By Lorrie DeFrank
As a direct result of the customer development concepts of JAX Bridges, Ed Baldwin pivoted his vendor management solution upside down and saw revenue from that part of his business soar from zero to 90 percent of his total revenue. Just in the last month, when many companies have been laying off people because of COVID-19 slowdowns, he hired 10 new employees to support the growth.
Baldwin is founder and president of ProfileGorilla, a software as a service company that stores and manages documentation for businesses and their vendors in the platform he and his team created.
He had been working in supplier management—ensuring that vendors have the required insurance, licenses, background checks and other necessary documents—for about 15 years before launching his startup in 2013. Two years later, in spring 2015, he was accepted into Cohort 2 of the JAX Bridges entrepreneurial growth program, which changed how he thought about his business.
“Most vendor management solutions are top down, with each enterprise company having their own solution to manage the vendors they do business with. The reality is that those vendors that are providing services to their company are usually providing those same services to a multitude. For that vendor company, keeping all of their clients supplied and current with key documents is a huge headache,” Baldwin said, explaining the pivot. “We take that headache over for them by storing all of their key documentation in one place and delivering it to all of their clients on their behalf for a small subscription fee.” ProfileGorilla also offers help with credentialing, independent verification and data entry.
Looking around Northeast Florida for resources to support entrepreneurs he found plenty that provided assistance with getting bank loans and accounting but came up short with support for key components that help new businesses get off the ground and grow. JAX Chamber’s new JAX Bridges program, whose concepts include identifying product-market fit and developing business and revenue models, offered it all.
“JAX Bridges was the first support program I found that really dove deep into those critical areas,” he said. “I found it to be super innovative with concepts that were prevalent only in places like Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Austin … on the cutting edge of startups in business.”
Baldwin conceded that as a new small business owner he didn’t see much value in the JAX Chamber for him because he thought it served only big companies. “It was encouraging to see the Chamber throw its support behind the JAX Bridges concept,” he said. “Today my perspective is 100 percent different. JAX Chamber is a model that any big city should try to replicate.”
Now a national company based in Jacksonville, ProfileGorilla supports more than 10,000 service providers, focusing mainly on contractors, plumbers, electricians and other businesses that require a lot of documentation to get jobs. The Tech Tribune listed it among the Best Tech Startups in Jacksonville in 2018 and 2019 based on revenue potential, leadership team, brand/product traction and competitive landscape.
To get there, Baldwin said he relied greatly on JAX Bridges’ core concepts of customer development that use direct feedback from customers—rather than founders’ gut—to help develop a business.
“Going through JAX Bridges allowed me to focus and refine some things and start in growth mode,” said Baldwin, who has reinvested in the program by serving as a mentor and leading some of the courses, including customer development.
He also worked with Carlton Robinson, vice president of the Entrepreneurial Growth Division, to use a modified version of the ProfileGorilla software to create VendorFi, a database to keep track of JAX Bridges’ mentors and business participants for the purposes of connecting them with opportunities through the program.
I am so proud of our ability at the JAX Chamber to support a wide range of entrepreneurs in The Bridges Program. Innovators like Ed Baldwin, who recently added more than 10 employees, demonstrate Jacksonville’s potential as an innovation community with scalable ventures,” said Robinson.