How a $1,200 Vacuum Cleaner Turned Greg’s Moneymaker Into a Moonshot
Greg Theroux was having a moment. The Des Moines, Iowa based-entrepreneur was sitting in a classroom in Oxford University at the annual Oxford Innovation Conference for American Entrepreneurs listening to a distinguished lecturer talking about a university project to build a robot that could vacuum up rocks and particles on the surface of Mars.
“Yeah,” Greg murmured, “but can it do corners?”
Greg’s business, Heritage Building Maintenance, deploys 300 janitors to commercial buildings in and around Des Moines, cleaning approximately 12,000,000 square feet per day. So, a robot that can vacuum a corner was worth more to him on Earth than on Mars.
In the centuries-old room at Oxford, surrounded by the green courtyards that had hosted minds like C.S. Lewis and Stephen Hawking, Greg (pictured right) was having his own trip through time and space. How could technology transform the business he had built over eight years to almost $10 million in sales?
Months prior, Greg deployed a battery-powered, backpack-style vacuum to his workforce and watched as it outperformed traditional machines by 30 percent.
While the backpack vacuums cost more, the payback was quick and the boost to the bottom line was as welcome as the ease and convenience these new machines brought to his workforce.
Suddenly, Heritage was a company that leapfrogged ahead of competitors through the application of technology. Now at Oxford, Greg heard about Martian robots and thought of the possibilities.
Which businesses receive the most impact from new technology? Is it the Silicon Valley startup working on a one-in-a-million moonshot? Or could it be companies like Greg’s—established, moneymaking enterprises whose owners travel around the world to find practical new ways to enhance their bottom line and improve their products?
Right now, a young person is dreaming of her moonshot moment. She’s racking her brains trying to think of something no one has ever thought of before but everyone is dying to buy. If she comes up with a good idea, she may pitch it to angel investors who, for a big chunk of the company, will give her about a year to prove that she can build what it took Greg eight years to realize.
Then there’s Greg. He and his management team own 100 percent of his $10 million business, and he has total control of its future. Founded in 2012, Heritage generates a $1 million profit annually, which Greg reinvests into the future of his company.
Recently, Greg has been investigating new antiviral chemicals that can help his clients keep their buildings safe in the age of COVID-19. There’s a flood of new such products on the market these days, so he’s taking his time to strike a deal with a supplier capable of reliably delivering the best results, one that’s keeping up with guidelines being drawn up in real time and will partner with him for national expansion.
When Greg is done, Heritage will have evolved from a local service provider into a platform that delivers, trains, certifies and supplies chemicals and equipment for the vast U.S. maintenance industry. To potential buyers, the new business model could make Heritage look more like a Silicon Valley startup than a traditional company. Its value would be based on revenue rather than earnings, which can mean the difference between a $10 million exit and a $100 million one.
Before the pandemic, the markets were enamored with unicorn startups and billion-dollar IPOs. Now, however, there is a renewed interest in well-established companies that can provide a needed product or service at scale. Companies like Heritage Building Maintenance are well-positioned to leverage all kinds of technology to transform their profitable businesses into highly scalable solutions. And because they are closely held, they don’t have to fight with capital sources while they’re building value.
If you’re reading this and wondering what it takes to “get funding” for your business idea, stop. Build a service that’s valuable to other businesses. Create a skilled and qualified team. Nurture a trustworthy brand reputation and a loyal network of customers. Then, listen to those customers, and invest your profits in technology that helps you scale. You can realize your moonshot, but to make it happen, start by building a moneymaker.