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

March 30, 2021

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Field Nation Dispatch podcast

Episode 1

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Interviewee

Mynul Khan, CEO & Founder of Field Nation

Questions

Resources mentioned


Full AMA podcast transcript

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

Hello, and welcome to the very first Field Nation AMA or Ask Me Anything with Field Nation, founder and CEO, Mynul Khan. My name is Melissa Pfannenstiel and I’m on the marketing team here at Field Nation. I am excited for the opportunity to have this conversation with Mynul and to be able to ask him the questions that you, our technician audience brought forth. I wanted to say a quick, thank you to everyone who submitted a question for this AMA. We received hundreds of really great questions, and while we won’t have time to answer every single one today, we are zeroing in on the ones that we received multiple times or the ones that we think apply to most of our audience.

So if we don’t get to your question today, don’t worry. You will have a chance to submit more questions next quarter when we bring Mynul back for another AMA. One quick housekeeping note, before we jump in, we’re going to be posting this recording to our webpage, and we’ll also post a transcript of the questions that we discussed today, as well as any links we share. So you’ll have them for easy reference. So without further ado, let’s get to your questions. Hi, Mynul. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Mynul Khan:

Hi, Melissa. Great to be with you.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

So the first question I want to ask Mynul is, why did you want to do an AMA in the first place?

Mynul Khan:

So, Melissa, as you know, a few months ago, we got together with about, I think, 10 or 15 technicians. In that meeting, we learned an incredible amount of things from those technicians: what works, what doesn’t work, and what they value. Where they see an opportunity for us to get better and I found it incredibly inspiring. Right after our first meeting, I remember reaching out and asking, “How can we be involved more technicians and engineers, our providers, and how can I personally listen to them more directly and stay connected with our community directly and have a drip dialogue with our community?”

That led us to this podcast where our community is sending us questions that they have in their minds and I have the opportunity to share my thoughts with them. I like our community to know the people behind the company and it’s not just a logo and the software. We are incredibly passionate about what we do. We don’t always get things right. We certainly don’t have all the answers but I know our community can help us find answers and help us get better, make a better product for them. This is why I’m doing it. I’m so excited. This is an opportunity for me to be in front of the community that we serve.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

So on that note, Mynul, I feel like a lot of folks in our community don’t know the Field Nation origin story, and it’s a really good one. So can you quickly share how you got started in the IT business in the first place?

Mynul Khan:

It’s an accident. I’m a software engineer by education but how I got started in this field side of this business is a complete accident. I knew nothing about this business but I’m a builder at heart. I love working on problems that I find meaningful. Right after my graduation from college, I met a few people who are managing field service projects, and I saw incredible inefficiencies in field service work management, and it comes in two forms. These inefficiencies come in two forms. One is finding the right talent is incredibly difficult. So larger companies would outsource to smaller companies and they would turn around and also to the next tier down and they’ll turn on the next tier down and so forth and it takes hours and days to find and verify technicians qualification.

A lot of time is wasted in this process. What happens is that these companies who really need the job done, they’ll pay a lot of money to somebody who said, “Hey, I can solve your problem finding technicians.” But then the reality is that those guys don’t have the local technicians on staff. So they’ll turn around and outsource from the next tier down and so the company who really needed the job done, will spend a lot of money and the technician who can really get the job done would make very little money and a lot of money will be wasted in the process. So that’s one big problem that I saw. The other problem was that it’s incredibly inefficient to manage large-scale field service projects or service calls because people were using Excel spreadsheets and Outlook and Notepad and anything they could find.

Coming from a software engineering background, I thought, “This is crazy.” There has to be a better way to do this and if we can connect businesses that really need the job done with the local engineers who have the skills to do it — if we can connect them, the companies can save more money. Technicians can make more money and we can make software that makes the whole process extremely efficient, seamless, and better for everybody. So from day one, our mission and our purpose has been to break the barriers to work so we can unleash opportunities for everybody and we’ve been working on this mission from day one.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

Am I correct in hearing once that inspiration struck you when you were in a coffee shop and you happen to look at someone who was managing a large scale field service project, and you saw their massive spreadsheet and you thought, “Oh my goodness, there has to be a better way?”

Mynul Khan:

Yes. I met people in a coffee shop and they were managing large projects and using Excel and Notepads, whatever they could find. Making calls using Yellow pages and stuff like that. I mean, that was really the inspiration that like, “Well, we can do better. We can do much better than this.”

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

So here’s a throwback question to maybe your software engineering days in college, but one of our techs wanted to know what’s your favorite coding language?

Mynul Khan:

Yeah. It’s C/C++. I know it’s not a common language anymore. It’s not an abstract language. It’s more close to the machine language. I never got hooked into high-level abstract languages. I don’t think Field Nation has a single line of C/C++, I found an incredibly talented partner who later became our CTO. So if any credit goes to Field Nation technology, that is definitely not me. There are a lot of people behind the scene, but yeah, my language was C/C++ always loved it. But we don’t use it at Field Nation.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

To shift gears a little bit, we had a couple of questions about what we see coming in 2021 compared to 2020. So a question came in, based on the amount of work you see on the platform, how was 2021 shaping up so far compared to 2020? What predictions do you have for the rest of 2021?

Mynul Khan:

Yeah. It’s a great question. We have been living in this period of uncertainty for the last 12, 16 months. But let me start with this, we published a great year-end article on our blog where we kind of showed what we’d done last year and so forth. But the summary of it is that in 2019 we did about a million work and in 2020, we did a little less than a million work orders, about 900,000 to be precise. Which is incredible given that this global pandemic and shut down of the economy and all of that. If you asked me if we’d be doing close to a million work in April when everything started to shut down? I would say, “There’s no way.” But we did.

The market price recovered really well in the second part and fourth quarter, especially the third and fourth quarter of last year. You know, the Q1 of this year, we are about 10% above 2019, but we’re still slightly below the Q1 of 2020 last year. The reason being this year is still… If you look at December, January, February, there was still a lot of uncertainty, COVID cases were going up. Some States started to shut down and stuff like that, but we are incredibly hopeful, optimistic about the balance of the year and there are a couple of reason behind it. What happened, we do a lot of retail work, obviously. As the pandemic hit, we saw many businesses started to moving their infrastructure spend from the… Investing in in-store retail to E-commerce and they under-invested, grossly under invested in a retail store infrastructure.

As we get closer to the end of the pandemic we are seeing companies started to invest back into the retail infrastructure. The in-store retail infrastructure, quite a bit, the catching up of all the underinvestment that happened last year. So through conversations we’ve had with retail experts, analysts, and our customers, we are hearing that starting Q2 and going into Q3, Q4, there’s going to be a tremendous influx of activity. We’re really excited to see if that activity comes back in the marketplace.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

Here’s a question that we received around how to get started on a platform like ours, because it can be kind of difficult, even if you have a lot of experience, whether you do or you don’t. Getting started on a platform like ours and getting your feet under you and starting to establish strong connections with companies and buyers, all of that can take time, right?

Mynul Khan:

Yeah.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

So one technician asked, “I’ve been on Field Nation for a year. I’ve submitted countless offers, but I’ve only received one job. I have 40 plus years of experience. Do you have any suggestions for me on how I can get started?”

Mynul Khan:

Yeah, it’s a great question. It’s a commonly asked question as well. First of all, our team put together some resources that I think would be incredibly helpful. There’s one article called, 9 tips to improve your Field Nation profile. There’s another one called, 10 ways to get more work on Field Nation. So I will highly encourage anybody who’s interested to know more about how to be more successful with Field Nation, how to get more work, to Field Nation, to check those two articles. However, let me just add a couple of things. I have a couple of tips that I personally give. I’m a big fan of these two things. First is to understand, it is a marketplace so show up as your best by completing your profile with a picture, completing a background check, drug test and especially if you have certifications and licenses, those are big pluses. Make sure that you have those certifications and licenses reflected in a profile.

Second, it is a competitive market, but start somewhere and do your best. Every job that you do becomes a marketing collateral for you in your profile, because we capture how you did in that last job. What ratings and feedback that you received, that becomes your marketing collateral for the next job, the next customer, who’s going to look at your profile and so forth. But here’s another thing, every job you do is an opportunity to be on customers preferred technicians network. We have a feature on the buyer side, the customer can tag and put the people that they want to work with in the preferred network. Once you’re in their preferred network, the work from this customer will likely come to you rather than you needing to chase the work.

We designed our software so our customers and technicians can build relationship. Long-term mutually beneficial relationship, where each committed to other person of businesses success. This committed relationship usually result in higher quality of work, higher satisfaction from both sides so my recommendation is to go extra mile with every job that you do, build that connection and trust. So you can be in customer’s preferred network so that again, once you are there, the work will come to you rather than you chasing the work all the time. There are some resources on our website, I think you’ll find very useful. There’s a URL I’ll mention discover.field nation.com/tech-resources and that may be a very good place to check out and see other tips, how you can improve your chances of getting more work through the platform.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

Along those same lines but almost on the flip side, we received a question. I have college degrees and industry certifications, tools, and years of jobs completed on the platform, but because it’s so competitive, I feel like I’m not standing out. What does Field Nation plan to do to keep experienced and educated techs like me on the platform?

Mynul Khan:

Yeah, it’s a great question. We’re working on expanding ways for techs to better promote and showcase their experiences on also their soft skill because that’s also very important for the buyers. We are exploring ways, solutions like third party, skill assessment with third-party partners, and stuff like that. Certification validation but I’ll be really interested to know if techs find this skill assessment or certification validation valuable? I would love to hear that feedback and I’ll also like to hear if our tech community have ideas, what we can do to make this effective for our technician base so that’s one.

The other thing is that we are also working on many tools on the buyer side and provider side to highlight technicians, skill experience, and so forth. One of the things we recently introduced is a feature called Advanced Technician Profile. This profile shows the buyers, field verified metrics, which are more credible than the self-reporting matrix. Buyers will be able to see things like the number of jobs completed on Field Nation broken down by types of work, and when those jobs were completed and buyer reviews of those specific jobs, et cetera. So I think that tool will bring out more qualified techs to the buyer side. But again, I’ll be very interested to hear the communities’ thoughts, and what we can do. We’ll definitely take those into consideration as we think about what product and services we can build.

But again, the last thing I would say is that we are investing so much in our sales and marketing to make sure that we create the awareness in the marketplace of this amazing resource that exists in the field service market, where companies can come and find the incredible technician community that we have. So we’re constantly working on bringing companies on our platform by creating these opportunities so that we can bring more work to our platform as well.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

You mentioned before that Field Nation, of course, is a marketplace. But one trend that I’ve heard a couple of technicians mention or notice, and a question that we received is, why does it seem like companies are posting jobs at lower and lower rates? I often hear from techs that sometimes it feels like it’s a race to the bottom in terms of pay. Can you talk a little bit about that perception and kind of from our perspective across the entire marketplace, whether or not we’re seeing that be true.

Mynul Khan:

Yeah, it does exist. Some companies are posting jobs at lower than average rates, but it’s concentrated among a handful of buyers. It’s not pervasive across the marketplace. Most of our buyers want to provide the market rate to get qualified technicians. There is a direct correlation between the rate they offer and the quality of service they get, the quality of technicians. Most of our customers, buyers, they understand that very well. But one of the things I want to mention is that if you think about the basic principles of supply and demand — the skill, the technology that 10 or 15 years ago was considered a rare skill, or novel technology — after 10 plus years, that becomes a commodity, a more commonly available skill, because there’s more supply available than the demand.

That brings down the rate. So for example, the median hourly rate for digital signage was increasing between 2018 and 2020 then started to drop since 2020. That doesn’t mean that I’m saying that this is not a commodity skill, but that’s what we are observing. But I’ll give you another example, 10, 15 years ago there used to be this giant cash register machine, right? Those machines need to be updated, maintained, all that stuff. Now these are getting replaced by iPad devices. Customers are not calling technicians to repair this stuff, these are getting replaced. There’s a problem with an iPad you replace, you ship back the old one and you get a new one within a couple of days.

So there’s a technology trend that kind of dictates where the skill’s rate is. Just because its skill rate at one point was X, it’s not going to always stay at X. So, for example, we are seeing that some of the skills on our marketplace that are a specialized skill for newer technologies — there’s more demand than supply. One example I’ll give you is that the median hourly rate for low voltage cabling has gone up consistently since 2018, and it’ll continue, still today it’s continued to rise. There’s a direct correlation in terms of is this skill, is this technology, has it been out there for long enough, already did a newer technology skill is in high demand and the supply how is that supply in the marketplace? Short answer, sorry it’s a long way to say that some of the skills probably are declining a little bit, some of these skills are actually on the rise.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

Along those same lines of the low-paying jobs, which again, might be in the sweet spot for some technicians and not for others. One question that we received is, what can Field Nation do to make it easier for skilled techs like me to filter out those low-paying jobs — so we don’t have to waste so much time trying to find a job with reasonable pay?

Mynul Khan:

It’s a great question. One design principle for us is that we… In a marketplace, our technicians are joining the platform to get opportunities. We want to over-communicate about the opportunities rather than under-communicate. But I completely understand that this may be too much for some technicians. So our product team is planning to bring a new flight board experience very soon to the providers that’ll offer the ability to have safe searches and filters, making it easy so that you can filter out the work that you don’t want to see, doesn’t show up. The work that you want to see shows up, et cetera. But I’ll also say that the new Field Nation Pro package that we just introduced has a really awesome feature called SmartMatch.

What it does is that you basically configure the SmartMatch feature by telling it what kind of jobs you want, what fits your skillset, the price rate et cetera. It brings those kinds of jobs to you when the job gets published and you’ll be notified. So that actually solves that problem that I don’t want to get notified for everything I do. I want certain types of jobs, SmartMatch actually does a really, really good job addressing that issue.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

I’m really glad that you brought up SmartMatch because we also received a couple of questions that I think will allow us to clarify what SmartMatch does and does not do. So a technician asks us why is a new tech who pays for that pro package that you mentioned able to get access to a work order before me? A tech who’s been on the platform for years.

Mynul Khan:

Yeah. There are some misconceptions about this, The Provider Pro package has a new feature called SmartMatch. The way it works is that, again, as I mentioned, you can tell SmartMatch what kind of jobs you like. Instead of manually searching and combing a list of work, this SmartMatch feature brings those jobs forward that meet your criteria. It does not automatically assign or award a job to a technician. This tool is really about efficiency, making it efficient to find the job that you really want, but it does not give priority to technicians who have Pro versus those who do not have the Pro feature. Our job is to bring the best and most qualified technician to the customer. Ultimately, it’s the buyer who makes the call, who gets assigned to the job, and who doesn’t. It’s not Pro, it’s not a SmartMatch. It’s not Field Nation who makes that call, it’s the buyer who makes that call.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

To shift gears a little bit. This is probably the most common question that we received. Why does Field Nation charge the 10% fee on expenses? I have no issue with a fee on the labor, but why does that fee also apply to expenses?

Mynul Khan:

That’s a great question. There are multiple different values that we bring to our technicians. We are your sales and marketing posts. We bring opportunities to you, but also another huge value we provide is that we provide back-office management. We collect the payments on your behalf, we ensure insurance and other risk mitigation tools where it’s applicable. We process the payment for you. We issue 1099s, we provide 24/7 support. We provide mediation when there is a dispute. Not to mention, we provide the software that facilitates the entire work coordination, communication of the work.

We take 10% for the total value we provide to you for your sales and marketing force, being your back office, being a software provider, etc. It gets really messy, real soon. If you start piecemeal the fees, I would ask anyone, our users to think and ask that the fee that you pay to us and the total value you get is that fair rather than piecemealing it. Think about the whole value get and the fee that you pay is that fair compared to the entire value you are getting from us? That’s the best way to think about it. Like I said piecemealing is very difficult and it gets very messy when we start doing that.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

I think it’s an important point that you just made Mynul about, if technicians weren’t utilizing all of the kind of front office and the back office services that we provide, the alternative would be doing it on your own and the cost and the time involved in doing your own sales, your own marketing. Building your own relationships, making your own new connections in addition to managing the work and the taxes and the mediation and the payment and all of that on the backend. It’s also worth kind of evaluating the convenience of doing that on a platform like Field Nation versus trying to do all of that on your own. Is that fair?

Mynul Khan:

That’s totally fair Melissa. I mean, that’s what I’m saying. Like if we put a price on each of these things that we provide, then you could say, “Hey, this is undervalued. This is overvalued. This is this, this or that.” That’s why it’s best to look at the whole thing and say is 10% fair for everything that I’m getting from Field Nation?

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

Along the same lines of the fee. We also had a couple of questions about the insurance fee. So one tech asked, “How do techs benefit from the 1.5% insurance fee that I see on every work order?”

Mynul Khan:

This 1.5% insurance covers you with a million-dollar damage, general liability and professional liability, and the $10 million umbrella. Now, let me explain this a little bit more. The GLPL, the general liability and professional liability covers damage to physical properties. So you go onsite to do work and then all of a sudden something terrible happens and somebody else got hurt, as well as you’re doing your job. This is a piece of mind that you are covered up to a million dollars. You don’t have to worry about anything. You are covered with Field Nation the customer, or you filed the claim with us and we take care of all of that. However, I will tell you, if you do a lot of work with Field Nation, it may make sense for you to have your own policy, and that may be cheaper.

But if you do 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, $40,000 work, with Field Nation, I think this 1.5% is still cheaper than having your own insurance, but I would encourage you to run your own numbers and see what makes sense, whether you should have your own insurance or not. By the way, if you do have your own insurance and you upload that certificate of insurance, you’re exempt from this 1.5%. This is actually a good example where we are separating the fee because we can separate the fee. If you provide your own insurance, we don’t want to charge you that fee. In this case, we don’t charge 1.5% if you provide your insurance. If you don’t have insurance, you’re covered with us, we take 1.5%.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

I’d like to now shift gears a little bit if we can. Probably the second most common question that we received from technicians is around the idea of payment terms and why Field Nation introduced payment terms in the first place and sharing with us that in doing so it created a lot of stress on them having to wait so long to get paid when they were used to receiving twice-weekly payments before. So can you just talk a little bit about why payment terms were introduced in the first place and what we’re seeing from a marketplace perspective on how many work orders actually have payment terms and how many don’t?

Mynul Khan:

Good question. So what are payment terms? Let’s make that clear to everybody. Payment terms allow us to pay providers when buyers pay us, and this was actually planned long before the pandemic started. However, the pandemic did accelerate our timeline in terms of implementation so that’s number one. Number two is that it’s important to understand how prolific. how widespread, or how few payment terms exist in the marketplace. Only 30 to maybe 40 percent of all our work may have a payment term. That means the vast majority, 60, 70% of all work does not have payment terms. So what happens with the 30, 40% work that has payment terms? That means that customers do not pay us right away. We have some sort of terms with those customers and we pay the technician according to the customer terms, but it never exceeds more than 14 days.

We have a cap, we capped it regardless of our payment terms with the customer. The worst it can get to is 14 days. That’s the cap. Now let’s explain why we made this change. So when the customer has payment trends and we are paying the technician right away with twice-a-week payments before the pandemic, we were kind of acting like a bank.  We’re floating the payment before we received funds from the customer. It worked well when we were a smaller company, but it’s very challenging to do that at scale. It’s also limited us from accepting customers that need payment terms. Our number one goal in the marketplace is to bring more opportunities to our technicians, and one important thing I want to mention is that the number one task of Field Nation is to make more work available.

We did some surveys, and we found that of the vast majority of our technicians, only about 25 to 30% of our technicians pointed out they’d like to get paid faster, maybe even same day, if possible. So to enable more work in the marketplace to accept more buyers that may need some payment terms with us. We introduced this feature where the payment term is aligned with how we received the payment from the customer and how we pay the technician. But also it’s important to know that getting paid quickly is not only dependent on the buyer paying us quickly but it is also dependent on how quickly the buyers are approving the work. It is equally important for buyers to approve work in a timely manner. It doesn’t matter if we paid technicians quickly, but the buyers take weeks to approve work on and head the delays, the same delay, no matter where in the processes that delay comes from.

So we recently introduced a feature called SmartAudit Approval Automation. This is to help our buyers with a large volume. A lot of times, the pr