By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates. P.C.
Nathan Derrick’s experience in starting SupplyHog underscores the old adage that it’s all about making the right connection with the right person at the right time.
The former resident of Athens, TN could have started his company – an online building supply and materials provider – in Knoxville or Chattanooga. After all, Athens is equidistant between the two cities.
“I had a number of customers in Knoxville,” Derrick said of his work at the time as a contractor and owner of a local building supply business.
Based on his knowledge of the two sectors, Derrick thought he could create a more efficient process to connect those who need quality building materials with those who provide them.
“I had the idea for the online solution, but did not know where to go,” the plain spoken entrepreneur said.
He initially focused on the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region, but his efforts to make the right connections were largely unsuccessful. Derrick and his wife seriously considered relocating to either Austin, TX or Boulder, CO. In fact, they selected the latter, but never actually made the move.
They now call Chattanooga home as the result of a social media happenstance.
“I came across a tweet from Sheldon Grizzle at CO.LAB,” Derrick says. “It was my first interaction with anyone in Chattanooga.” It was not his last.
The redirection to focus on Chattanooga occurred about two years ago when the city was just on the verge of exploding with new entrepreneurial activities, a fact that has drawn national attention.
For Derrick and SupplyHog, it’s been a dual blessing – watching his new hometown emerge as an entrepreneurial hotspot at the same time his start-up is growing.
“It’s really been neat to watch everything grow,” he says about initiatives like the “Gig Tank,” Create Here and CO.LAB.
“There are so many different resources available now (in Chattanooga) that sprung-up in the last two years,” Derrick adds. “The whole community has gotten behind entrepreneurs.”
He describes SupplyHog as “sort of an Amazon for building supplies (for both) contractors and individuals.” The website went “live” last October – www.supplyhog.com/ – and lists its products as columns, concrete, decking, doors, drywall, fasteners, guttering, lumber, metal roofing, railing, roofing, shutters, siding, and windows.
Derrick says SupplyHog has been a success, but adds, “We would always love to see a lot more (growth).”
With a national footprint and free shipping the same day to most jobsites, the entrepreneur is already focused on expanding into Canada and Mexico with an international presence in the not too distant future.
Derrick had the privilege of being a participant in the 500 Start-ups accelerator, literally living in Silicon Valley from last October to this March.
As we do with many entrepreneurs, we asked Derrick for a list of the lessons he would share with others.
He says he initially struggled with telling anyone about his idea for SupplyHog.
“I should have been shouting it from the mountaintop,” Derrick says today. “Ideas are easy, execution is the hard part.”
He also reminds aspiring entrepreneurs that they should not become obsessed with “having a million bucks to get started. You can go out and sign-up customers and eventually get the money you need.”