document from a contractor, subcontractor, supplier or other party holding a mechanic's lien stating that they have been paid in full and waiving future lien rights to the disputed property.
“What we’ve done is we've built software that facilitates that exchange of lien waiver for payment and it gives both parties — the general contractor and the subcontractor — the confidence that if they send a payment, they are going to send a lien waiver back and if they send a lien waiver, they are going to have their payment, so we act as a trusted third party,” Arnold said.
Typically, completing lien waivers and mailing payments is a time-consuming process for people who work on the financial side of the construction business.
This is something Trejo, a 35-year-old accountant by trade, discovered when he worked as a controller for a construction company.
“Part of my duties outside of accounting, the financials and managing the accounting team, was process improvement,” he said. “One of the processes that I latched on to was the payment and lien waiver exchange process. It was basically just paper-ridden and very slow, manual and took up a lot of time just to complete and pay people to get the work done.”
A couple of years ago and over drinks one night, Trejo relayed his issue to Arnold and Richardson, both of whom have backgrounds in the technology sector.
“At the end of that, I don’t think we necessarily had the idea of going into business with this — and certainly we didn’t have the background, except for Luis — the background to the problem, but the more that we talked with other builders, it really became clear that this was a problem that the industry is struggling with and that’s when we really saw the opportunity and said, ‘Hey, maybe we should quit our jobs and start our own business.’” Arnold said, followed by a laugh.
Arnold and Richardson tinkered with the foundation of what would eventually company’s namesake technology solution for about two years. They didn't get into the “hardcore" building of the program until October 2015, which was about three months before Lienwaivers.io formally launched.
Working from Springboard Coworking, a collaborative work space on the second floor of the Stifel Nicolaus building in downtown Sioux City, Lienwaivers.io and the men behind it are starting to make a name for themselves in a short amount of time.
In the past few weeks, the company won the Judges’ Choice award at the 2017 NACHA Payments Awards ceremony in April held in Austin, Texas, and was a finalist for the Technology Association of Iowa’s Prometheus Award for outstanding start-up of the year. Arnold also was a finalist for the Omaha-based Silicon Prairie Technologist of the Year Award. These and other accolades have started to pile up for Lienwaivers.io.
Although peer recognition can provide a confidence booster for any new company, steady business and loyal customers are also important.
One Lienwaivers.io client who has used the company’s services since almost the beginning is Virginia Anderson. Anderson is the chief operating officer of Kelly Construction, a Sioux City-based residential construction firm.
When asked how using Lienwaivers.io has impacted her workload, Anderson said the program’s effectiveness cut down the time it took for her to write checks from two hours to 30 minutes. While she is pleased with the results, Anderson, who describes herself as a multi-tasker, jested about it being a bittersweet situation.
“My hand doesn’t cramp every week from signing checks for two hours, (but) my TV time has went down because I used to sit and watch a couple of shows while doing it," she joked. "Now I don’t get to watch my shows as much."
Moreover, using Lienwaivers.io also trimmed Anderson’s personally curated six hour method for filling out lien waivers into a hyper-efficient 30 minute task.
In the past, Anderson said she wrote a lien waiver to everyone she had to cut a check to, exported a report from the bank, printed that report out and matched that information to specific checks, mailed all of that out, and then tracked what she sent out until it was returned.
“If I didn’t get them back, then I would have to send them a reminder — it was (all) manual,” Anderson said. “I mean I was doing pretty good to have a mail merge system — this way that they do it, it keep tracks of it all for me and I don’t have to watch for it to come back.”
Testimonials similar to Anderson’s are all over Lienwaivers.io’s website and has helped the less than two-year-old company attract customers from 11 states so far. Additionally, through its affiliate program, existing customers that promote Lienwaivers.io to industry colleagues are rewarded by the company.
“Our customer base is growing about 25 percent every month,” Arnold said.
Being a tech firm, Lienwaivers.io also relies heavily on social media and other digital efforts to gain new business.
“We have couple different means for acquiring new customers and one of the best has just been organic search,” said Richardson, who leads the charge on customers recruitment and marketing. “People just get on Google and search lien waiver software and we pop up as one of the top search listings."
Although Sioux City is part of Silicon Prairie — a play on Silicon Valley that references various tech-heavy locales in the Midwest — the Lienwaivers.io team still gets questioned on why they are purposely building a technology company in Iowa.
"Why not?," said Arnold, who moved to Sioux City from the East Coast. "The support we have received through the community and the state has been unbelievable. I mean, why not? We know tech, we know construction, it seems like a good business."
Trejo, a Sioux City native, often touts the benefits of living in the Hawkeye State to others when prompted.
"Iowa's a great place to live, you can really get involved in your community and you can actually make a difference," he said. " You can get into whatever you want to get into, whereas in bigger cities there may be more constraints and here you can really jump in and make a difference for your community."
With all three men having such an affinity for Iowa, the "mid-term" goal of having the Lienwaivers.io logo spread throughout downtown Sioux City remains something they are committed to seeing.
"I want to build a company right in the heart of Sioux City that is making money and employing people meaningfully, where they find meaning in their work and also we're able to bring high-quality jobs to this area," Arnold said. "I want to see the green helmet on a neon sign on a building in downtown Sioux City and a parking lot full of people."