+1 Entrepreneur Interview: Cartt

+1 Entrepreneur Interviews celebrate Fort Wayne area entrepreneurs who deserve an upvote. This post celebrates Cartt, a fast-growing on demand delivery service headquartered in Fort Wayne.

Please note — Cartt does not actually deliver to outer space. Yet.

The People

Imagine co-founding a company with someone you’ve been best friends with since elementary school. Now imagine that the exact right 3rd co-founder just turns up one day as a roommate. Only happens in the movies, right? Nope — that’s part of the Cartt story.

Dylan Belcher and Justin Davis grew up together in Angola. Throughout the years they played sports (baseball, basketball, football) together. They thrived on the competitive environment and learned that an unfailing work ethic, a team attitude, leadership, and getting back up when you get knocked down are keys to success. [Entrepreneur readers — please read that last sentence at least one more time].

About Justin.

After high school, Justin made his way to the University of Saint Francis to study Communications and Marketing (and play baseball). His side hustle at the time was “JD’s Move-It”, where he milked Craigslist to make money moving whatever someone wanted moved. During this time, he also founded non-profit Be Better Do Better Ministries to assist the area’s homeless. And, Justin was selected to be a Fellow in Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s GFW Fellows Program (through which he roomed with another GFW Fellow, eventual co-founder Seth Lugibihl).

About Dylan.

Dylan, on the other hand, went to the University of Findlay to play football. He returned to Angola after a year wanting something different, something more. University seemed to want to prepare him for something he felt already prepared to do. His heroes were all entrepreneurs — people like Tony Robbins, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Mark Cuban — and he knew he wanted to start a business. Dylan returned to Angola and quickly saw an opportunity in the Angola lakes region. He started Quick Eats, delivering food from restaurants to busy vacationers throughout the many Angola-area lakes. It worked really well, but after about 5 months (and noticing the summer seasonality of Quick Eats), he decided he wanted to create something bigger. After a period of intensive study (he may have left college early, but he is an incessant self-starting learner), Dylan determined that grocery delivery was a growth market, and that it had not yet hit the Midwest. He knew he needed a co-founder and, in line with his penchant for learning, studied how to find a co-founder. Most of what he read talked about the co-founder relationship being a very close friendship — like a marriage. So, Dylan called his long time friend Justin. They met and formed Cartt.

About Seth.

Seth, a student at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, joined the firm later on. A Computer Science major, Seth’s GFW Fellows internship was with Ash Brokerage, and GFW provided him with a place to stay in Fort Wayne as he interned. As he and Justin roomed together, Dylan and Justin discovered that Seth was perfect for the CTO co-founder role that they still needed to fill. Seth knew what Justin was working on — and saw the energy that happened when the whole Cartt entourage got together. Once they all got to know one other and realized they were all on the same page, Seth joined the team.

The Business

Initial launch preparation went well. Cartt quickly found customer validation for on-demand grocery delivery, and started a contest cross promotion campaign with one of Fort Wayne’s most fast growing companies, The Yummi Bunni — which grew Cartt’s awareness throughout Fort Wayne.

The day before launch (yes, literally one day before launch), Justin saw a sponsored post about Shipt launching in Fort Wayne and sent a screen shot to Dylan. The two did some research and found that Shipt was already contracting with Meijer stores close by (in Michigan) and heard from a random insider source that Shipt had already made arrangements to work with Fort Wayne Meijer stores. Dylan and Justin, feeling that the competition from a big name competitor launching at the exact same time would be a huge obstacle, decided not to launch.

Going Ghost.

That was in April. From Spring to Fall, Cartt languished. Dylan, his motivation down, went ghost. Justin turned back to his other efforts (university, GFW Fellows internship at the Fort Wayne headquarters of Do It Best Corp., etc.).

But, true to his nature, Dylan didn’t give up. He kept studying existing and potential markets for on-demand services. Eventually, he decided on moving or delivery services (well, just not groceries). He got back together with Justin, who at first was still hanging on to the competitive view, “We’ll make this grocery stuff work”.

The Pivot.

Then there came what Cartt calls “The Washer Dryer Story”. Justin’s mother needed an old washer and dryer removed and a new set picked up. She called Justin. She didn’t want to wait — she needed it done right now. Justin just handled it for her with his pickup truck. And it immediately became perfectly clear how on demand moving and delivery created great value!

So, Cartt pivoted. No longer a grocery delivery company, they started to build out the landing page framework for on demand delivery. Their research found six markets for that sort of service. They have since found demand for each of the six.

I have to admit that I personally got to play a role in the pivot. I had worked as an entrepreneur coach with Cartt in its early days. So, one Fall day (while they were re-thinking what how to go forward) Dylan, Justin, and I sat down on a couch at Start Fort Wayne’s Atrium to talk. They weren’t exactly sure what markets to enter, if then was the right time to re-launch, or even if re-launching was a good idea (getting burnt once can make you a bit hesitant). They briefed me about the various markets they were considering — and how they would handle operations. My response was not particularly subtle. They will quote me to this day (unless they are in polite company) as saying, “What are you waiting for? Just fucking launch! And see which markets take off.”

So, we had a good laugh, and then they did just fucking launch. And in a short couple of months time, they amassed over 100 customers (a fair number of whom were repeat customers) and signed on three furniture store partners.

Tech Company or Non-Tech Company?

“ Or” is the wrong word. “And” is correct. Moving and delivery sounds like a decidedly non-tech business (as it says on Cartt’s Facebook page, “Truck & Muscle”), but it also has a huge technology component. Cartt is both.

Accepting orders, connecting customers with movers, etc. all require a strong web technology presence and backbone. And the technology need will only grow as Cartt expands. Seth has taken on the task of building that infrastructure. He sees it as, “Recreating Uber for Cartt.” That includes placing iPad based kiosks in partner stores. Point of sales kiosks allow customers in places like furniture stores to not only feel comfortable that they will be able to get their bulky purchase home, but also to place their delivery order right then and there. Cartt’s on demand service serves up the Truck & Muscle immediately — no need to schedule days in advance.

On the Truck & Muscle side, Cartt uses contract workers. Some (called “helpers”) have pickup trucks, box trucks or cargo vans. Some (called “hands”) don’t. Each Cartt delivery includes both a helper and a hand. It’s a great way for participants in the gig economy to work when they want and make great money. Steven Kennedy came on board as the very first helper and now heads up Operations to recruit, onboard, and manage helpers and hands.

Value and Values.

The three co-founders are a positive group, and rightfully proud of their accomplishments. Above all, the value they deliver and their own personal values are solid. As Seth puts it, “What I admire about Cartt is that the value we deliver is always good. Without question! We value integrity and friendliness.”

Justin and Dylan are proud that they didn’t quit. To paraphrase Chumbawamba, they got knocked down, but they got up again. Persevering and pivoting, they garnered some solid customer validation for the “new” Cartt in the form of immediate sales growth, an award from Taylor University’s Shark Tank pitch competition, and awards for use of technology, traction, and best in show at the Start Fort Wayne Compass Cohort 1 Pitch Night.

As they grew, the biggest challenge was recruiting enough trucks and helpers to meet rapidly growing demand. They have been successful recruiting among college students. And, it helps that the Midwest doesn’t lack pickup truck owners.

The Future

In 2018 Cartt plans two expansions.

  1. They intend to secure more and larger partnerships, streamlining their business model in the process. One benefit they anticipate is more predictable and sustainable volume through partners.
  2. They plan to expand throughout Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana and then branch out to Indianapolis (actually the Northern suburbs like Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, and Noblesville).

In five years, Cartt’s vision is to be well established throughout the entire Midwest — and begin to grow outward from there. They recognize that most companies strategically launch on the coasts and move inward to the Midwest, and they believe that gives Cartt an opportunity and advantage.

They are also well aware of a key challenge — shifting the mindset of conservative Midwestern communities. As they point out, “On demand isn’t necessarily a thing here” like it is in major metropolitan cities on the coasts.

Other Locals On Their Radar

The guys at Cartt admire CapeAble Sensory Products, makers of wighted blankets and wearables for people with special needs, for addressing a great social need.

They appreciate Reactiv Social, (yes, those guys — the subject of the previous +1 Entrepreneur Interview) not just for the social media management work they do for Cartt, but also because of the way Aaron and Al interact as friends (the two companies work at Start Fort Wayne’s Atrium coworking space).

Having a “local first” mentality, Dylan is a big fan of all the companies and people investing in revitalizing and building up downtown Fort Wayne.

Justin gives kudos to Do It Best Corp. He enjoyed interning there, appreciated the opportunity to build skills, and admired that the the company provides exposure all the way up to the CEO.

Advice to Startup Founders

Some great insights from this crew.

  1. Be fully committed. “The moment you think about Plan B, Plan A goes out the window.”
  2. It is important to understand our purpose and why we do what we do. “I can’t sell it if I have no purpose.” This includes making sure that your own values as a founder match the values of the company.
  3. “Embrace the process. It won’t happen overnight.”
  4. Believe in what you are doing and be driven. You can’t approach it like “working for someone”. You’re a founder, not an employee — you can’t leave.
  5. Remember that others (non-entrepreneurs) don’t understand or even care about what you are doing. You won’t get emotional validation from them — they’ll expect you to keep hanging out with them [when you need and want to work].
  6. And finally — Be optimistic. Be grateful. Always remember about your co-founders, “These are my brothers and sisters.”