This post is part of our “Startup Stories” series – where we feature select Designli clients with the goal of highlighting their products, their inspiration, and what has motivated them to tackle the world of building a digital startup.
Willz Tolbert came up with the idea for Infill as a commercial real estate broker and developer. He wanted to build a technology-driven back office for his own company. The problem was that the software he was looking for didn’t exist. Infill will be officially launching in New York this October at the CREtech conference.
Tell me a bit about Infill. Can you share your elevator pitch with us?
Infill is a cloud-based, single-view operating platform for commercial real estate. It centralizes all of your processes, data, forms, and files into one place, enabling access to anything you need within seconds.
You can create templates, view project progress at a glance, collaborate with your team, and coordinate efficiently. Users will see immediate benefits from migrating offline processes and data online.
However, the real opportunity lies in our ability to integrate with other leading CRE software, giving users a single window with a panoramic view of their portfolio and allowing us to holistically analyze “built-world” data in a way that has never been possible until now.
What’s your origin story? How did your company come to be?
I started working as a broker right out of college, and after three years I went on my own to start Tolbert Property Advisors, focusing on investment sales and development. I wanted to build a technology-driven back office that enabled a remote staff in order to reduce my overhead. But I couldn’t find the software to do it. So I began conceptualizing the software, shared the idea with peers, and found out that many others in the industry shared the same unresolved pain points.
I realized that remote vs. local was not the problem because, either way, real estate teams are always on the go and face the same operational issues.
After working with Designli to get my idea out of my head, I found some awesome technical partners who bought into the vision. We have been working closely with local brokerages and private equity firms during our beta test and are excited to launch our marketable product at CREtech in New York.
How has your initial idea changed since you first started your business?
At first, I wanted to give customers access to a marketplace of vetted freelance service providers and vendors, combined with a platform to coordinate with the remote labor — kind of like Upwork meets Asana, but for commercial real estate.
After pitching the initial concept, it became clear that the idea was too complex and lacked focus. So I scratched the freelance marketplace aspect and focused on creating a solution that would solve the most pressing pain points for CRE professionals — something they would actually enjoy using every day.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running a company?
When you have ownership of your work, it changes the way you approach work. It no longer feels like work because you are solving a real problem and creating something of value.
When you start executing on an idea you are passionate about, you get an unexplainable new energy that makes you love Monday mornings. Oh, and I enjoy being able to wear whatever I want. My team will be able to wear whatever they want too. They can refer back to this interview to keep me honest, haha.
Who inspires you?
Personally, my dad who we lost to “early-onset” Alzheimers in 2015. He was an executive at Michelin for over 25 years, and was diagnosed at the peak of his career in 2010.
One day, my mom came back from a meeting with their new financial planner, and she said with relief “since you did such a great job investing and managing our finances, I won’t have to get a job to support our family!”
He said, “Great! So that means we can help other people!”
The disease stripped my dad of his physical and mental abilities but what remained was a person who cared more about the well being of others than himself. He inspires me daily to be a better person.
From an entrepreneurial standpoint, Richard Branson for his sense of adventure, audacity and incredible dedication to customer experience. I also admire his vast philanthropic efforts.
And Steve Jobs for his maniacal attention to detail and simplicity. I was impacted by his story in Insanely Simple.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
A fellow brokerage owner and developer approached me about merging with his company, so I told him about my plan to build a tech-enabled firm. He said, “Forget building a modern brokerage, create this software because everyone could benefit from it.” Starting a tech company has been a dream of mine, so it didn’t take much convincing for me to go all-in on making it happen.
What has been your biggest challenge when starting a business and what insights are you gaining from it?
The biggest challenge has been simplifying the product and keeping it focused. Not getting distracted by shiny objects.
Designli did an incredible job keeping me focused, in the SolutionLab process and through to an initial prototype.
I heard a great analogy on a podcast once: An idea is like blowing a bubble. It’s extremely delicate — it requires the right environment and precise breath to take shape. If you get it wrong in the beginning, then you’ll spend a lifetime piecing it back together.
Our development team that implemented Designli’s blueprint has a unique philosophical approach to how users interact with the product: the technical architecture acts as a funnel directing users in a linear path.
Our goal is to reduce clicks but more importantly reduce ambiguity. The less thinking required, the better. Anyone can create a complex product.
What advice would you offer to new startup founders or those who are in the early stages of starting a company?
Make sure you’re solving a real problem and there’s a market that will pay for your solution.
Also, everyone has ideas, but an idea isn’t worth anything without execution.
Lastly, I recently heard Serena Williams quote Billie Jean King saying that “pressure is a privilege.” I believe feeling pressure is a result of your responsibility to those who depend on you. The greater your responsibilities are, the greater your ability is to make an impact on people’s lives and the world.
Be grateful for the pressure that comes with being an entrepreneur and go create the future.
Follow Willz on his journey by visiting Infill on the web, at https://getinfill.com/
Ready to pursue your entrepreneurial dream? Contact our team to learn more about the app creation process, at https://designli.co/contact