Field Nation has made a fast-growing business out of connecting tech service companies with freelance technicians, but CEO Mynul Khan is thinking bigger. He believes the 7-year-old firm can be the “Amazon of work.” The company in 2015 acquired a key competitor, raised $30 million in investment, tripled its full-time workforce to 140 (55 at Minneapolis headquarters) and saw the volume of its transactions grow 65 percent. It rolled out a mobile app for contractors and is now offering its platform to companies who need software to manage their workforce. Khan spoke at the firm’s offices on the 18th floor of the AT&T Tower.
Q: What is a typical project that Field Nation helps get done?
A: What we do is on-site, on-demand work. We are in every Starbucks, every Walgreens, every Wal-Mart, every McDonald’s, but not working directly for them. We are working with the service companies that provide the infrastructure to those multisite companies. Most of the work that we do is IT or telecom hardware-related stuff. It’s installing point of sales in all Target locations, or installing ATMs in all Wells Fargo locations, digital signage at every Wal-Mart. That’s the kind of work that we do.
Q: You did more than $100 million in transactions in 2015. What’s your revenue from that?
A: We have multiple lines of revenue. When a project goes through the system, we process the payment for the contractors and we take a percentage — somewhere between 8 and 10 percent. But then we provide insurance on top of that to protect both sides if something goes wrong with the work that is done. We provide financial terms on top of that. We are also rolling out other types of insurance.
Q: What separates you from other online listings of contractors?
A: The way we curate the marketplace. Businesses don’t find technicians or contractors from Craigslist or Angie’s List, because the trust isn’t there. We have such a curated marketplace and a guarantee right behind it. That makes a huge difference for the companies. The companies that use Field Nation, they run millions of dollars of contracts through our platform. It takes one bad contractor to jeopardize an entire contract for them. The only way they can trust it is because we have all these components.
Q: You don’t get paid until the contractor gets paid. Why did you structure it that way?
A: It only works if we make both sides of the platform happy, and make them feel like they are winning. If you think about freelancers out there, one of their fundamental challenges is collecting payment. We wanted to make sure that we have skin in the game with our contractors. If they don’t get paid, we don’t get paid. We do it the same way for the buyer. If the work doesn’t get done, we don’t get paid.
Q: You talk a lot about creating the right culture at Field Nation. How?
A: Tens of thousands of freelancers make their livelihood through the Field Nation platform. We want to hire the top talent in terms of skill and experience, but at the end of the day we look for the people who have that conviction that we have a mission and we think we can be the Amazon of the freelance space, the Google of the freelance space. The category leader.
Q: Critics say the contractor economy makes workers dispensable. What do you think?
A: We’re changing something that’s been fundamental in our society for so long, and it will come with some pain, and that’s the pain that you hear about. But people should also talk about how these contractors are so excited to be their own boss, how they’re building businesses, otherwise they would stick with 8-to-5 jobs they don’t really like.
Q: How do you organize the input you get, and what’s the best way to get your attention with an idea?
A: Whether you’re Apple or Exxon, you still have limited resources and a ton of ideas. We have that here. We’ve got an extremely entrepreneurial team. Everyone has ideas. A lot of times an idea dies at the inception because, as you talk it through, you see that it has lots of holes. But Idea No. 1 gets revised to be Idea No. 2. It gets refined and gets better.
Q: What’s a typical day look like?
A: Like going from meeting to meeting.
Q: Oh man, that sounds terrible.
A: No, no, I think there is a misconception out there about meetings. It depends on how you run them. There must be a clear agenda, what do you want to accomplish, how, who are the stakeholders. Managers need to be meeting with people. Not only do I enjoy it, I think it’s absolutely necessary because it gives you a holistic view and then you get involved with every major function. One thing I do is I set aside 90 minutes before coming to the office, I call it a meeting with myself, from 5 to 6:30 a.m. That’s the time where I get done whatever work I need to get done individually.
Q: What’s a good book you’ve read recently?
A: The book I’m reading right now is “A Random Walk Down Wall Street.” My preference is nonfiction, but I don’t necessarily read all the business books. It could be anything. The next book I have queued up is “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?” It’s by Lou Gerstner, an ex-IBM CEO who was a turnaround CEO. He talks about how he did it. I skimmed through it, really excited to read it.
Q: It doesn’t directly apply to your situation.
A: No, but whether you’re running IBM or running a tiny company, there’s a lot of fundamental things. How do you pick people? How do you work with people? How do you set the strategy? How do you execute against a strategy? The magnitude is much bigger at IBM than at Field Nation, but if you don’t know how to execute at Field Nation, the issues are pretty similar if you can’t execute at IBM.
Q: And if Field Nation is going to be the Amazon of work then ...
A: Yeah, I better read that book.