Ask Me Anything (AMA) with Founder and CEO Mynul Khan: Episode 4

19 min read

Field Nation Dispatch podcast

Episode 4

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Interviewee

Mynul Khan, CEO & Founder of Field Nation

Questions

Full AMA podcast transcript

Melissa:

Hello, and welcome to another Field Nation AMA, or Ask Me Anything, with Field Nation Founder and CEO, Mynul Khan. If you want to check out earlier episodes, you can find them wherever you listen to your podcasts by searching for “Field Nation Dispatch”. We’ll also share a link in the show notes. My name is Melissa Pfannenstiel, and I’m on the marketing team here at Field Nation. I am excited, as always, to be talking with Mynul and asking him the latest questions brought forward by our technician community. Quick reminder that we’ll post this recording to a webpage, and we will also post a transcript of the questions that we go through today, as well as any links we share so that you have those at your fingertips for easy reference. And with that, let’s get to your questions. Hey, Mynul, thank you so much for joining me today.

Mynul:

Good to be with you, Melissa. Tons of great questions – looking forward to reviewing them with you.

Melissa:

All right. So to get started, I actually love this question: What does Field Nation do with all the questions that get submitted?

Mynul:

Yeah, great question. Our team looks through every single question. We then group them into categories to see if there is a theme, emerges from that list of questions. We select which questions to address based on what’s most popular and what’s beneficial for the broader community of providers. This isn’t an exercise where we pick and choose only the questions that we want to answer or the questions that we have a good answer for. We welcome the hard questions and the critical feedback, and we use it as an opportunity to learn and improve our product and services. I’m grateful for every single person who took the time to share their questions with us. I want you to know that even if we don’t address your questions live on this podcast, please know that it was shared with our product and provider experience teams. And we are having a productive discussion as a result of your questions, so thank you.

Melissa:

Thanks for that, Mynul. I know I’ve seen that question come through a couple of times. It’s, “Okay, so I submitted this question, what happens to it? Does it go into a black box? Does anyone even look at it? Is this even worthwhile for me to keep asking questions?” And I think the answer is yes, a human person looks through every single question. And it’s super important for our team that we continue to get that feedback from our technicians and that we raise those questions with product, with provider experience, with marketing, and with other teams. So yes, I completely agree.

And I want to reiterate that we’re having really important discussions as a result of all of these questions, so please keep them coming in. To switch gears a little bit, we said that 2020 was a crazy year. I don’t think any of us knew that 2021 would still be a challenge in many ways, but I love this question because it’s current and at a point in time right now. So one technician asks, “What kinds of skills are in high demand right now on the platform?” – right now being October of 2021. How would you answer that?

Mynul:

That’s another really good question. There are a couple of ways to answer this one. In terms of work volume and by type of work, the top three categories are networking, point of sales, and telecom and VoIP – Voice over IP. These three types of work, combined, will represent probably over half a million work orders by the end of this year. If you think about demand through the lens of volume and, by extension, of its opportunity, networking, point of sale, telecom, and VoIP are always at the top of the list and have been for a few years now. Another way to look at the demand is in terms of what we are hearing from our buyers and prospects, and whether the market, in general, is having difficulty fulfilling those types of work. Those would be audiovisual work, cabling work, telecom, VoIP work, security work, digital signage, etc. So if you are a tech with this expertise and skillset, there is more demand than the supply available right now in the market.

Melissa:

And speaking of trends, I thought this was a really interesting question. A technician observed, “I see end customers moving away from physical devices, more to cloud devices, so do you, at Field Nation, expect to see work orders that are more software-oriented and less focused on physical devices as a result?”

Mynul:

Great question. To really understand what’s happening, we need to look at each industry separately and look inside the physical space to understand what the long-lasting trends within the specific industry segments are. So for example, in retail, the latest research shows that store openings amongst supermarkets, drug stores, warehouse clubs, mass merchants, convenience stores, chain restaurants, and QSRs are really, really strong. There’s more opening in this category than ever before. And every single one of those new locations will need install, ongoing maintenance work, onsite support work, etc.

Additionally, companies are deploying more in-store technologies than ever before. Why? Companies want to make sure when the consumer shows up to the physical stores, they can create a differentiated brand experience. So we are seeing that existing stores are undergoing massive technology transformation. For example, Walmart is starting to systematically replace their traditional check-out lanes with double the number of self-checkout devices. We are seeing, actually, more technology getting deployed in existing stores. We are seeing that there are more store openings in the segment of the market that I just explained, so we are seeing tremendous opportunity in front of us in coming years that we’re really poised to take advantage of.

Melissa:

Now to switch from trend and market dynamics to Field Nation-specific questions. Many technicians had asked about this actually, saying, “I see more and more companies requiring the use of an additional third-party app, and it creates a ton of extra work for me. Is there anything Field Nation can do to encourage buyers not to use these secondary apps?”

Mynul:

It’s definitely something we can start looking into. For a little background, when a question like this comes up, we go through a discovery process. We first gather data on how pervasive an issue is, in this case, how many buyers are requiring an additional app, what percent of the total work orders are impacted, and is it trending up or down? Next, we dig into why. Why do buyers use a second app, are there things to accomplish, something that Field Nation platform cannot currently support? If yes, is it a functionality we want to consider adding? If no, is there an opportunity to have a conversation with the buyer about an integration or a process change on their end?

Additionally, we’d want to understand the impact on the providers. We know that our providers are busy going from job to job. We don’t want to add more complexity in their daily life in terms of how they manage the work and the workflow. So we appreciate this being brought up, and we’ll work with our internal teams to better understand the scope of the issue and continue to make things simpler. That’s our goal: to make things simpler for our providers so that they can spend more time getting the job done rather than managing the work.

Melissa:

And along the lines of making things more simple for providers, I know communication is another question that gets brought up quite a bit. So another tech asks, “How can we get better communication with buyers through the app? Now, half the companies that I work with don’t respond to messages.”

Mynul:

Responsive communication between buyers and providers is really critical to the work we facilitate through the platform. We’ve gotten feedback from both buyers and providers on how messaging workflow can be improved, and as a result, we have added that work – that improvement – to our product roadmap for early 2022. For buyers who are managing hundreds and thousands of work orders through Field Nation at any given time, it can be hard to prioritize which notification to address and in what order, so one of the things we are looking at, for example, is how real-time messaging notifications get sent, prioritized, and displayed to our users. Like almost everything on a platform like ours, there is a product component to this solution, and there is a behavioral component to this solution. We’ll be exploring both angles to come up with a holistic solution that improves the issue that we are talking about.

Melissa:

Here’s another question that came up fairly often, and not only for this AMA but in previous ones as well. I like how the technician phrased this: “As service providers, we go out of our way to arrive at the job site and complete the work in a timely fashion – to hold up our end of the bargain, if you will. Is there something that can be done to encourage the buyer to pay us in a more timely manner?”

Mynul:

Yeah, we addressed a similar question in our last AMA. But we know how important this is for our providers, to get paid on time, and timely pay is something we take very, very seriously, and we’ll keep watching that very closely. So I’m happy to address this again. There are two factors that impact timely pay. First, the time to work order approval, and the second is the buyer’s payment terms with Field Nation. As a reminder, work orders fall into one of three categories: zero-day payment term, seven-day payment term, or 14-day payment term. The terms begin at work order approval, and payment will be transferred the Friday after the term period ends. You can see a work order’s payment terms within the work order list or by going into the details of the work order page, and that can help you make a decision whether you want to go for that work order or maybe not.

The other factor in this question is how long a buyer takes to approve work orders because, as I just shared, the terms begin after work is approved. So how quickly a buyer approves work order depends on several factors, such as how much work they’re running through Field Nation at any given time, how many people they have on the team to manage the work, whether or not they have to go back to the techs for additional or missing information, and maybe more. We do want to be transparent about the average approval time a buyer takes to approve a work order, so we also have the average-time-to-approve metric on the work order.

And I also want to share a statistic with you. Over the last 12 months, over 80% of our work orders have been approved inside the approval window, which is zero to 14 days, depending on the buyer. So time to approve is something our account managers and our customer success team watch very closely, since it is a metric we can actually influence. When we see that a buyer has an increasing number of work orders being approved outside their approval window, we work with them to understand why and find a solution.

Melissa:

Thanks for walking us through all of the factors that could impact how quickly a tech gets paid, Mynul. And I will just reiterate the point that when our client-facing teams see that approval is starting to take longer and longer, they will connect back with that buyer in several meetings to understand what has changed, what we can do, and how can we get your team to approve work more quickly because it’s impacting the technicians who will or will not take your work.

It’s also very important to buyers that they are approving their work on time because they know that’s a metric that we expose to technicians. So it’s important to us, it’s important to buyers, and we know that it’s really, really important to techs, too, so I’m glad that there’s always a lot of attention around this issue.

Question for you next about profile badges. For example, the background checks and drug tests. One tech wanted to know if these badges actually lead to more work. He said, “I don’t mind taking the tests or offering the information every year, but I just want to know if it’s worth the expense and worth the trouble.”

Mynul:

It certainly is. According to our data, providers with a current background check or drug test get assigned twice as much work and make twice the money compared to providers without either. Background checks and drug tests are often required by the end customers and not just the buyers. As a result, many of the largest buyers who publish thousands of work orders a month almost exclusively use providers with current screenings. Thinking back to the earlier question about what skillset is in a high demand. Another way to think about it is, what are the other requirements buyers have that are in high demand? Background and drug tests are definitely in high demand for buyers, so this is a worthwhile investment, and I would highly recommend that anyone who doesn’t have up-to-date background and drug tests to get that completed.

Melissa:

Shifting gears on you a little bit to talk technically. One provider asked, “What are you doing to improve the speed of your servers? For me, the app is often glitchy, and it takes too long to refresh pages.”

Mynul:

We have recently made some improvements in this area, but there is definitely more work to be done. In this quarter, we are focusing specifically on the performance of core features like work or detail loads, check-ins and task completion, etc. Our goal is to double the performance of these core features when all is said and done. It’s a great question. We’re aware of those issues that the provider just mentioned, and we are working to address them as we speak.

Melissa:

Another question that we often get is about how quickly texts and emails come through. So this particular provider said, “When I receive notifications of new work, it seems like the texts come through before the emails. Is there any way that you can speed up the emails?”

Mynul:

Yeah. The feedback we hear sometimes is that the emails come through before texts. But either way, the reason one might show up before the other is complicated due to the number of companies involved outside of Field Nation. When our platform sends an email, it then goes to our email-sending vendor, and then the vendor attempts to connect with the email provider of the recipient. Nearly every company that sends email uses the same process, by the way, and there’s always an intermediary.

When we look at the data, we rarely saw delay on our delivery to the email-sending vendor – emails go from our platform to the vendor in seconds. Where the delay almost always happens are from the email-sending vendor to the email provider, and we don’t have control over that. Text messages go through a similar process. Cell phone carriers can impact when you receive texts, some carriers are faster than others, etc. We know that notifications of new work orders are critical and time-sensitive, so we’ll continue to monitor the speed and where in the process we can improve some of these delays.

Melissa:

And I know, to technicians listening, that “We’re aware of it and we’re working on it” can sometimes sound like a hollow promise, but I actually observed meetings and conversations happening last week on this very subject, to really dig into how long it takes for emails to get through or how long it takes for texts to get through – does the recipient’s email client matter, does the cell phone carrier matter? I can say that I’ve personally observed those conversations happening, and so it’s not just us saying, “Yeah, we’re aware of it. Yeah, we’re working on it,” and that’ll be the answer until the end of time. The work is actually happening. So to Mynul’s earlier point that these questions prompt discussions almost instantly after we see them, that is absolutely a true statement, and it’s really cool to be able to say that and mean it.

Another question we got that I think is really important, given location services and how critical that is to the workflow inside Field Nation these days – one tech asked, “Can you fix the app’s location determination mechanism, especially as more clients are requiring it? Check-out locations record pretty accurately, but check-ins are often miles off. What’s up?”

Mynul:

Great question. So when we dug into this, we found something very interesting. Many providers tell us that they keep their GPS off until they need it, which they do for a variety of reasons like saving the battery life, etc. But to get an accurate reading of your location, your GPS has to have the opportunity to lock onto a satellite signal, and if you’re in an area with obstructions like walls or tall buildings, that locking process might take longer. So if you travel somewhere while the GPS was off – while driving to a site or arriving at the site – and you’re prompted to check in, at which point you turn your GPS back on, you could have an inaccurate reading of your location. And now, when you go to check-out, your GPS reading is accurate because that’s the last place your location locked onto a satellite.

You’re right about location accuracy being important, and our product team is exploring ways to allow you to preview your location before you finally sign off on that. Until then, we’d suggest that you enable GPS just a few minutes before you check in and get a more accurate reading from the satellite of your location. If keeping your location on takes up too much battery life, you can check how much battery location services is using by going into your phone settings. It’s probably not a significant drain to your battery, but you can check it out that way. Now, the other thing I always encourage our providers to do is make sure you’re charging your battery while driving. Keep charging your battery, keep charging your phone so that while you’re onsite, your phone is recharged as much as possible.

Melissa:

I have another question for you around location. So one tech wanted to know, “Why does the app access my location every time I look at a work order? I understand wanting location at check-in and check-out, but the constant monitoring of location is too much for me.”

Mynul:

Yeah. So the reason this happens is that the work order detail screen displays a map that includes your location relative to the job site, as well as your distance away from the site. We use your current location to grab that information, but we don’t store that location information. We’re working with our engineering team to explore making a change so that it would only grab your location if you already have a location service enabled, which means you wouldn’t see that permission request every time you open a work order.

I also want to address the constant monitoring part of the question. When location services are enabled, we take a geo stamp of your location during the key points of the workflow like check-in and check-out. When you mark On My Way, the app starts reporting a location periodically until the check-in occurs, at which point your location is no longer reported. We do the periodic location reporting to show the buyer the progress of your trip to the site, and also to provide an estimated ETA to the buyer based on your driving route, etc. To help our community better understand how we use the location services and for what purpose, our product team will be holding a podcast on that subject hopefully soon, and we’ll share that with you as well. Stay tuned for that information. Melissa, I’m assuming it’s coming in a month or so.

Melissa:

Yep, that’s the plan. That’s going to be a good topic because I know there are a lot of questions and concerns around location, rightfully so. So I’m super excited that we’re going to have our product team on the podcast to really dive into and unpack what we track and for what purpose, and what gets shared and stored and what doesn’t, and to hopefully address every possible question that’s out there to help providers feel more comfortable.

So to shift away from platform-specific questions and to go back to more of an industry question for you… I know we talked about this last time, but I think it’s still current and worth answering again. A provider asked, “Will legislative gig economy battles affect skilled techs like me on platforms like Field Nation?”

Mynul:

As more and more companies are turning to on-demand workforce, the regulatory environment around labor classification continues to be a hot topic, as you have likely seen in states like California. As a result, more and more companies want to mitigate the risk by maintaining a business-to-business relationship with the on-demand technicians and service companies that they work with. That means they’re looking to hire techs and service companies with an employer identification number (or EIN), not just a social security number. And some companies, especially those in California, prefer to hire service companies that have W2 employees as their technicians.

To make sure that we are staying ahead of the potential legislative changes, we have introduced a Business Badge for our providers and service companies who add their EIN number to their Field Nation profile. If you want to learn more about the Business Badge and EINs, you can check out a webinar we recorded with an attorney who specialized in this small business field. And I will also note that many providers use an EIN on Field Nation, but don’t use it to file their taxes, for example. So you can decide what’s right for you and your business. We’ll provide the webinar link in the show notes as well.

Melissa:

All right. Mynul, I have one final question for you, and it’s a big one: “Can you tell us what your plans are for Field Nation in 2022? What’s next?”

Mynul:

Great question. And the timing is good because right now, we are heads down in planning for 2022. And there’s a lot of discussion about where should we focus, where should we invest in 2022. But we are heading into next year with tremendous momentum in our marketplace. For example, just last month, in September, our marketplace volume grew over 40% year over year. So as a leader in the field service marketplace, our number one mission is to bring work opportunities to our community of technicians and engineers, and I’m excited to report that we expect that our growth momentum will continue to accelerate in the incoming year.

There is also a lot of focus, going into next year, on elevating user experience by industry segment and type of work. We believe that each segment has unique needs for buyers and providers to be successful, so there will be a lot of focused investment and efforts to provide a value-added product and services and improving the overall experience to ensure that users, whether buyers or providers, can be successful with us. We will also continue to invest in automation tools for our buyers. Obviously, we’ve been investing in that area for our buyers for years now, and we’ll see increasing focus on the provider side as well in coming years. Just as an example, this year, we launched automated job matching for our providers, which generated great feedback. It’s saving providers a lot of time in looking for the right job that matches their expectations.

We also launched mileage tracking for our providers, although it’s in beta testing right now. But the idea here is that a provider’s always on the road, they’re driving, but they’re missing out on an IRS tax credit by not properly reporting the mileage that they drive all through the year. These are just a few examples. There is a lot of focus on the provider side. The question we ask ourselves is, “What else can we do for them besides bringing work?” – which is always going to be our number one mission for our providers: to bring them more work.

Melissa:

Awesome. That’s a lot of exciting stuff. I can’t wait to check in with you at the next AMA to report back on how we’re doing against all of those goals. But I want to wrap up in a timely manner here because I know our techs are super busy, and they’re on the road, moving from one job to another. So thank you everyone for joining us for another AMA with Field Nation Founder and CEO, Mynul Khan. As I mentioned earlier, please check out the transcript of this recording for links to some of the resources we discussed, and stay tuned for all this exciting stuff coming your way in 2022. We will see you next time.