Shifting gears |

Shifting gears

Whip Villarreal
Greg Howard, left, and Jeff Urmston, founders of TrenLot, talk in their office.
Whip Villarreal |

TrenLot Inc., a startup company based in Reno, is planning to launch a new product in October called CrewBuilder, which will help construction companies improve project management practices, compile various data points and help monitor workflow through sensors and software the company developed.

CrewBuilder is designed to connect project managers and office workers with foremen, superintendents and construction crews on various job sites through its software. With CrewBuilder, companies can manage time reporting, automated billing and log how much each employee in the field is working on separate tasks while also tracking project health.

The original concept of the product designed by TrenLot co-founders Greg Howard and Jeff Urmstom, set to launch next month, did not focus on project management of construction sites and workers. Originally, it was intended to be a tool for makers in the wine and whiskey industry.

Howard, has been making his own wine for years and understood Reno’s high desert environment was not an ideal location for wine making. While making his wine, he was interested in creating a better way to monitor the fermenting process to yield better wine.

His interest is what sparked Howard and Urmstrom to design and create a sensor and software that could monitor various data points for his wine including temperature, humidity and wine levels in the barrel.

After years of development, Howard and Urmstrom had a prototype coupled with software that could manage workflow. As time progressed, they had a potential product they wanted to introduce into the wine and whisky market and launched a free beta site for makers to put the proto-type to the test.

However, the pair quickly hit barriers after launching the beta site.

“We realized that our product was kind of like the police for the reputation of wine makers,” Urmston said. “So we were a product that not everyone would want to use or say that they were using. And that really hampered how quickly we could deploy our product into the market.”

As the company was struggling to gain traction with wine and whisky makers, TrenLot got the break it needed.

One of the company board members for TrenLot had also been working with construction businesses and recognized that the workflow software they had developed for wine makers had the potential to be better utilized for the construction industry.

Howard said that as the company met with construction contractors and sub contractors, they realized they shared a similar problem with workflow management. They also realized they already developed a potential product that monitored workflow for wine makers, which is similar to the workflow of construction workers. Howard and Urmstrom figured they could modify the software as well as the sensors for a new industry, which could give them a fresh start.

“We had to evaluate what it would take to change,” Howard said. “I would say that we underestimated the shift in the market because we added so many new features (to the product) and we couldn’t just take the original software and plug and play in the new market.”

It took a few months of discussion and some exploratory meetings to decide and determine how their product could be modified to fit the needs of construction companies and if shifting markets made sense. Ultimately, they decided to make the shift.

After updating the software and refining the product to accommodate the needs of the construction industry, the developers started to see traction and more potential with their newly redeployed CrewBuilder product.

While switching markets was no easy task for Howard and Urmstrom, through trial and tribulations the company persevered. The developers said that going through the process from idea to getting a viable product in the hands of potential customers was crucial. However, through mentoring, advising, a lot of determination and the opportunities they received from places like the CUBE business incubator and StartUpNV, it helped them along the journey.

“For us, as much as it has been a good decision it wasn’t an easy decision,” Howard said. “It’s really hard to determine when enough is enough, because entrepreneurs have a propensity to just simply never give up and just try to make it work anyway possible. And this is in part what we are doing. We have taken the technology that we’ve developed for the wine industry and we’ve moved to an industry thats booming for greater opportunity.”