Matthew Crowley and Bill Wichert, co-founders of TonDone, met while attending Case Western Reserve University and decided to work together managing technology for Cleveland Hopkins and Philadelphia International airports. Their knowledge and experience in the aviation industry sparked the idea to develop software for airport operations, which they set out to do in May 2020.
The first step was customer discovery, using the business and tech start-up support available through at The University of Akron Research Foundation’s NSF I-CORPS Sites program, Bounce Innovation Hub’s software accelerator and Techstars in Chicago.
“Given the pandemic’s impact on airports, the extremely long sales cycle, and limited number of target customers in the U.S., we determined there wasn’t enough need in the airline industry,” Crowley said. “However, we discovered there is a lot of translatable knowledge from aviation to building and facilities maintenance. They face a lot of the same problems in their day-to-day operations.”
The building services market is unchartered territory for technology-based solutions and there is no dominant solution in the marketplace.
“We pivoted to a business operating system for the building and facility services market. We’ve developed an easy-to-use mobile app for frontline employees to report on jobs and a web-based tool for managers to help their business operate more efficiently,” he said.
Through their relationship with Bounce and James Hilton, senior director of entrepreneurial services, they’ve been successful in attracting significant investment from within and outside of northeast Ohio. In fact, they recently raised $1.5 million in seed funding from several regional investors, as well as Wonder Ventures out of Los Angeles, a connection made through Bounce’s recently launched Investor Network. The round was led by Valley Growth Ventures with additional investments from Jumpstart Inc., Connetic Ventures, Akron Fusion Ventures and others.
“The number one benefit of Bounce Innovation Hub is the guidance and support from the advisors and mentors – people who’ve had successes and failures and who can guide you, so you are not feeling around in the dark. It’s been extremely valuable and critical to our growth,” Crowley said.
Since launching their product in February 2021, they’ve reached $100k in ARR seven months after launch and have ten customers using their product to serve 9,000 commercial locations, such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, Menards, University Hospitals and the Cleveland Clinic.
“The biggest challenge is that this is a very tough industry,” he said. “Since these are non-tech companies, they’re not looking for a tech solution. Although building relationships and trust takes time, there are great rewards once we are able to get in and help them see the value.”
Along with connecting them to investors, Bounce has played an important role in connecting TonDone to the northeast Ohio region they call home.
“International accelerators like Techstars, although they have their strengths, can’t connect you to the local market the way Bounce can. It’s important to build trust in the region around you, so you can prove yourself,” Crowley said.
A third founder, Saamer Mansoor, joined Crowley and Wichert at the end of 2020.
TonDone has been using the co-working space at Bounce and at the end of April will move into the Technology Incubator.
“We now have a product in market and are scaling sales to grow revenue. We recently hired a summer intern as well as a social media manager and are actively hiring for software sales, business development, and engineering,” said Crowley. “We have been scrappy, but now have the resources to bring on employees. We want to build a close-knit group and we recognize that the first ten extremely important to establishing the culture of the company.”
As they’ve obtained investors and grown their customer base, all three founders have continued to teach at local colleges or provide IT consulting services to help make ends meet. One of the important lessons they’ve learned is that an idea is not a business and that you must do the market research first.
“You have to determine if there’s a market need for your idea, but failure can be a great redirect,” he said.
Crowley also recommends aspiring entrepreneurs assess where they are in life and plan accordingly.
“If this is what you want, you need to understand yourself and your life situation, so you’ll be able to meet your personal obligations, while still having the time to devote to your business,” he said.