I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Fingles the CEO of Leap.
Patrick has been a leader in the home improvement industry for nearly two decades. As co-owner and CEO of Nu Look Home Design, he has led the development and execution of a $30M, nationally recognized, award-winning home improvement company. In 2016, he co-founded Leap, a proprietary software that controls the in-home selling process from end to end. Patrick has dedicated much of his life to redefining the expectations of what’s possible from a home improvement contractor. Responsible for Leap’s overall strategic and cultural vision, he embodies the concept of Leap being built for the industry, by the industry.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
In my early 20s, I started a roofing company with a lifelong friend. Both of us worked for other companies and felt there was a huge opportunity to create a new company that would provide a better experience for customers. The industry was plagued with un-returned phone calls, unkept promises, and a total lack of honesty and transparency. The company took off and we scaled it quickly. In 2012, one of our long-time sales representatives, Steve Stencil, was growing tired of the dated processes around selling. Steve was very tech savvy so he started working on a solution that would streamline the selling process and create a better experience for employees and customers. It took about four years to build, and by the time it was complete, it had changed our entire process. Not to be cliché, but it was so good we knew we had to share it with the world. In 2016, Leap was formed with the intention of disrupting the home service industry and creating a new standard for both homeowners and contractors. In the last four years, the company has grown at a rate of nearly 100% annually and has become the “go-to” product for contractors.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When you start a business, one of your biggest objectives is to pick a name for it. What a big deal this is; it’s like naming a child! So where did we start? Well, we knew that we would be asking our customers to make a huge change in the way they conduct business. The home services industry, for the most part, has operated in the same manner forever. Contractors were running the business the way their parents did and their grandparents before them. We wanted the name to embody the giant leap our customers would need to make. In a brainstorming session, we literally said “we need something that captures the giant leap they are going to take.” The names began to flow. “How about Propel or Pivot”? It was funny, the name was staring us in the face for several weeks. When it comes to naming your business there are a few categories. The owners name (Sears), the made up (ZAPPOS), the initialism/acronym (AT&T), the emotional (Target), and last but not least … the literal (Leap). The moral of the story is don’t look around too hard. Most likely the name is staring you right in the face. I always suggest going literal if you can. It captures the main idea and supports your selling story.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
A couple of years back I went on a brand journey, and I mean journey! It took almost two years and I learned a tremendous amount about what “brand” is. Scott Bedbury, former Nike and Starbucks CMO, was a big part of my learnings. His book “A New Brand World” is worth a read. Scott teaches that, at its core, brand is the fundamental emotion felt by your customers when they interact with your product, company or employees. People live by their emotions. It doesn’t matter how good your product is — without a great brand you’re destitute.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company, what was your vision, your purpose?
That’s easy … to achieve market-wide adoption from the home services industry of a digital, paperless in-home sales process; making their sales efforts easier, faster and simpler through technology. As I said, we consider ourselves to be trailblazers. We are changing the way an entire industry (and for that matter the entire population) interacts with their contractor. I think everyone wants to say that they’re disrupting an industry. But think twice. It feels good … but it’s hard. Some days it feels like you’re dragging your customers kicking and screaming.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Absolutely! The foundation for results is relatedness and trust. Our product is a “10,” but it’s not what makes us great. Our company culture is what makes us great! A feeling of connectedness, trust and communication among team members, including leadership, is the recipe for success. I have a few simple tips.
1. Have regular, company-wide town halls or team meetings. Do them remote if you must.
2. Have a great communication strategy. We use Slack, which is a group chat software that helps team members remain connected in real time.
3. Constantly review your mission, vision and brand values. If you don’t have them, get busy creating them.
4. Most importantly, tell people what you know when you know it. Most leaders assume they must have a complete plan prior to sharing with people. I disagree with this notion. Sometimes the plan is: ”We don’t have a plan yet, but we are working on one. In the meantime, we wanted to share what we know.” Staff members can handle so much more than most leaders think they can.
Thank you for all that. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share a few of the personal and family-related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I think it has hit my wife, Chelsea, the hardest. She is a stay-at-home mom and manages our household and two children, Alaina and Henry. With both kids out of school and all after-school activities closed, my wife’s typical schedule has been turned upside down. I am able to shelter in my home office and maintain some level of normalcy. The kids, however, are kids! They love being home with both of us. But my wife has little to no normalcy left.
I think the best thing to do is to try to be as normal as possible. Set your alarm, wake up on time and have a routine. Shop on the same days, virtually of course. Maintain date night — just do it at home. Go outside for walks and, most importantly, have time with friends. My wife has regular virtual girls’ nights where I put the kids to bed, and she hits the basement with her favorite bottle of wine and chats with friends for hours. They have even started playing online games through an app called Houseparty.
In the end, I think you just do the best you can.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
You have to be quick. You can’t sit around and evaluate a plan and vet every possible problem. If you think something might help, you have to do some due diligence, but you can not hesitate to implement. All the rules go out the window (just look at the world stage.) The biggest challenge for our customers prior to the COVID-19 crisis was that they did not have time to implement Leap or they cannot afford it. (I would argue that they can’t afford not to have it, but that’s beside the point.) When the pandemic hit and lockdowns started to take place, many of our prospective customers found themselves with a lot less work.
We saw this as an opportunity. Our customers now had plenty of time to onboard Leap, but we knew there would be concerns around costs. So, we looked at our budget and cut expenses (mostly marketing) and shifted those expenses into promo dollars to subsidize 60 days worth of user fees for our customers. We started a marketing campaign around “Preparing for the Great Comeback,” with the idea that contractors would love to utilize downtime to work on their business by implementing Leap, especially at no cost. It worked like a charm. We were able to hit or exceed all targets. We have seen record engagement from our customer base and our team feels great about it because we are driving our mission of market-wide adoption.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I lean towards optimism, while my wife leans towards pessimism, as it pertains to COVID-19. I gave her some advice just the other day, as a matter of fact. I said, “for every negative piece of news you share you have to also find one positive.” There is a lot of news out there, both good and bad, and I think most people flock to the bad. If you sit down right now and write down 10 positive new stories around COVID-19, I promise you will feel better instantly.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-COVID economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-COVID economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-COVID growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-COVID economy?
There are a lot of unknowns for sure, but there are also a lot of “knowns.” We know that we have been in a situation like this before. We know what the economy typically looks like coming out of these situations. There is a typical V, or spike, after a time of economic turmoil; a period of triumph.
I believe this pandemic and financial crisis will be no exception. I think you will see the greatest economic comeback of all time. Our government is pumping trillions of dollars into the economy, helping to support small business, big business and consumers. I think you will definitely see certain businesses struggle, but I think others will thrive. There is a lot of pent up demand and consumers are going to want to get back to living. Businesses that don’t rely on social gatherings will most likely see a big boost, while businesses that require congregating or close quarters will most likely struggle. People will also be leery of having outsiders in their homes. So, businesses that work in people’s homes need to think about how they are going to manage a more virtual or safe on-site experience. There is always opportunity to adapt.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I am one of the few that thinks it’s going to change us for the better. There is a lot of talk about when we are going to return to normal or what the “new normal” is going to look like. I think our biggest concern should not be the new normal, but that we don’t return to the old normal. Families are going to spend more time at home. We are going to fly less and start taking the family car. Less trips to foreign lands and more trips to campgrounds or local beaches. More outside activities and more exercising. Greater focus on online shopping allowing people to be more efficient. More work-from-home opportunities, as it’s cheaper and people are generally more productive. And I think we will be a whole lot cleaner, better hand washing habits, etc. I think it sounds pretty good!
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-COVID economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-COVID economy?
Leap has been fortunate in that we don’t have any rebuilding to do. We were quick and made the necessary adjustments to continue to operate as we had forecast. We will continue to throw the rule book out of the window if necessary. I love the fact that you can just make your own rules right now! It’s freeing to not have to think about each decision so critically, to be able to throw caution to the wind.
Take chances on big ideas and move quickly. That’s what our country was founded upon: risk takers, thought leaders and pure instinct.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
We have a housekeeper that comes once a month or so. She said, “I don’t think anyone will ever let me into their house again.” She thinks that even though she is there to clean, people think she is going to bring in germs.
I looked at her and said, “You are!”
I think she was surprised by my response, but it’s the truth. A clean floor is not worth putting my family in harm’s way. I advised her that she needs a new plan. No one wants a clean house — they want a sanitized house, a germ-free house.
I told her she should invest in PPE — I mean the full getup — like she is working in a lab. Then, switch her business model from house cleaning to house sanitization. The homeowners leave, and she cleans and sanitizes the whole house. She will have to buy some new equipment, but she can save her business.
It’s thinking outside the box. You must move quickly and not make excuses. There is no time for self pity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Not necessarily my favorite, but big-time relevant right now! Colin Powell: “Indecision has cost our country way more than any wrong decision.”
This isn’t a new quote and he is not talking about COVID-19. I have been using the quote for 15+ years. You don’t always have time to put together the best plan. The most important thing is that you believe in your plan.
You cannot be paralyzed by indecision right now. You have to be a mover and shaker! Call your play … and just run it up the gut!
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