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Built by Builders: Featuring Cliff Fetner of Soil Connect
Steve Dell’Orto • 21 Jun 2023

Built by Builders: Featuring Cliff Fetner of Soil Connect

Tune in to this Built by Builders episode with Cliff Fetner, Founder and CEO of Soil Connect. In this interview, Cliff and Steve discuss moving away from traditional tactics in construction and moving towards more a modern approach. As the former President of Jaco Builders, Cliff has spent decades perfecting his craft and working on a diverse range of projects, from multi-family residences to commercial real estate ventures.

The Built by Builders interview series by ConCntric features conversations with entrepreneurs who have construction backgrounds and have started technology companies to address the pains they have experienced in their construction careers. ConCntric’s Founder & CEO, Steve Dell’Orto, chats with guests about the importance of technology in the construction industry and discusses the various solutions being developed.

Watch the full Built by Builders video featuring our Founder and CEO, Steve Dell’Orto and Founder and CEO of Soil Connect, Cliff Fetner, here:

Steve Dell’Orto: Welcome to Built by Builders. This is a video series we’ve created highlighting construction professionals who have gone on to start tech companies to provide solutions for the construction industry. It’s very unique to have a solution that’s created by someone who’s actually experienced, learned and felt the pain points firsthand. I believe this is the kind of leadership that is needed to drive the industry forward. Today I am honored to be talking to Cliff Fetner, Founder and CEO of Soil Connect. Cliff, can you tell us a little bit about Soil Connect?

Cliff Fetner: First of all, thank you for having me, Steve. Soil Connect is a total soil management solution. We have developed a marketplace where we make it quicker, faster and cheaper for people to locate, transport and acquire soil and aggregates. We have 22 different types of dirt, aggregates, rocks, mulch, millings, and recycled concrete. Any materials you need to move and haul each and every day is what we have in our marketplace. We save time, we save fuel, and we save CO2. That is the core of what we do, however we have different products that are on our soil management solution including e-ticketing. Not to mention we are also working on a logistics model. Soil Connect is that one stop shop for any and all your dirt needs. When I look at us Steve, we’re not exactly rookies in the business. Both of us changed our careers on the back nine and so I’m curious, why did you change your career at this point?

Steve Dell’Orto: When you are working in the business of contracting, there’s no shortage of problems. The patterns and everything that I saw in our industry made me more passionate about the front end of the business, in the commercial contract space, the budgets and the design and the need for collaboration. I wanted to take processes to the next level, because right now it’s all very manual. Right now it’s highly dependent on the team and the individuals that you’re putting in place to guide that project. Sometimes you have an A player and sometimes you have a B player and I wanted to elevate the game so that everybody is operating more systematically, and really leveraging data the way it should be leveraged. I wanted to standardize processes and do the things that a lot of other industries have gone on to do in terms of digitizing and revolutionizing contexts. That’s not to say that the industry is doing it wrong and we’re replacing processes with something entirely different, it’s just about getting away from traditional analog ways of doing preconstruction. I left my career to take all of the lessons I learned over 26 years to make a change for the better, instead of banging my head against that same wall.

Cliff Fetner: I also come from the general contracting world, and to your exact point, it’s all about the planning. How long have you guys been at this now, Steve?

Steve Dell’Orto: At ConCntric we’ve been at it for a little over a year. We celebrated our one year anniversary on March 31st, 2023. We did a lot of prototyping and research just to make sure that once we went to market, our platform was validated from our customers perspective, not just my perspective.

Cliff Fetner: We’ve been at it for about four or five years now, and in that amount of time, we’ve noticed the conversations are getting easier. It’s much easier to have conversations than it was in the beginning. In the beginning, so many of the conversations revolved around “I’ve done it this way for so long. Leave me alone.” But now the conversations are, “Oh, you could do this? You can make my life easier by doing that?” So I think that’s what we are bringing to the table, Steve. We’re bringing the value of our experience out from the field and incorporating it into the technology. And quite frankly, I think that gives us instant credibility when we go out on a sales call. Have you experienced something similar?

Steve Dell’Orto: The fact that you and I are building a company to address these pain points, having lived them, naturally comes through in everything that we do. Even from the very first meeting when customers are first introduced to the product and the concept, instantly they know that we know what their pain points are—and oftentimes they’ll beat us to the punch. Just with a couple of questions, it’s clear that there’s no shortage of pain points they are experiencing. Sometimes the meeting is dominated with all of the different pain points they’re experiencing in preconstruction as well as in any other facets of what they do. When they actually see and use our platform, it instantly resonates with them and the feedback that we get—and credit to my awesome, very intuitive team—is that it’s addressing the very specific things that they need in order to perform all of the preconstruction processes in a much more streamlined way. The method is also not foreign to them as it’s very consistent with how they go about doing things now. Our customers are seeing that there’s a lot of time savings and that our platform is addressing the things that they need. To have the support of a platform that’s doing a lot of your work that you would normally need to do manually, automatically, it makes them recognize that their data can be repositioned in a much different way.

Cliff Fetner: You mentioned two very interesting words that I picked up on. You mentioned transparency and pain point. When we’re out there, pitching Soil Connect, we find that when the pain is so intense, that’s when we get instantaneous adoption because they need to solve that problem. That leads to transparency into what we’re really doing. How have we resourced and moved dirt from the beginning of time? Well, we get on the phone and we call everybody we know. The downside is, a lot of the time you don’t know where you’re bringing it to because you’re working through a third party. You don’t know where it’s coming or where it’s going, and it’s a little opaque. In today’s world, municipalities and agencies want to know where their dirt is coming from and where their dirt is going, so this opaque nature has to go away. We’re creating transparency in this old school market that’s never existed before. How do we do this? We do it quite simply by getting everyone and anyone who plays in dirt to come on our platform. Our biggest user is a heavy civil contractor, followed by developer general contractors because this group of guys know that dirt is not really dirt, it’s a commodity. When you look at dirt as a commodity, and not just something you go in the backyard and “play in” with the kids, it kind of takes on a whole different aspect. But in addition to those groups that we have, the asphalt guys, the landscapers, concrete guys, the road contractors and the quarries. And depending on what part of the country you’re in, we have farmers and ranchers. So when you take everybody I just mentioned and put them on the platform and let everybody see who’s moving dirt and when they’re moving dirt, that’s where we show transparencies that never previously existed. Which leads to quicker, faster and cheaper and more efficient operations. 

Steve Dell’Orto: I think there is no doubt that we are seeing exciting times for the industry. It’s rewarding to be able to have a fresh outlook and an opportunity to really change the industry we’ve invested our entire lives in but to do it for the broader industry and make things a lot easier and a lot better for everybody.

Follow ConCntric on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter, to stay up to date on when the next interview will go live. To demo ConCntric’s platform, click here.

Follow Soil Connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram to learn all about their exciting Saas-enabled marketplace for dirt and aggregates.

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