Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve been a lifelong adventurer who enjoys camping in the great outdoors with few amenities and the ability to disconnect from the urban world. When I had the first of my two daughters ten years ago, I knew things would change and they did. As the girls got older, I realized that the amount of things you have to bring to keep the kiddos comfortable can be overwhelming. I soon discovered that I was the only one who could deal with a lack of privacy, pitching tents and sleeping on the ground. I knew there had to be a better way to enjoy the outdoors with my family, and as a sustainability consultant, I was determined to find the greenest path. Four years ago after an exhaustive search of the RV market, my daughter asked me, “Daddy, what if we build a treehouse on wheels?” It dawned on me that I needed to build a trailer that was capable of being off-grid, comfortable with some key amenities, and was made with sustainable materials.
About a year ago, Eric Gertsman, co-founder and chief marketing officer and I launched Homegrown Trailers based in Kirkland, Wash., a social purpose corporation that produces sustainable, hand-crafted travel trailers.
As most small business owners who are starting out can relate, it’s all about finding the right technology fast so you can get your business off the ground. We ended up cobbling together software and hardware technologies from our personal lives or that seemed to meet our immediate needs. We definitely weren’t thinking big-picture of where we wanted to be and how technology could help get us there.
We started with a hodgepodge of technology. I had been using a Google Chromebook and Google’s G Suite of apps to collaborate on projects and edit documents in real-time while Eric and the rest of the team were using Microsoft devices and tools. While I found Google’s line of products to be simple, I soon realized that simplicity came with limited functionality, which impacted the business’ ability to achieve goals and grow. As our business picked up, we became more and more frustrated that we had to constantly transition documents back into Microsoft Word or Excel to effectively communicate and collaborate amongst our team and with partners. As co-founder and CEO, I really started to feel my productivity take a hit because I couldn’t crunch numbers or create the kind of graphs I needed in Google Sheets like I could with Microsoft Excel. I also became frustrated at the inability to effectively edit and create new documents when off-grid or on a slow Wi-Fi connection, and editing images or graphically heavy documents often crashed my Chromebook. And when it came to hardware, I found myself buying a new Chromebook at least every year due to the amount of use, which is not in line with my sustainability values.
With a fast-growing small business and a goal to produce a couple hundred trailers a year in the not too distant future, we quickly understood that technology is critical to our success and we needed a change. We needed a more productive, secure and robust set of software and hardware technology that could keep up with our operational and production demands. We recently turned to Microsoft and SADA Systems, a Microsoft National Solutions Provider, to help digitally transform each employee’s personal work experience and how we work with each other.
SADA Systems led us through a series of discovery sessions to discuss our business processes and how Microsoft technology can improve our day-to-day operations. The SADA team then completed our migration and deployment, and provided training services to ensure we optimized the vast features of the Microsoft cloud solutions. After having a mishmash of technologies for a few years, it has been refreshing to have one set of software and hardware technologies – Windows 10, Office 365, Dynamics 365 and Windows devices – that are intuitive to use and work seamlessly together. We appreciate the operating speed and how intuitively everything works together in Windows 10, especially the ease of collaboration and communication that comes with using its suite of tools. Windows Ink has been a unique addition that allows me to notate documents and engineering plans very quickly on my Surface Pro 4 when working with the production team. I can then send immediate plan updates to our engineers, designers, regulators and other stakeholders.
It has also been really encouraging to see our communication and collaboration grow over the last few months because of Microsoft products like SharePoint, Microsoft Planner and Skype for Business. Because we’re a small yet mighty team with limited financial resources, we need to be as efficient as possible so we can grow to meet market demand. At the same time, we need to watch our bottom line while continually pushing the envelope on innovation. With Microsoft Planner, we can now assign tasks to create the kind of workflow needed for production, sales, and marketing efforts. Specifically, it has enhanced our weekly team meetings by ensuring that we’re not duplicating tasks or getting ahead of ourselves by pushing forward on a project that is dependent on another project being complete. But, it has also helped us ensure the team is staying focused, making and sharing their progress as well as meeting the most important goals each day. Another great way our team is staying connected is through the power of shared calendars via Microsoft Outlook. Our previous system didn’t allow us to effectively see what each other were up to and when to best optimize our time as a team.
I’ve also noticed a huge difference in ease of access to materials we are all working on. We can now easily post documents in SharePoint and work collaboratively without the hassle of clogging our email inboxes with large attachments, dealing with the headache of version control or wasting valuable time converting files back and forth. Personally, I’ve seen my productivity improve because I can now access documents from anywhere on any device, which is big since I am always on the go working with my team and in meetings with customers and partners. We are in the midst of launching Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales to streamline our customer interactions and improve the hand-off from our sales to production teams. With all of these tools at our fingertips, we can now avoid redundancies in our work and no longer have to battle technology inefficiencies so we can focus on building trailers and getting them to our passionate customers.
My team actually just drove across the country with one of our trailers to the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Florida to meet with other small business owners who are looking to digitally transform their business just like us. While this may not be the first place you would think to see a Homegrown Trailer, we were excited to share both our story and commitment to building a fully electric and sustainable travel trailer. With Microsoft on our side, we have seen an immediate improvement to our operations and were delighted to share our early learnings and commitment to a more sustainable future especially as the NASCAR community works to do the same.
I was able to join the team for two legs of the drive and have to add that I love how Skype for Business via our Surface Pro 4 devices has kept those of us on the road this week for the Daytona 500 connected to the team back home no matter where we are. We have been able to push projects forward that would not have been possible without the technology and I was even able to walk my production team through some troubleshooting via Skype while flying across the country.
Today, I am back in the office and my team is hitting the open road back to Washington. We are excited to have been able to take advantage of this opportunity, share our experiences with other entrepreneurs, and continue growing our business with Microsoft at our side so that many others can get out there and experience the world in a Homegrown Trailer.
Updated February 28, 2017 1:40 pm