Go behind the scenes at TuffWerx to meet Chief Technology Officer Erik Dreyer and learn about his innovative vision to build things the heavy equipment industry has never seen before.
TuffWerx: Your colorful work history includes time at NASA’s Space Shuttle program, plus you were part of the development team that created eBay Motors. How do your efforts at TuffWerx compare to those exciting times in your life?
Erik Dreyer: Actually, TuffWerx is more exciting than both my NASA and eBay experience. In both of those cases, I was in a well-defined role. I was an expert in my arena, but had many layers of management I had to deal with to bring about real change. Don’t get me wrong, it was exciting to be a part of something really big. It’s just that I was only able to contribute in a limited way.
With TuffWerx, I’ve had the opportunity to expand into roles far removed from my more typical software engineering activities. After being an active participant in putting other markets online, it was abundantly clear to me that the heavy equipment industry could also benefit. At TuffWerx, we continue to take ideas that have been proven in other industries, add a slew of new ideas, and combine them to create the most powerful heavy equipment marketing technology the world has ever seen. I’m very grateful that things have gone so well and for the wonderful people who have chosen to team with me on this journey.
TuffWerx: Did you have an attraction to heavy equipment in childhood? Or were you more of a dinosaurs kind of guy?
Erik Dreyer: Are you kidding? I had all manner of Tonka trucks and little dozers. We had a sandbox in which I used those toys. Lucky for me, that sandbox wasn’t also a litterbox for the family cat. As I grew older, I developed a fascination with fighter jets. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is much of a market for those. The idea for TuffWerx actually originated within eBay, and it also died there. Sensing opportunity, I picked up the ball where they dropped it. To my knowledge, TuffWerx is the first formal spinout from eBay. The heavy equipment marketplace is in dire need of a true technology solution. One that goes far beyond being just a basic listing site. There are thousands of those and most look like they were created with the finesse, tools and technology of a Soviet-era programmer. Lucky for us, we have a big vision for where we want to take the TuffWerx business and technology platform, and we’re executing our strategy at a rapid pace.
TuffWerx: You’ve said before that TuffWerx is “using technology to make sellers’ lives easier.” From what you’ve seen, are equipment sellers ready to embrace the world of online sales? Why should they?
Erik Dreyer: In short, yes and no. This market has been challenging. It lags behind other markets in truly leveraging the Internet to reduce friction in equipment remarketing activities. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge. In our experience, the slow adoption is because this is a largely relationship-based business and the Internet can be very impersonal. With that in mind, TuffWerx is striving to create relationships with both its Buyers and Sellers. In addition, we are creating a community that helps bring both parties together. We do whatever is possible to help Buyers and Sellers establish trust.
There is no question our industry is moving online. It almost seems ridiculous that I would even have to suggest such a thing in this day and age. The fact is, the efficiencies the Internet provides are undeniable. The time has come for our industry to move online and TuffWerx is perfectly positioned to assist the buying and selling community to do just that. We understand that our success is derived from our ability to give our Buyers and Sellers what they want. In this regard, we are well positioned because we are fast, nimble and put the needs of our customers first.
TuffWerx: As construction spending continues to rise, an increase in equipment sales will logically follow. How is TuffWerx preparing for increased demand?
Erik Dreyer: TuffWerx was built from the ground up as an enterprise quality application. It was built to scale. The technologies we selected are used in some of the most trafficked sites on the Internet and we have years of experience building such systems. If there’s one thing we know above all else, it’s technology. If our systems become strained from the amount of traffic, it’s trivial for us to add more capacity. In fact, the system can do so automatically as the need arises. This is one of the core differentiators that sets TuffWerx apart from our competitors. We are technologists focused on making it easier to buy and sell equipment, using the most cutting edge tools available.
TuffWerx: TuffWerx is all about technological innovation, and as Chief Technology Officer you’re often at the forefront of the company’s developments. What challenges have you faced as you’ve tried to bring heavy equipment sales into the twenty-first century?
Erik Dreyer: Interestingly, the largest challenges have been more around educating customers about who we are and how we’re different. Technology we’ve mastered. As I mentioned earlier, we know how to build enterprise quality, robust, and scalable systems.
Customers want to try and define us in terms of what they already know (think “horseless carriage” vs. “car”). Customers know classified ads. Customers know auction companies. But TuffWerx is neither. Classified ads are a 50 year old business model. They work because everyone knows who the big dogs are, but those companies are just publishing companies, built to sell ads. TuffWerx is a selling platform built to sell equipment first. We are also not an auction company. Because of our reach, we can bring a buyer to a seller and help close a deal at rates that are a fraction of what an auction company charges. Interestingly enough, over 25 auction companies use TuffWerx. We help them do their job better.
Again, TuffWerx is a selling platform. Listings are a part of that, but our system goes far beyond simply being a listing site.
TuffWerx: How do you stay inspired to continue generating new ideas for TuffWerx? Do you have any time-tested brainstorming habits?
Erik Dreyer: I’m constantly inspired. Inspiration comes from many sources. It comes from customers. It comes while discussing possibilities over a beer. It comes in the middle of the night. We are leveraging our experience taking other markets to the Internet by building a platform the equipment industry truly needs, but has never seen before. There is never a lack of inspiration.
What’s more important for us is focusing that inspiration into a plan we can execute on. We can work on an infinite number of tasks in this industry. The trick is to decide what the most important task is right now. This requires us to see both the forest and the trees. Our team meets frequently to discuss the vision, the strategy to realize that vision, and how we are tracking on our plan of execution.
TuffWerx: What’s next for TuffWerx?
Erik Dreyer: We have big plans for 2014, not all of which I can divulge here. What I will say is that we are building things this industry has never seen. It’s possible that some of what we’re planning has never been done before anywhere. We know both our Buyers and Sellers are going to be thrilled. I’ll leave it at that. I suggest that people get on board now and start taking advantage of the systems we have already built. They will be better prepared for what’s to come.