Generating revenue in the first year of business is uncommon for many tech startups but a few companies launch and take off running towards their goal.
“Tiptoeing gets you tiptoeing distances,” says Chase Minnifield, CEO of software company EZ Turn, which helps student housing property owners, managers and vendors prepare dorms for new tenants.
Leave it to Minnifield, a former NFL player-turned-entrepreneur, to run instead of tiptoe when launching his tech company.
EZ Turn has made great strides since May 2018. The student housing industry will reach 23 million students by 2020, per the National Center for Educational Statistics. In one year, Minnifield says, EZ Turn has grown its customer base times five and is working with five of the top seven student housing property management companies.
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Along with EZ Turn, Minnifield founded Helping Hands, LLC, a moving, valet, trash and security service for college students which operates in 14 states. As if that’s not enough, this busy founder also has a podcast, Cut The Check, which focuses on helping other former athletes transition into the next phase of their lives and entrepreneurship.
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Moguldom spoke with Chase, a recently named Forbes 30 under 30 Entrepreneur, about transitioning from the NFL to entrepreneurship, bootstrapping and how his small friends’ fundraising round helped him grow in the student housing industry.
Once I got cut from the NFL, I sat there and waited for a year for somebody to give me another opportunity, another contract. Ultimately, I decided to cut my own check. I created Helping Hands, and then I created EZ Turn. I stopped waiting for other people to give me things. It’s not a literal thing. It’s a mindset.Chase Minnifield, CEO of software company EZ Turn
Moguldom: Why did you start EZ Turn?
Chase Minnifield: EZ Turn was born out of Helping Hands. Helping Hands is the first company I started right out of the NFL. We started by basically helping with move-in days and things of that nature at the University of Kentucky off-campus housing property. We did a good job there, and they told us we needed to work on “turns.” So, a turn is basically preparing a property when students move out of the housing dorm. We, Helping Hands, do all the work for the property owner. We do all the painting, cleaning and maintenance. We do everything to get the dorms and the apartments ready to rent again. Out of Helping Hands, EZ Turn was born because of the frustrations we’ve seen with managing such a large amount of work in a short period of time for different housing properties and universities around the country. EZ Turn is a digital software system for property managers to better manage their vendors, be more efficient, communicate better, and basically self-audit and budget their invoices. So that’s how both companies started. They work together but they’re also independent.
Moguldom: It’s now been over a year since you launched EZ Turn. What has the response been in the marketplace?
Chase Minnifield: It’s been growing super-fast. We officially launched May 2018 and by May 2019, we grew 5x. It’s growing at a tremendous pace with some of the largest property management companies around the country using the product. It’s a critical time for those companies. If you don’t get your dorms or rooms back ready to lease, you lose out on a lot of money. We basically hit the ground running trying to execute at a high level. We look to continue to listen to the customers and the market to see where we can continue to grow.
Moguldom: Are you self-funded for EZ Turn or do you have investors?
Chase Minnifield: We bootstrapped at the beginning. We’re finishing up our seed round right now, with plans to go into a Series A towards the end of this year. But yeah, from the beginning we started off as a bootstrap.
We had traction and made money right out of the gate. It wasn’t necessary then to seek more funds. We just now know we need funding to sprint and not just jog.Chase Minnifield, CEO of software company EZ Turn
Moguldom: When you started fundraising, did you tap into some of your former fellow NFL players or did you go to VCs?
Chase Minnifield: I didn’t know anything about tech. The industry was new to me. That’s why I bootstrapped right out the gate. I didn’t really know I might need capital. I figured I could just grow it and scale it like I did my other company. When I did start looking into raising capital, I thought, who better to look into, than your teammates. A couple of my teammates have invested. I only raised $85,000. We look to raise around a million dollars towards the end of the year. Our company’s already bringing in monthly recurring revenue. We had traction and made money right out of the gate. It wasn’t necessary then to seek more funds. We just now know we need funding to sprint and not just jog.
Moguldom: What have been some challenges since launching your tech company?
Chase Minnifield: What wasn’t a challenge? Obviously learning in the space that you’ve never understood. Being a third-wave entrepreneur and not being a coder has its challenges right out of the gate. You don’t know the languages. You just trust the people to do what they say they’re going to do. Ultimately, you’re in a space where you’ve got to lead people and you’ve got to trust people.
When you have a big dream and a big goal, you got to run with full stride. Don’t get in the way of yourself.Chase Minnifield, CEO of software company EZ Turn
So, finding the right people to code, hitting deadlines, whether they stay over here in the U.S. or across seas; those different types of things are brand new for us. Then I’m just getting into looking for investors — understanding VCs and connecting with them and learning the ins and outs, and how that works. I think there’s a lot more learning to go as far as understanding how to build a tech company from the ground up with a great idea and solid traction. You just don’t want to make any missteps. But what I’ve learned is be aggressive, don’t try to tiptoe. My new motto recently is “tiptoeing gets tiptoeing distances.” When you have a big dream and a big goal, you got to run, and run with full stride. So, don’t get in the way of yourself.
We’re working with five of the top seven student housing management companies. You don’t see too many people get into a marketplace and work with the top people right out of the gate. That’s a huge accomplishment. It validates our product.Chase Minnifield, CEO of software company EZ Turn
Moguldom: “Tiptoeing gets you tiptoeing distances.” That’s a good motto. What have been some of your notable wins since launching EZ Turn?
Chase Minnifield: We’re working with five of the top seven largest student housing management companies in the country. You don’t see too many people get into a marketplace and working with the top people in the marketplace right out of the gate. So that’s a huge accomplishment right out of the gate for us. It validates our product. We’ve got people like the University of Southern California and the University of Kentucky trusting our product and team to be able to provide them with software where they can more efficiently manage and be better at what they currently do. Building our team has also been a big win. We’ve got a team right now that we’re very excited about seeing grow from two people all the way up to 60 now in a short period of time. Another win, our sales cycle was long. Now we’re closing people in as little as 10-to-15 days. Word of mouth has taken us a long way.
Moguldom: A couple of weeks ago, we featured Mike Brown, another former NFL player with a tech company. Athletes sometimes face stereotypes and comments like, “Shut up and dribble.” Some find it challenging in front of decisionmakers because the focus is on their past athletic career rather than on what they can bring to the table as an entrepreneur. Have you had any of those challenges, and if so, how have you overcome them?
I tried to delete everything that had to do with my sports career. If you look at my Instagram feed, you don’t see football pictures. I try to really live in the mindset of who I am now and not who I was then.Chase Minnifield, CEO of software company EZ Turn
Chase Minnifield: To be honest with you, I tried to delete everything that had to do with my sports career. If you look at my Instagram feed, you don’t see football pictures. I try to really live in the mindset of who I am now and not who I was then. If I’m trying to raise capital or I’m doing business proposals, I don’t talk about what I used to do, I talk about who I am currently. I’ve never let anybody pigeonhole me into a box of what I am capable of or what I can do. I’ve always been a top student. The University of Virginia was one of the hardest schools to get into and I got into that school as an engineer. Ultimately I changed my major, but I’ve always been capable of doing a lot more outside school. My mom never allowed me to be just an athlete. I had to keep As and Bs and 4.0 GPAs to live in my household. I’ve never just thought of myself, and I wouldn’t allow anybody else to think of myself as just an athlete. I think if you treat yourself like you’re just an athlete, then other people treat you like you’re only an athlete. So, I haven’t had that issue. I think it’s very important to not get caught up in living in the past and what you were and what you used to do. I know a lot of athletes are struggling with transitioning out of sports. I struggled with transitioning out of sports. And I think one very important thing to do is realize, you’ve got to cross the line and understand that is what was, and now is what is. We got to separate those things. Those are some of the things we address in the “Cut the Check” podcast.
Moguldom: Give us a quick rundown of the title and what listeners can expect from your “Cut the Check” podcast.
Chase Minnifield: I love doing the podcast every week. We have great guests. As hosts, Dom Joseph, Max Milien, and myself, we’re all three former UVA football players and we come from the perspective of myself, playing in the NFL, Max, not playing in NFL, going straight into the workforce and then Dom Joseph chasing the NFL for a long period of time. We say we have three perspectives for the athlete coming out of college, and we just try to bring it from our side of things and our perspective of things on how to transition out of sports, how to get business development and entrepreneurship development at the same time. The name “Cut the Check” basically means not waiting for somebody else to control your own destiny, or to tell you to give you a chance, to give you an opportunity and it has to go back with the sports thing. Once I got cut from the NFL, I sat there and waited for a year for somebody to give me another check, to give me another opportunity. To give me another contract. Ultimately, I decided to cut my own check and I created Helping Hands, and then I created EZ Turn. I stopped waiting for other people to give me things. So essentially that’s the mindset. It’s not a literal thing, but it’s a mindset that we try to embrace for our listeners. You can go do whatever you want to do once you really execute hard work and have a purpose behind what you want to do.
Moguldom: Where do you see EZ Turn in five years?
Chase Minnifield: I see an acquisition in five years. I want EZ Turn to be a platform that is going to be used in multiple industries besides student housing. Seeing it used in airports, by the government, and hospitals. Anytime you’re managing remote people and have remote jobs that you need better communication, you need better accountability, you need easier scheduling, EZ Turn will be a viable option. We think we’re just hitting the peak of the iceberg right now with the student housing industry.
I know a lot of athletes are struggling with transitioning out of sports. I struggled. You’ve got to cross the line and understand that is what was, and now is what is. Those are some of the things we address in the “Cut the Check” podcast. The name means not waiting for somebody else to control your own destinyChase Minnifield, CEO of software company EZ Turn