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Ask Me Anything (AMA) with Founder and CEO Mynul Khan: Episode 2

June 28, 2021

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Field Nation Dispatch podcast

Episode 2

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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 another Field Nation AMA, or Ask Me Anything, with Field Nation founder and CEO Mynul Khan. If you missed the first episode, you can find it wherever you get your podcasts by searching for Field Nation Dispatch. We will also share a link in the show notes. My name is Melissa Pfannnenstiel and I’m on the marketing team here at Field Nation. I am excited to once again be talking with Mynul and asking him more of the great questions that you, our technician audience, brought forward.

Again, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who submitted a question for this AMA. We received hundreds of questions for the first AMA from earlier this year, which was amazing, but this time we received three times as many questions. We were blown away by the participation. We want you to know that our team read every single question. And we had a really hard time deciding which questions to answer. Otherwise, we could have easily had a four-hour AMA.

So real quick, before we jump into this round of questions: Like last time, we’ll post a recording to a web page and we will also post a transcript of the questions, as well as any links we share so that you will have them for easy reference. So with that, let’s get to your questions. Hey Mynul, thank you so much for joining me today.

Mynul Khan:

It’s good to be with you, Melissa. And it’s so fun to be back with the second episode of the podcast. I’m excited to be here.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

Awesome. Well, let’s jump right in. One really great question that we had, and I’d like to start off with, is what kind of impact has COVID had on the freelance industry?

Mynul Khan:

It’s a great question, Melissa. If you look at the last 20 years or so, every time there is an economic disruption – whether it’s a recession, great recession, et cetera – each time it accelerated the adoption of on-demand work and created more opportunities for freelancers. And each time, the work landscape shifted a little bit more permanently towards that on-demand work. The reason for that is this: Each economic crisis worked as a catalyst for businesses to challenge the status quo, to find a better way to get things done.

Companies are recognizing the strategic value of a flexible workforce. This is especially true for the field service industry. And the drop in demand during the early part of 2020 was kind of a wake-up call for a lot of organizations. A lot of organizations had a bench of full-time employees in the field. That used to be a selling point. But when the demand went away, that staff became an expensive liability for them.

So now more than ever, companies are realizing that the variable cost of an on-demand workforce is better suited to variable and unpredictable work volume. And they’re turning to platforms like Field Nation to help manage costs while still delivering high-quality outcomes. And there’s one more thing: The pandemic created an accelerated momentum for technology transformation that was already underway. The pandemic accelerated it – especially in the retail space, where we play a big role.

Most major retailers had a five or ten-year technology transformation plan for their brands that included how the consumers will experience their product, shop in their stores, and buy products. Due to this pandemic, they had to finalize and execute all those plans in just a matter of 90 days or so. The first few months of the pandemic were tough in this industry, especially in retail. But we saw the volume come back up quite significantly. All this transformation work that’s going into retail stores right now – that’ll continue to bring a big influx of work for the freelance community in the coming months and years.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

Got it. Thanks for that recap Mynul. I know it can be hard to keep talking about COVID because everyone is tired of talking about it and hearing about the pandemic, but I think there are some important takeaways for our techs to understand in terms of industry dynamics and where we as a platform are going and how COVID has actually accelerated the shift that many companies are making toward using on-demand labor. So it’s not all bad news, if anything, there’s more good news than bad for our industry.

Mynul Khan:

Let me just add one other thing, Melissa. The first few months of COVID were tough on freelancers. Their work dropped significantly. But the good news is that the work came back rather quickly. And now with all the new technology transformation going on, we are back on a growth trajectory and there is tailwind in the freelance industry. Especially in the technology freelance industry, there’s tremendous tailwind happening.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

Speaking of that, our next question has to do with knowing that more and more companies are turning to on-demand labor, especially in the onsite IT field services area. We obviously aren’t the only marketplace in town, right? So we had several technicians ask us how Field Nation plans to stay competitive with those other marketplaces?

Mynul Khan:

Yeah. It’s a really good question. You can even generalize this question by saying, how do you stay competitive in business? And the way I think about it, Melissa, is that it’s not about competition at all. It’s all about your customers. We need to understand our customers better than anyone else, and continuously add more value than anyone else, and solve their problems better than anyone else.

How do you do that? One primary way to do it is by being the expert of our customers. One of our so-called competitors claims to be solving every industry under the sun. If you’re a jack of all trades, you’re master of none. Our focus is technology field service. And the companies from the industry that we serve trust us because of our expertise. Companies in field service want to do business with experts in field service, and that’s us.

Because of our major focus and investment in this area, we expect to bring twice the volume of work in the next 18-24 months. And that means we’ll double the work opportunities for our community. Also, we’ve started offering different products based on customer segments and their needs. This has accelerated our innovation and our value-add by customer segments. If you look at the last 12 months, we introduced powerful tools that helped our customers gain significant efficiency through automation as well as new data products that help our customers find new growth opportunities and improve profit margins.

We also introduced new products and services for companies to more effectively vet and qualify technicians, while also building their talent networks so that they can deliver work with higher quality. So, there’s a tremendous push to add value to our customers, more value than anyone else. But there is something else: our approach to our community. We are building a lasting relationship with our community because our approach to building this company is “build to last.” For a long period of time, with no time horizon in mind.

Unfortunately, in the last 12-15 years, we had competitors come and go, and each took the approach of “build to flip.” What I mean by that is building to a point that is good enough to sell to the next buyer. So from the beginning, your relationship with the community is transactional in nature. When you know you are building a company to last in that specific community, with no time horizon in mind, you start with transparent and honest communication, because trust is everything.

We have many competitors as you mentioned. Each of them took this build to flip kind of approach. If you look at our competition, they all changed hands so many times. There’s no lasting direction or value in those companies. These companies sometimes don’t take a transparent approach in communicating with the community. For example, there may be some marketplace out there giving the perception that it’s free to do work, but you know, like any business, these platforms have to monetize. It’s never free.

The question is around transparency. Are they upfront with their community about how they charge their fees? Because they are charging them one way or another. We don’t hide this fact – in fact, we make it more transparent – so you know who is getting charged what and how we, the platform, are making money. We do this because it’s a value exchange for what you get from Field Nation.

Besides trust and transparency, there’s something else. Other marketplaces take a hands-off approach to their buyers and providers and tell them to resolve their disputes on their own. We believe in supporting the transactions between buyers and providers, not just being a place where things happen. We get involved when things don’t go right. For that reason, we offer services like mediation assistance. So if there’s any dispute, we get involved. There is 24/7 support. We have guaranteed payment. We have insurance for risk mitigation and things like that. Those are so foundational to what we do for our users and for our community. Sometimes it is easy to overlook this value until you really need it.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

I love what you were saying, Mynul, about the specificity and the focus that we have on IT field service. If you think about what it takes to facilitate an IT field service transaction versus what it takes to facilitate a freelance proofreading gig, or freelance graphic design gig, it’s a night and day difference in terms of what a buyer expects around that facilitation, especially for organizations that want to use on-demand labor for IT field service at scale. Again, just a night and day difference around what’s needed on the buyer side and on the provider side to support those kinds of transactions.

Mynul Khan:

Right.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

To switch gears a little bit, obviously there’s been a lot of chatter in the news lately around labor classification and just what’s happening from a legislative perspective. So we received one question that I think is really good to touch on. Do you think efforts like AB5 in California are going to continue to affect technicians? And if so, what can we as technicians do to be more prepared?

Mynul Khan:

Yes, it’s another really good question. So the short answer, Melissa is yes. AB5 will continue to affect techs in California. But let me explain why our tech community needs to pay more attention to this. The regulatory environment around labor classification continues to be a hot topic. And frankly, I feel our tech community is not in the loop when it comes to this changing regulatory environment that will have an impact on their business and their livelihood.

For those who are not familiar with Assembly Bill 5, or short for AB5, it changed how companies engage independent talent to provide services in California, as of January of last year. Under this law, many of our independent contractors may not be eligible to work as free agents or independent contractors. A few other states are also looking at introducing similar bills.

What we know from our tech community is that the vast majority of our technicians are true business owners. They like the flexibility of being their own boss. They are hard-working business owners and in charge of their own destiny. Most chose to be independent simply because they don’t want to be someone else’s employee. 

But as a result of AB5, more and more companies want to mitigate their risks by maintaining a business-to-business relationship with the on-demand technicians and service companies that they engage with. So what this means for an independent tech, companies looking to engage with technicians will want them to have an Employer Identification Number or EIN, not just Social Security Number or SSN.

It’s really easy to get an EIN from your state, and it’s free. You can apply online. I believe in most states you can apply online and get an EIN for free in just a matter of a few days. And in addition to that, there are some companies, especially those in California, that prefer to hire salvage companies that have W2 employees. We have a blog post that explains why technicians should consider getting an EIN and how you can add that EIN number on your Field Nation profile, as it will make you eligible for more work opportunities on the platform, not just in California.

Generally speaking, more and more companies across the country are looking to engage with technicians with EIN numbers. Again, I highly encourage our technician community to get an EIN from your state and add that on your Field Nation profile. We’ll provide a blog post link in the notes section as well.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

One question kind of related to that, Mynul, around EINs. One question we get all the time from techs is, “I’m new to the platform. I’m new to Field Nation. How do I get started?” Do you have any resources around how to use the platform, how to market yourself to buyers, and how to start getting work?”

Mynul Khan:

Yeah, great question. First of all, welcome to Field Nation, we’re glad you’re here. And I know it can be challenging to get established because it’s a competitive market. The Field Nation platform enables a relationship of trust to form between buyers and the technician providers. These two parties, once they connect, tend to come back and have repeat transactions, so it can be challenging for a new technician to get started. With that said, the most rewarding experience for me is when I get messages from techs saying how Field Nation completely transformed their lives.

Just a few weeks ago, Melissa, I got a LinkedIn message from a tech who lost his job during the COVID and he got a message from a friend a few states away saying, “Try Field Nation.” And in just under six months, not only did he survive, he started a business and expanded in a few other states. And this technician’s comment to me was, “I can’t wait to see all the amazing things that can happen to him because of this platform.” And I can’t wait to see that either. I get messages like this all the time, and this makes my day. This gives me a purpose in my job, and this inspires me beyond anything else.

So building a very successful business is very, very possible, but it can be challenging for a new technician. Before I point out some resources that you can find on our marketing website, there are a couple of tips I want to share with you.

Number one, build a strong profile. Profiles with professional-looking photos are 38% more likely to get work. Profiles with skills listed are 63% more likely to get work. And techs who listed their tools are 67% more likely to get work. An up-to-date accurate profile definitely increases your chance of being found by buyers and matched with work.

Number two, get a background check, a drug test, and an Employer Identification Number. Many clients filter their search results based on these requirements: whether you have a background check, whether they have a drug test, whether you have EIN. These things give you credibility. That gives you immediate trust between you and the buyer. So we highly recommend that you get all that done. I’ll give you one data point: Techs with background checks get twice as many work orders, and make twice as much compared to techs without a background check. So it’s such a good investment. It doesn’t cost much but once you get that, it increases your chance of getting work. It increases your chance of earning more money through the platform. I highly recommend you do this.

Number three, build relationships with buyers. Several techs have told us that they got started with Field Nation by taking jobs that they were overqualified for. But they established that relationship with the buyers by taking a lower-skill job. And that could be a great way to start building the relationship and start taking higher-paying jobs and higher-skilled jobs. We have a great online resource for this: discover.fieldnation.com/getting-started. Here you’ll find a lot more information on how to be successful in getting started with Field Nation.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

Awesome. I love those tips, Mynul. The next question is a little bit related, for those of us techs who are trying to cross-skill, or up-skill, or align ourselves with the types of work that are growing on the platform, does Field Nation plan to offer any training courses in the future?

Mynul Khan:

That’s a great question. The technology is changing so fast and we need a way to make sure our technicians are always up-skilling themselves. Building our network of technicians is definitely a priority for us, and that means making sure we have enough techs who are trained and ready for the additional work we’re bringing to the platform. So we’re exploring solutions like third-party skill assessment partners, third-party training courses, and would be very interested to hear directly from the techs. Are there any specific ideas you have that we can bring to the platform to help you up-skill and in return bring more skilled jobs and more earning opportunities for the community?

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

Awesome. So to shift gears a little bit here, we consistently get a lot of questions around pay rates. And given that we’re a marketplace, one technician asked, “Why do you allow companies to charge below the market rate for labor?”

Mynul Khan:

Yeah, I think we’ve talked about this in our last episode, but I think it’s worth answering again. It’s true that some companies are posting jobs that are lower than average rate, but it’s not widespread. It’s very concentrated among a handful of buyers. It’s not pervasive across the marketplace at all. Here’s a data point having to do with work orders across the marketplace and the nation. The value of work orders increased by $4 between 2019 to 2020.

If you consider the basic principle of supply and demand, rates of some types of work are going down because that work is becoming commodity, and because there is more supply than demand. Here’s another data point: The median hourly rate for digital signage was increasing between 2018 and 2020, and then dropped between 2020 and 2021. No, I’m not suggesting that digital signage has become commodity work yet, but we know that there is tremendous demand for digital signage, and there are more and more technicians getting that skill. That’s driving the price down a little bit.

On the other hand, rates of some types of work are actually going up, because the work is more specialized and there’s more demand than supply. So for example, the median hourly rate for low voltage cabling has gone up consistently since 2018, and has continued to go up so far in 2021 as well. But we frequently share insights about the rates and what type of work is trending up. What type of work and the rate is going down et cetera on our blog post. So I would encourage you to go check out our blog if you’re interested to learn about what kind of work and what kind of skills you should be considering to increase your earning opportunity.

In addition to all of that, we are constantly working to bring new types of work to the platform. Usually, newer types of work and new technology mean higher pay rates.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

Another question that we got several times in this round was around the length of time that it takes some buyers to approve work. I think this is a really important thing to discuss and important for techs to know what we’re doing on our side to help expedite that. One tech asks, “Why do some buyers take longer to approve work than others? And what is Field Nation doing to encourage buyers to approve more work more quickly so I can get paid more quickly?”

Mynul Khan:

Yeah. It’s such an important question because approval time, the time the buyer takes to approve, has a direct impact on how soon the technician can receive their payment. So it’s very, very important for our community that the buyers are approving the work in a timely fashion. However, there are several factors that could decide how fast the buyer can approve the work order. Some of the factors are, for example, how much work the buyer is putting on the Field Nation platform at any given time. That means, if there’s a lot of work, then there’s a lot of work orders they need to go through and approve.

How many people they have on the dispatch team is another variable. If they have a lot of work and not a lot of people to support that work, they may not be able to go through all these work orders and approve them on time. Whether or not they have to go back to the technician and ask them for additional information, missing information and so forth, could also delay approval of work orders.

We do want to be transparent about average approval time so techs can decide for themselves whether that’s acceptable for them to take it back from that specific company and not. You’ll probably notice that we introduced the average time to approve metric on the work order. So inside the work order, you can see how long the buyer takes on average to approve a work order. That will give you a very good idea how soon you will get paid and so forth, so you can decide whether that’s a reasonable timeframe for you or not.

We also invested in several product enhancements on the buyer side that will help buyers approve work orders quickly. So let me explain one feature that helps the buyer automatically approve work orders. We call it SmartAudit. It’s a very new feature. We recently released it, I think only a few months ago, but I’m really excited about this feature. And here’s how it works. The idea behind SmartAudit is that a buyer can set criteria for a work order that they’re comfortable approving automatically. So let’s say the buyer has a talent pool of trusted techs that they’ve worked with the past several times and they want to automatically approve those work orders completed by their trusted technicians that are within a certain dollar range. SmartAudit could scan if this work order was done by a technician that’s in the trusted talent pool, and if it’s within a certain price range, go ahead and automatically approve. Nobody needs to review it manually.

Another use case could be, for companies with high volume and low complexity work, that they don’t need to go through all the details. They can configure the SmartAudit with all the criteria to look for. Our SmartAudit system will automatically go and check all the completion requirements by the technician. And if it finds everything is done properly by the technician, it’ll automatically approve the work orders.

We’re already working with some of our major buyers, and we’re seeing a lot of success approving work orders really quickly because it doesn’t require any human touch, and we are educating more and more buyers on this SmartAudit system. And hopefully, this will expedite the approval process quite a bit.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

I love that, Mynul. It kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier, that the focus of our platform is enabling buyers to do onsite IT field service work at scale. The at-scale piece is key because anybody can build a platform to do one or two work orders here and there, but scale is where the transformation truly happens for companies, and for our techs, and for our network, so I love that we have a lot of stuff in the works already to enable buyers and also technicians to make work happen at scale. It’s really exciting.

Here’s a question that we got last time, but we got a lot of follow-up questions and so I want to make sure that we address it for techs who are wondering. Why does Field Nation take 10% of expenses when it should be a simple reimbursement for money that we as contractors put out to help our buyers get the job done?

Mynul Khan:

Yeah. We talked about it in our last episode but I’m glad we are covering it again. I think it’s an important question for our technicians. Let me explain why we do it. To get right to the point, we charge a fee for facilitating the transaction. It’s a fixed cost of doing business to the platform. It’s to cover the built-in expense management functionality that we have in the work order, and also to ensure payment on those expenses go to the technician in a timely fashion.

Without this feature, without the payment processing, you would have to manually submit receipts to every buyer you work with via email, manually track, and if you didn’t receive the payment, then you have to follow up and so forth. It would be really messy. So we do believe that we add value to this whole managed expense reimbursement, and all the way to the payment to our technicians. Regarding the service we provide, we continue to hear feedback about this fee from technicians. So we do have a team tasked with evaluating how we may be able to better handle the expenses and coming up with some alternative solutions. So hopefully we’ll have some information to share with everybody in the next few episodes.

Melissa Pfannenstiel:

I love that. It’s been so interesting to watch the questions that come in, get reviewed by our team, by the leadership team. And it’s been really cool to see that feedback process and how it happens internally. We evaluate the questions and the types of questions that we get in. We have internal conversations about it. We talk about the feedback, we talk about how we address it. So I love to see just that virtuous loop of us connecting with techs who are sharing their feedback and questions with us, and that driving changes that we make. That’s great.

Mynul Khan:

Melissa, it may be important for our tech community to understand who reviews all these questions. Actually, a lot of people get to see these questions, ponder on them, and think about how we should be solving some of the problems that our technician communities are facing. When we get these questions, Melissa, you meet with t