The dream of tech startups is to achieve a legendary level of success. The term “unicorn” has been used in the last decade to describe this level of achievement. When a business has earned a valuation over $1B, it reaches a status beyond its founder’s wildest imagination.
Not unlike the appearance of the mythical, horned horse in fairy tales, a business reaching unicorn status is very rare. Be that as it may, it’s a reality for Nashville’s Built Technologies (Built). This construction finance tech company provides software for lending from construction loan administration to risk analytics, services for lending (such as an inspection services network), and software for construction personnel. Construction-specific features include payments, booking, and lien waiver management. These features ease the disbursement of construction funds, which is historically a very slow process.
Quick money means that projects can be completed in a timely fashion. As a result of its financial efficiency, Built is used by more than 150 North American lenders, and thousands of general and specialty contractors. In addition, Built has been used to manage over 200,000 construction projects, and it processes $100 billion in payments per year! In doing so, Built has created partnerships with banks across the country, including BancorpSouth, First National Bank, and Veritex Community Bank. Furthermore, Built’s software is the only construction finance software endorsed by the American Bankers Association (ABA) for construction loan management, and Built holds the title of exclusive preferred partner with The Mortgage Collaborative.
Years of hard work paid off for Built co-founder and CEO Chase Gilbert in September 2021. That’s when the company announced that it had raised $125 million, and reached “unicorn status” with a valuation of $1.5 billion.
“We’re very fortunate,” Chase says. “We’ve got a lot of good stuff going on. It’s a big milestone, and yet there’s so much more to do.”
Having a Vision Others Can’t See
What made Built’s unicorn status possible? According to Chase, it started with having a novel approach to addressing a problem.
“The money and the valuation of our business are really the culmination of us finding a big problem,” Chase says. “The construction lending process is a very broken part of the financial services industry. And one of the largest industries in the world is still extremely analog.”
Construction lending wasn’t previously digitized because the process was so complex and fragmented. However, from its inception in 2014, Built had a unique go-to-market strategy. It was one that Chase says few people really understood.
Chase explains, “I felt like I was insane for several years in this business. It made perfect sense to me, but nobody else understood why I was excited to start with banks in construction lending.”
Chase knew that he was building a company that the world quite simply needed. He saw it as one that could be pretty powerful, since it could influence construction payment processing, and where the money went.
Conversely, Chase’s critics thought that the total available market (TAM) was simply too small for Built to really take off!
Chase saw things differently. “I always looked at them and said, ‘Are you out of your mind?’” Chase recalls. “This is one of the largest industries in the world! And the entire money movement process is going to go online—and we’re doing it! What do you mean, ‘The TAM is too small?’”
He learned that some of the most successful entrepreneurs in history encountered this very problem—naysayers. In fact, Chase has come to celebrate the milestone of being told that he was wrong. It put him in great company.
“There are plenty of people that told me that this can’t be a billion dollar company,” Chase says. “I really love what that meant for the team and for investors. It meant that we were validated. The money doesn’t lie. To now have the validation for that, it’s fun for sure.”
A Recipe for Magic
To be sure, Built was blessed with great market conditions and customers that appreciated what the fintech company wanted to do. These customers gave Chase the faith to keep going.
However, Chase argues that Built’s staff should also receive a huge portion of the credit. “We’ve also been very fortunate over the years to bring in some world-class people who are excited about the problem, which is a prerequisite,” Chase says. “I don’t care about what someone’s background is, or all of the amazing things that they’ve done. If they’re not excited about the problem and the mission that we’re on, it doesn’t matter.”
Chase adds that it is great employees who help a company avoid potential pitfalls. Built’s team includes a few names that may spark familiarity. For example, CTO Bill Parker was previously the CEO of Quicken Loans. Likewise, former Amazon Web Services executive Bob Van Nortwick is currently Built’s company president.
Chase was not only judicious about building his team—he was selective when it came to investors. He didn’t want to do business with someone who would compromise its mission statement or influence the business negatively.
As a result of this approach, Built’s team took the time to get to know the investment partners. By deliberately choosing to slow-walk the business relationship, the investors saw that Built was dedicated to doing great work.
“The investors like to get to know companies earlier so that it’s not a fire drill when we decide to raise money,” Chase says.
Galloping Toward a Bright Future
There’s a lot of growth occurring within Built. The company went from having a team of 100 people in 2019, to employing 300 people at the close of 2021. Presently, there are about 85 open positions within Built.
Chase started Built to improve construction lending. He never intended to be in the spotlight. However, in 2020, as things with Built were really picking up, he started to reflect on his success.
“I do think that it comes with responsibility,” Chase says. He believes that Nashville is starting to become the tech hub it was meant to be. “If Built can help play a role in creating a vibrant ecosystem and helping others have confidence, we will do just that.”
Built’s unicorn status has helped draw more attention to Music City for greater opportunities in business and tech. Global investors now see that business success isn’t restrained by geography. Chase is looking into ways that Built can hold open the door to success for other startups in Nashville. It’s something that will be a pressing question for him in 2022.
“Now, many of them just want the best entrepreneurs that are dreaming big and can get the right talent around them to solve big problems,” Chase says. “I can guarantee you there’s a lot of that in Nashville.”