Ask an Alum: Brett Byman
Throughout college, Brett sought out entrepreneurship opportunities—from working with a faculty member to start an on-campus group to collaborating with fellow Huskers on business plans during Nebraska Business events. After college, entrepreneurship continued to find Brett, and today he’s advocating for trucker drivers through BasicBlock. Read how college experiences helped him cofound his first business and how he’s making an impact on the lives of others through entrepreneurship.
What originally drew you to entrepreneurship?
I grew up in an entrepreneurial household, so the mindset was instilled at a fairly early age. Lemonade stands turned into building computers for profit in high school, and it just kept evolving from there. In those early days, the coolest thing in the world to me was the idea of building a business from scratch and creating jobs (or even a job) for someone else. It was the enticement of building your own business, your own way, and in whatever way you believe to be the right way for you. Plenty of lessons have been learned here over the years, but that’s still the dream!
Was there anything you were involved in during undergrad that stoked that interest in entrepreneurship?
100%. When I attended the College of Business, entrepreneurship didn’t have a large presence at UNL. There were a few entrepreneurship classes, but certainly no major or minor degrees. One day professor Sam Nelson (sorry @Sam for dating us) pulled me aside and we decided to start the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO) chapter at UNL together. Building the CEO organization at UNL was arguably my first entrepreneurial venture. Building a team, forming a shared vision and value proposition for our members, finding sponsors, and engaging with the community started with CEO back in 2012.
You first co-founded Nobl Health with fellow Husker Katie Hottovy. Can you talk about that process and what it was like to participate in the new Venture Competition?
Yes! I still have so much love and respect for the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development for hosting that event back in 2012. Unlike most business plan competitions, they went to some of the largest companies in Lincoln and asked “What are the biggest problems you’re facing as an organization, and how can we present those problems to the local entrepreneurship community to help solve?”
The company we were assigned was Bryan Health, and our young team of four ended up winning the competition. We worked with Bryan Health for nine months to launch a proof of concept and worked our asses off to ensure that it worked. It did, and we ended up signing contracts with Bryan Health and raising our first round of outside capital in the same month. That investor check was the first time any of us had gotten paid in nine months. We learned a ton and risked it all in the hopes of what we could end up building. The result was Nobl Health.
You’re now seeing great success with your company BasicBlock. Is there anything you’re particularly proud of thus far?
Yea it’s hard not to get emotional about America’s truck drivers. Just some of the hardest working (and tough-minded) men and women that you’ll ever meet. Our team wakes up every morning to go to bat for our carriers and we think it truly shows. We have so much to be proud of as a company and as a team, but the number one thing that continues to stand out in my mind is our employees and their passion. Hearing stories from our team members about how we’ve impacted their lives or their perception of work, despite how hard they work for us, has truly been the most humbling experience of my entrepreneurial career.
Second to our employees was earlier this year when we raised over $80M to forever change payments in trucking. That was a massive milestone for our organization’s growth, but also for me personally. It was validation that people believed in us and our vision for re-shaping the trucking industry.
You’ve been involved with kind of varied industries. Is anything you’re passionate about or look for when you decide what to work on?
There is a lot that I’m passionate about, but my entrepreneurial endeavors have always seemed to find me, not the other way around. Every opportunity has stemmed from the network I have built and from seeds I planted earlier in life.
Someone that I met at a tech boot camp hit me up six months later to work on Nobl Health. A student that I met while speaking at Nebraska Wesleyan became a good friend and three years later, he recruited me to help him start BasicBlock.
I love working in a variety of industries and transferring the skills that I’m building and applying them to a new area. With both Nobl and BasicBlock, as I dove deeper and learned more about the industries as a whole and the impact of our technology, I became extremely passionate about growing these companies to reach more people. I’m excited to continue growing my network and seizing whatever opportunities arise in the future.
You’ve come back to the university to share your knowledge and also provide mentorship to next-generation entrepreneurs across the country. Why is paying it forward so important for you?
It was actually the founders of companies that came to speak to my entrepreneurship classes that really inspired my passion for startups, so I feel as though I have a duty to do the same for the next generation. I knew that there were founders building really cool companies across the US, I just didn’t know that there were founders doing it in Lincoln, Nebraska. That realization was inspiring and as a result, I love sharing that same realization with whoever might be ready to hear it.
Is there one thing you learned in your time at Nebraska that you’ve taken with you and continue to use every day?
Yes. Or at least as often as I’m reminded. There was a creative strategies course that changed my entire outlook on creative processes and marketing strategies. It was a crash course in how everyone essentially solves the same problems in the same ways and how the best creatives push past the common answers to create truly groundbreaking work. I still use explanations and examples from that course often.
Was there someone at Nebraska that had a big impact on you?
Professors (and adjunct professors) Sam Nelson, Mailaney Veney, and Clint! Runge no doubt had massive impacts.
What advice would you give to a college student interested in entrepreneurship?
Start by figuring out what kind of life you want to live and then build a business around that. Too many people think that they need to raise $100 million dollars and hire 500 people to build the life that they want. Turns out that life sucks for most people that get there and the other 99% fail along the way. Most are way better off building a lifestyle business that has a much better chance of giving them the life and lifestyle that they want. The VC route is cutthroat. Literally. The payouts are bigger, but your odds are still one in a million, even with all the experience and money in the world. Reference Quibi. Go build a business that allows you to travel, work outside, work from your laptop, work from the bathtub, whatever the hell it is you want to do. You will still have to work your ass off from that bathtub, but at least you’re working in an environment you created and building something that’s uniquely yours and where you get to own the success or failure.