Local App Developer Has Seen Regional Entrepreneurship Grow in Recent Years
It takes a certain amount of trial and error to be an entrepreneur.
Just ask Edwin Williams.
His latest app, ZenHammer, is a pivot from his previous product, Perserbid, which was designed to help homeowners and contractors to find each other and manage payments.
“Long story short, it didn’t work out like we thought it would,” Williams said. “We were in the process of calling it quits, and contractors in the area who I had worked with they were telling me that I didn’t quite have it.”
They suggested a different approach: Instead of help getting customers, contractors needed help managing their customers. Compared to other apps on the market, Williams said, contractors wanted a management system that was simpler to use and had a better user interface.
After talking to his advisers and other friends in the entrepreneur community, they decided to focus on the contractor-side of Perserbid, mapping out a platform that would eventually become ZenHammer.
The app helps contractors manage their workflow, track critical items, and simplify communication and invoicing. The app has two other co-founders: Matthew Mayfield and Robert Pryately. They’re planning a larger launch event in the summer.
Williams said the app now has a little more than 30 users, and they’re averaging about two to three signups a week. He’s expecting those numbers will continue to grow.
Before Perserbid, Williams was working on another product through a company called GetFit Gadgets, which he started while he was living in St. Louis.
It offered a smart fitness ball that could hook onto dumbbells or link into cable machines and help people modulate their workouts, which was designed to be manageable through an app. The project, however, ultimately ran out of money.
“I guess the consolation prize is that somebody else apparently came up with that exact same idea and is selling it,” he laughed.
He returned home to Johnson City, where he grew up, to regroup and work on Perserbid.
Williams is now a member of a growing startup community in Johnson City, where he helped co-found Startup Tri-Cities. The group serves as an entrepreneur support organization and recently rebranded as a nonprofit called FoundersForge.
Startup Tri-Cities brought awareness to local startups through an event called Pitches and Pints, a competition that serves as an opportunity for entrepreneurs to sell their ideas to a panel of judges for the chance to win prize money.
FoundersForge is now planning a revamped version of that event called Pitchers and Pitches, which will occur on May 6 at the Johnson City Doughboys ballpark.
Entrepreneurship has become more prevalent in Johnson City since Williams returned in 2013 — back then, he said, many people he met didn’t even know what a pitch competition was.
“Everything has become much more organized, much more ubiquitous,” Williams said. “We’re seeing more entrepreneurs, we’re seeing more interaction in the community, more help.”
He expects that many local startups working today could end up becoming large companies over the next five to 10 years.
Williams said he knew he wanted to start his own business, but he didn’t initially know how. In St. Louis, he ended up hanging out with a bunch of entrepreneurs, who pushed him to start GetFit Gadgets.
His interest in the software side came when his mom years ago had a bad experience with a bathroom remodel.
“I was like, ‘Well I think I can figure this out,’” he said, deciding to build a platform to help her find contractors.
At the same time, he was hearing horror stories from friends who were contractors about bad clients and realized he may be able to kill two birds with one stone.