It was 2006. The housing market was booming, and homebuilding seemed to be on an unstoppable rise.
After a few nights and a few beers, brothers Steve, 32, and Jeff Dugger, 35, and friend Dan Houghton, 32, convinced one another there was a business opportunity there.
They decided to launch a Web-based construction management software program, BuilderTREND Solutions, to help homebuilders communicate with subcontractors, track change orders and keep a tally on costs, while allowing homeowners to sign in and be a part of the process. Homebuilders were receptive, and the business turned a profit within three months.
“Looking back it was either the smartest or the dumbest thing we ever did,” Houghton said.
The smartest because the business is still here today — now out of the basement and in an Omaha office near 108th and Q Streets — and has seen about 50 percent growth this year and “very close to that” each year since it was founded, Houghton said.
The dumbest, because just a few years after BuilderTREND launched, the housing bubble burst and most homebuilding halted. Some of BuilderTREND's clients went out of business.
“We were focused on homebuilders but we totally ... saw the writing on the wall,” Houghton said.
“We adapted with the builders,” Jeff Dugger said, by adding features to the software to allow subcontractors and home remodelers to use it, too.
“We were able to get some roots down before the recession,” Steve Dugger said. “We were never threatened, it was just a worry in the background.”
Houghton said: “When the sun started to shine a little bit in the last couple years, we ended up coming out as a leader in the industry.”
The company now has 40 full-time employees in its Omaha office, and about 20 of them were added in the past year. The company expects to hire the same in the next year, adding one to three employees per month. Homebuilding is on the rise, and many of the business's clients who stopped using the software during the recession have signed back up.
The software now has 300,000 users, which includes homeowners, builders and subcontractors. The software's subscription price ranges from $99 to $1,500 per month depending on the type of contractor using it and annual project volume. Its clients are spread across the globe in countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Latvia and the Bahamas. Houghton estimated about 35 to 50 clients are from Lincoln and Omaha.
Steve Taft of ADC Custom Homes is one of those clients and has been using BuilderTREND for custom homebuilding for several years. “We jumped on board right away and never looked back. It really changed the way we do business.”
Taft said ADC Homes especially finds value in the tracking of change orders, or revisions in the original scope of work agreed to, and in BuilderTREND's lead generator, which works by notifying its clients any time someone visits a client's website. The software has even helped Taft sell projects, he said.
“When we explain (to homeowners), 'here's how we're going to manage your project,' they're pretty impressed. They could be anywhere in the world and hop online and see where their project is at as far as current costs,” Taft said.
The co-founders, who have been friends since they were 14 and attended Millard West High School, complement one another well. Houghton focuses on sales and marketing, while Jeff Dugger spearheads product development and Steve Dugger handles day-to-day operations.
The company touts a startup culture — with late-day beers in the break room and a pingpong table upstairs — with security. “We are a startup in that things are changing a lot in the industry,” Houghton said. “But we're much more secure than a startup.”
Having weathered the Great Recession, the business is now facing a new challenge: finding talented software developers. BuilderTREND doesn't hire remote developers.
“When you're talking local, you're talking a pretty competitive environment,” Steve Dugger said. But the founders say they'd relocate or open an office in another city only out of extreme necessity. “We love Omaha,” Houghton said.