A Startup Idea Becomes Reality

Contractor Sherpa ready to go live in Montana after winning Startup Weekend in Missoula

By Molly Priddy
A screenshot from Contractor Sherpa.

Inspiration for a business can come from many corners of life. Perhaps there is a problem that doesn’t yet have a solution, or a hole in a market that no one has noticed.

Wherever it comes from, an idea needs to be recognized, and then acted upon in order for an entrepreneurial creation to come to fruition.

For Dustin Stewart, the idea for his new business, Contractor Sherpa, came from his everyday conversations.

As the executive director for the Montana Building Industry Association, Stewart was having two very different conversations regularly: He would hear about Montana contractors and their personable, successful ventures with their clients, and then he would hear the horror stories from people who had chosen the wrong contractor for a job.

With the MBIA, Stewart knows many of the state’s contractors and their abilities. But, he wondered, how do people not connected to the industry select the perfect fit for their projects?

“I wanted to find a way that we could connect homeowners who don’t know contractors the way I do with good contractors,” Stewart said.

That simple idea took root, though Stewart had no intention of pursuing it. He attended the Missoula Startup Weekend earlier this year in order to connect with people who specialize in web development and just check out the scene, but then found himself pitching his idea at the event.

Suddenly, he was on a nine-person team bent on making his idea a reality.

“In a 54-hour period we went from never having met before to developing a whole idea for a business and pitching it to a panel of judges in a full room,” Stewart said.

Contractor Sherpa, which gathers information about Montana contractors and helps pair them for free with people who want to work on a project, won the weekend, and will launch as a real business in Missoula and Bozeman on Sept. 1.

Many contractors would rather spend time at the job site or at a meet and greet than put in half an hour of blogging or updating their website, Stewart said. Contractor Sherpa does that work for them, listing their specialties and brief biographies to help connect them with the right projects.

“This is a real opportunity that exists out there and when it comes to web presence for contractors, integrating them into the system, they don’t have time for it because it’s such a long process,” he said.

People seeking out contractors go to the website, fill out a form outlining the project and their budget, and the website matches them with contractors in their area.

The homeowner then meets up with and interviews at least three of the selected contractors before choosing, Stewart said. Once the website gathers momentum, it will eventually incorporate reviews from people who have signed up to use the site.

Once the Missoula and Bozeman sites go live, Stewart said they will fine-tune the system before launching it throughout the rest of the state. But he hopes to have Contractor Sherpa up and live in Kalispell and other cities by October.

After that, it will be branching out to major cities outside the state.

Of the nine people who helped develop the Contractor Sherpa idea at the Startup Weekend, four wanted to pursue it after the weekend, Stewart said. So far, the work has been almost entirely computer coding and signing up contractors, he said, so it has been just him and Robert Reum.

But as the business gets moving, Stewart said he will be in touch with the other team members about participation.

Contractor Sherpa would not exist without the Startup Weekend, he said. Not only did the team develop the idea, but they also researched its real-world possibilities; for example, they chatted with shoppers at Home Depot about their contractor experiences and asked if they would use such a website.

Stewart encouraged anyone with an idea or the urge to be involved with a startup to attend the upcoming Glacier Startup Weekend in Kalispell on Sept. 19-21.

“Anyone interested in business or loves technology, they go and give it a shot. The enthusiasm you encounter there, the people that you meet, is very eye-opening,” he said. “Montana’s definitely full of that spirit that you’ve got to make your own way, and that goes hand in hand with entrepreneurship.”

For more information, visit www.contractorsherpa.com.

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