When Tommy Linstroth was 10 years old, he discovered an easy way to make money.
After school, he scoured local constructions sites for the aluminum cans workers tossed aside during the day. Then he’d bring his collection to the grocery store, exchange the cans for loose change, and walk home feeling like a genius.
That early lesson–that it’s possible to do ‘good’ and make money doing it–has become the north star of Tommy’s career. After 15 years in green construction, including becoming a LEED fellow, Tommy founded Shadow Labs company Green Badger to make the LEED certification process easier for everyone involved.
Can you walk us through the step by step process of launching Green Badger?
In 2004, I was the director of sustainability for a regional development company and we were one of the early adopters of committing that everything we built was going to be “green” using LEED certification.
I was involved in the first LEED-certified shopping center, the first LEED-certified McDonald’s. We ended up building up an internal consulting business because everyone was calling us up saying, “Well heck, how do you do this?
I then later spun off into my own consulting business and kept running into the same issue over and over and over again. Construction could go on for months, if not years. Literally [every day] from day one until the team handed the keys over to the owner, there was something that needed to be tracked, verified, documented–and it was all being done by hand.
If you screwed something up, you’re at risk of not earning the LEED certification, which at that time was contractually obligated to the contractor. Managing these processes by hand was just really, really, really labor intensive. And as a consultant, I was trying to do that across 10 to 20 projects at any given time. I started out looking for alternatives and there really weren’t any.
So I started building a tool that could manage one particular aspect. I said, “Okay. If I could just get a tool where a contractor could scan a can of paint and it would tell them, should I use this or shouldn’t I use this.” I had that built as a prototype, it was awesome! And once I had that, I was like, all right, well if we can do this, what else could we do?
It turns out you could manage the entire construction process for green certification through a software platform. That morphed into Green Badger and brought me where I am today.
Who is your end user, and how do they use Green Badger in their workflow?
We’re definitely a hands-on tool that the team uses once construction starts. That might be the superintendent, who’s got to document all of their site best practices–they can do so through the mobile app. Or a project manager who is managing all of the products that come in, verifying they meet all the requirements. It might be a project executive who is using it from a 30,000-foot view to make sure the project is staying on schedule and that there are not any inherent risks to miss the contractually obligated goals. The general contractor makes up about 85 percent of our customer base, the other 15 percent being some owners, some architects, and some consultants.
Why is green construction important to you?
It should be super important to everybody, right? We need buildings that are using less energy, less water. We need better, healthier places, as a society and as a human race.
A lot of times, by the time my clients get to it, they’re contractually obligated. So maybe they couldn’t care less about green buildings but it’s part of their contract and they’ve got to do it. Whether they are true believers in sustainability or they’re doing it out of a contractual obligation, doesn’t matter. To me, the end result is we’re ending up with greener buildings, which is good for everybody.
What is one thing you wish the industry at large knew about green construction?
You don’t have to just do everything because it’s the right thing to do. You can do it and profit and that’s what sustainability is, right? It’s people, planet and profit; it’s the triple bottom line.
Green construction certification does not have to be this labor intensive, time consuming, headache-inducing process. The biggest obstacle of why people don’t pursue green buildings is they think it’s just not worth the time and the hassle. That’s really why we exist. We are here to streamline and automate that process so that teams can focus on getting projects done on time and on budget and still end up with a sustainable building without having to break the bank.
What has been your biggest challenge as you grow and scale?
A lot of times we’re changing hearts and minds. We’re still in the process of convincing people that there’s a better way to do this. It’s not like we’re a different cell phone and we’re just saying, “Don’t use an Android, come use our iPhone.” We’re convincing them to put down the landline and pick up the cell phone. We have to convince the user group not just that our product is better than something else, but that they need to change their inherent practice of managing things by hand or by Excel, how they’ve done it for years and years, into a tech-enabled solution.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs in this field?
In construction, everyone’s constantly putting out fires. To be able to win somebody’s time to give him your pitch is challenging and can be daunting. So have your use case built, so that when you do get those five minutes with somebody, you can get it in front of them.
Really understand your audience and who you’re talking to. I wasn’t just a technologist who said, “Oh, there’s a problem in construction that I can solve” without understanding. I was fortunate to really know my audience and to know what their pain point was and to be able to appreciate their challenges in their day to day life. And I think that helps us with our credibility. We do truly understand our audience, their headache, and how our solution can fit in with what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis.
In five years, what does Green Badger look like?
I often compare us to a Turbo Tax of LEED. Just like the tax code changes every couple of years, LEED does too. It gets more stringent and it gets more complicated. So I think there’s always going to be a need for a technology that can help automate that process.
Five years from now, Green Badger has got the opportunity to continue doing what we’re doing and it’s going to be on a much broader scale. It’s going to be on an international scale, and we’re going to be able to continue to solve the LEED certification problem as well as expand our offerings. We’ve got all sorts of of cool things that are not quite ready to talk about in the market yet that we think we can expand to even beyond green buildings. We’re excited to continue to pursue those and I think in five years, we’ll hopefully be firmly entrenched in the construction tech community and in our client base to solve a number of needs they’re going to have.