• Fleetpal - The DL S4E6

    Fleetpal - The DL S4E6 is now available on your favorite podcast app! 

    In this episode of The DL, Diesel Laptops’ Founder and CEO, Tyler Robertson, is joined by Mike Valnev, CEO & Co-Founder of Fleetpal.io

    Fleetpal is a commercial vehicle maintenance software designed to replace paper work-orders and confusing spreadsheets with a language everyone on your team can understand.

    As always, thank you for watching and listening!

    Connect with Mike Valnev & Fleetpal:

    LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikevalnev/

    Website - https://fleetpal.io/

    Listen on your favorite podcast streaming platform below:

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    Transcript for Fleetpal - The DL S4E6:

    Tyler Robertson:

    Hey, everyone. This is actually someone I met five years ago. I mean was out of my garage. I was in my first real non back of the photography studio rental place, and I found this guy on LinkedIn talking about building this site that connects people that are broke down with people that need repairs. Started talking to him. He ended up flying from the northeast down to South Carolina. We spent the day together. It was great to get to know the guy. But this is a great story about someone that immigrated here from Eastern Europe and didn't even speak English when he got here. And now he has a very successful job that he does for somebody else. But he's also in his spare time and money been building this new business of his. He definitely has a dream and a passion.

    I think he's like most of us in software. You start with something and where you end up are two different places and you learn a lot. A lot of us building these things don't come from software. So we don't know how to build it or best practices or even the questions to ask and we learn along the way, and unfortunately a lot of times it costs us a lot of money and doing those things. But it's part of the journey. And that's what I really love about Mike is he's very, very passionate about what he's doing here. I think he's created a great product. So if you're a fleet owner that owns mainly over on the smaller side of fleets, he's got a great product that I think would really help you. It's not super expensive and it does give you a little more insight, a lot more insight into everything going on in your company.

    So with all that said, I really hope you enjoy the episode. Mike's a great dude. Follow him on LinkedIn, check out their website, and I'll let you get going and watch the interview.

    Welcome to the DL everyone. I am your host, Tyler Robertson, also the CEO and founder of Diesel Laptops, and the podcast show you're listening to, we get to talk about everything going on in the diesel powered equipment space, trucks, off highway equipment. We even get into marine. Heck, we even do automotive. Sometimes we do power sports, all kinds of interesting things.

    So as you know, business I definitely love. I love my business, I love my industry, and I love entrepreneurship. So it's really cool when you're able to meet people that kind of intersect and cross and do all these things. So I want to introduce you to Mike with Fleet Pal.io. So Mike, welcome to the podcast, man.

    Mike:

    Thank you. Thank you for having me.

    Tyler Robertson:

    I mean we've actually known each other. You got to see me in the little building that I had before way back in the middle of Lexington. So it's been a bit of a journey and everything so it's a pleasure to get you on the show and everything. I would love if people would get your background a little bit because I know you know trucks. You're not like a software guy just coming in saying, "I got a solution." I see that all the time. You're more of a guy that's been here around trucks and truck repair a little bit. So can you give a little background on yourself just to set the stage for everyone?

    Mike:

    So my name is Mike and I think my story starts when I came to US back in 2005. I started a job as a truck driver back then and I didn't know much about trucks. The company that I was working for started growing and they offered me to become a fleet manager of about 40 trucks. And I took the job and I started interacting with dealers, repair shops, drivers and I felt the need to learn more about the maintenance and I had to come up with a system of maintaining the whole thing. The company started growing pretty fast. So we got to about 150 trucks pretty quick and we had to open up in-house repair shop. Right? Now I have to interact with mechanics, parts, vendors and I have to change strategy of how we... And now we needed software. We bought a system that cost us a six figure number and took a lot of time to implement and start using it.

    We had to pay a lot of money for onboarding and training. The company kept growing and at this point we had about 500 trucks and 800 trailers and everything was fine until management started asking the big questions about numbers and stuff. So I was like, "Oh my god, even if you have a good system, you need to be able to set it up correctly." That led me to a place where I really needed to get a help from somebody and I didn't know where to turn. So I started talking to our dealer that sold us the equipment, and you know what the dealer usually says, right? They want to sell you the equipment, but that's about it.

    I talked to the software provider. They were like, "You know what? We sold you the software. If you need more training on the software, but we cannot help you with strategy or anything." So I was really hoping and I wish there was somebody to help me out here.

    I always liked computers in the past when I was younger and now being in the industry, I kind of got two and two together and I wanted to automate some of these processes because I keep seeing repeating process and all the problems that I faced as I was growing through my career... I always thought that there's got to be an easy way to do these things. So that's how I got to where I am today. Of course there is-

    Tyler Robertson:

    So I got a lot of questions here. Okay, so first of all I only speak English, and I deal with people from China, Italy, Spain. We all speak English. But did you speak English before you got here or was that something you had to pick up once you got here? What was that like?

    Mike:

    No, it was very hard in the beginning. I had to learn on my own, and pretty much being on the truck I was driving for three and a half years. There's not a lot of talking there so it was very hard for me. I didn't start actually learning until I get off the track and started working as a fleet manager, and again, talking to all the vendors, everybody. The business actually that I was working for gave me the opportunity to learn a lot of things, and at one point I was in charge of running the whole maintenance operation, purchasing vehicles. Actually one of the latest deals that we closed was 250 vehicles. So you can imagine the amount of money that was involved in the whole thing.

    So I kind of see the business of all the different perspective, which gives me a better vantage point or better understanding of the whole ecosystem. So that helps me a lot to actually translate that knowledge into the product that we are building.

    Tyler Robertson:

    So I mean that's just amazing though. You come all the way over here, you start as a truck driver, you speak little or no English and now we're sitting here obviously a little bit later in the future. That was 2005ish I think you said. We're sitting here in 2022.

    Mike:

    Yeah.

    Tyler Robertson:

    But I mean now obviously you're doing well at your job, you're building Fleet Pal, you got things going on. So if that's not the story people love to hear, but I mean it just shows though people with ambition and a little bit of drive, and some ideas and finding some problems in the market, because that's really what you described there was, I had a problem and the solutions all sucked. That's really-

    Mike:

    Pretty much.

    Tyler Robertson:

    ...what you were saying. So did you know anything at all about software development at that time or was it like, "Okay, I want to go build a thing," and you found someone to help you? Where did you go once you knew, "Okay, I got to do something here to make a better solution"?

    Mike:

    I really just had a basic understanding, technical understanding, but I didn't know much about it and that's how I met one of the co-founders of Fleet Pal, which currently holds the role of CTO. I think we perfectly clicked because that was the missing piece that we needed. We needed somebody to invest time and knowledge into the project because I was thinking, "Let's first outsource, let's hire somebody to do it." But we quickly understood that that's not going to deliver good product. We needed somebody full time, somebody that understands the problems, and we really started from scratch, and we made a lot of mistakes on the way. We made tons of mistakes.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Oh, trust me. I make them too.

    Mike:

    And we probably still do, but we are learning from each and every mistake. We're now focusing on operation, we're now focusing on process, how to do more with less and all this. So I'm learning every day. Now I know a lot about software as well, right?

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah.

    Mike:

    I go over all over the place. I need to because I hold the role also of a product owner. Basically we write all the description and what the product needs to be and that needs to be translated to the developers on the other side because they don't need to know about the problems that we want to solve on this level. So it's all about communication, it's all about team, good people, and it's very hard. It's all about building the right culture. So we keep working on it and I think we're finally seeing that Fleet Pal is turning into a great product, something that I always wanted. I'm proud of it, I'm proud of my team, so can't wait to share with the rest of the world.

    Tyler Robertson:

    So when I first met you, I mean, God, that's got to be five years ago now, maybe four years ago.

    Mike:

    Probably-

    Tyler Robertson:

    Covid's been like two years. I don't even know anymore. The years are clicking by. Okay, my company's seven years old, yeah. However the math works there, it was a while back, but I think when I first met you, Fleet Pal was... It was almost almost a locator, like a truckdown.com or a place to find service work. Was that kind of the initial thought when you first did Fleet Pal or was it more than that at that point? I'm trying to remember.

    Mike:

    Well, we always wanted to build a product that connects all the players in the industry, the ecosystem. But in the beginning that seemed like a big, big project for us. So we were trying to figure out how to build a skateboard. We starting small and then expand, and we thought that was a low hanging fruit for us. Get some people on board, start building the directory for breakdown repairs, and just start connecting the two points and build the software on top of it. And of course that was one of the mistakes that we made because we kind of started from the side of the problem and we wanted to get back in the middle where first we have to set up your operation to understand where exactly fleet maintenance is, how does it work? Then we realized that breakdowns is just a small piece of the whole operation. It's just the part that you handle outsourced or emergency breakdown maintenance.

    And thank God, actually up until that point I was really trying to figure out what didn't work and one of your team members reached out to us and was like, "Hey guys, let's meet." And that was probably the thing that kept me going because the minute somebody actually reached out and appreciated the work that we did, it really pushed me forward. And here I am now still working on it with much better products. So it's amazing.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah, no, it's a grind with anything and in getting that feedback from strategic partners, customers, vendors, it's always super helpful. So today, Fleet Pal.io, I'm assuming it's built today for fleets. If you had to give some bullet points, what is it actually... what value... Why would a fleet have this software? What does it actually do for them? How does it help them?

    Mike:

    So Fleet Pal is a SaaS company designed to revolutionize the modern fleet maintenance industry. We're digital first, and we provide free solutions for fleet maintenance, fleet managers who are still using pen and paper reporting to maintain their vehicles. And that can create a whole range of vehicle health and safety issues, and for those users, and not only we offer free solution designed to provide enhanced vehicle reporting to minimize downtime and maximize both efficiency and safety on the road. That's a big thing now.

    I mentioned back that we researched a lot about maintenance, but we started looking into what the big companies are doing. So we talked to a lot of consultants, maintenance professionals, so we can understand what's in the core of the vehicle maintenance and reporting. And we realized that most of the small guys, most of the small fleets don't use VRMS, and they're trying to create their own system of vehicle management. They try to do their own setup just like the way I was trying to do my own, and they made a lot of mistakes because of it.

    And we felt that this segment of fleet was incredibly underserved. So we invented Fleet Pal to make it available for everyone to be more affordable, and you can use it either if you're 500 vehicle fleet or one vehicle, if you're doing your maintenance that way. And by allowing more fleets to meet the VRMS standard in a free and easy way, we bring vehicle health, efficiency, and safety to the forefront of both small and large fleets everywhere.

    Talking about the problems, I would go on the top, when you look at the big picture, I like to identify the problem as being industrial revolution for comparable. And what does that mean? We know the industry has changed a lot and continues to change, and in order for businesses to stay relative and competitive, they have to step up their game because the industry demands data, it demands visibility. So how do you do that? How does a small business compete with the big guys out there? Tyler, you have done pretty much the same with these laptops, right?

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah, I think we're taking a similar strategy here. So what I heard you say there was, there's fleets with pen and paper managing these things. And for an outsider to hear, what do you mean a fleet's running millions of dollars of equipment, and they're using pen and paper to manage it? I believe that because I know repair shops are using pen and paper and carbon forms to do billion dollar operations, and this is the reality of this B2B space that we're in this fragmented industry.

    So I think it sounds like, I'm assuming, you're taking a similar approach because you're right, I'm competing against billion dollar competitors. Bosch, Snap On, household names essentially, right? You're, I'm assuming, competing against the trembles and these big, huge guys out there that have 5,000 employees and no end of resources. So for us it was the same thing. Like, oh, well, they're focused, these big guys are focused on big customers. I'm going to go help the small guy and be like, "What problems do you have?"

    Mike:

    Absolutely.

    Tyler Robertson:

    "And let's give you an affordable solution. You don't need the hundred thousand dollar Cadillac." You said you spent a hundred thousand dollars at the company you were working with.

    Mike:

    Yeah.

    Tyler Robertson:

    And they probably didn't need a hundred thousand dollar solution. It was probably way overkill if I had to guess. Maybe it expanded, they grew into it. But you see that so often with software companies that have products. I mean, I could look at our CRM software. I didn't start with Salesforce. I mean it's the Cadillac of CRMs. But before that I was on HubSpot. Before that I was on Pipe Drive and before that I was using spreadsheets. It's just you got to right fit the solution for you. So is that part of the strategy? Go find those smaller-

    Mike:

    Absolutely. Focus on that segment because as I mentioned, we think they're underserved, and when you look at that segment, it's bigger than any other segment in the industry, right?

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah.

    Mike:

    The small businesses, the small fleets, they make the bigger part, and they're moving America, right? They're moving the stuff that we need and now the trucks are even more, they're on the spotlight because with time everybody expect their things to just show up magically in front of their door. So in order to keep these fleets relevant and stay on business, they have to have the right tools to do that.

    You mentioned value props. I think Fleet Pal is bringing two new or first in the industry. One of the things that we bring first is the paperwork order or paper event. So what that does we allow you to house or enter in your system unlimited units.

    So most of the competitors do units per month or they, they'll do users per month. We have unlimited units, unlimited users. We want you to take full advantage of the system by having your whole team on the platform. And we want you to have your whole fleet. Companies throw out money because they have a lot of equipment that... Trailers, for example. Trailers sits there, gets charged five or $6 a month, but you service it once three months. So why would you have to pay so much money to have that equipment and manage it there? So with us, we save you money right there. That's one of the things.

    The second first that we bring in the industry, and I'm very proud of it because it really came from my team and designers, we're the first company in the field that is mobile first design. Our UX and UI is designed to be worked on mobile, and then we blow it out to the different resolutions, which is great. We have a lot of frontline workers doing fleet maintenance. It's very important for them to be mobile. So we focus on that and we deliver truly video, mobile fleet maintenance solution.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Well, I've seen your software. I've demoed it. I know some of our employees have been through it and everything. I can tell the listeners, and hopefully we'll get some stock footage and kind of throw it into this as the video portion's playing, but it was clean interface, easy to use. And I think you're thinking about it right. Like, hey, let's make it a simplified business model. Let's not make it overly complicated. Let's make sure it's affordable. And you guys did it right with mobile first. Everything's going mobile, people want to do things on mobile devices.

    I know we just launched last year our first ever mobile diagnostic tool, which is crazy, turning your phone into a diagnostic tool, but it's the world we live in today and we just finally got stock back in and it's flying off the shelves. So I know people want to use that...

    I mean, let's face it, this is like a $1,300 computer sitting in my pocket all day long. They actually got some processing power. It's not 1999 anymore. So it is amazing what you can do with those things. And long as you have the mentality of using that first, you can make a beautiful interface that works pretty much anywhere.

    So you're sitting here today, you got a software program for people. First of all, is it available to buy right now for people or are you demoing it for people or where are you at in the cycle of the product? I guess.

    Mike:

    We have a minimum viable product that is out there and available. We have currently two plans. Our early access plan that includes a lot of free tools, forever free tools that fleet managers can use. And we also have Flip Out Pro, which includes work order management. That's available right now. You can go out and try it out for free. That's something that we really wanted to do is actually shorten the path that I explain in the past by buying a solution.

    We like people to come and try first before they make a decision. So we would give them free work orders for them to try it out, to try the system, see if it works. It might not work for them, they might not like it. We don't want them to commit before that, and which ultimately keeps us trying to get better. So that's one commitment that we make. We got to give it to the people. If they don't use it, we got to find the problem. We're going to talk to them, we take their feedback and make it even better so we can solve their problem. It is available and people can get on it now.

    Tyler Robertson:

    So what size fleet? Is this for a guy that has one truck or 10 trucks or a hundred trucks? Where do you think your core market is today that you want to go after? I mean, you can't be everything to everybody, obviously, right?

    Mike:

    Yeah. I think anybody that wants to become digital, that wants to understand analytics and where the fleet is standing, we are heavy on analytics and numbers. So if you cannot answer to simple question like how much you spend per mile for maintenance or for tires or how much you spend for scheduled repair or non-scheduled, how much you outsource versus you don't? All these things, if you cannot answer and you need to answer these questions, you're probably good fit to use Fleet Pal. That's where you start.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah, no, I mean, heck, it sounds like my dad could probably use it with his mixer trucks. I was trying to ask him the other day, I'm like, Dad, well, what... He's like, "Well, I know what we cost per mile on the annual income." I'm like, well, which trucks? Which ones? Do they have high miles? What make? He wasn't able to slice it up at all and understand really beyond, we spent X dollars on repairs last year. I'm like, well, was that tires? What was it? What was it?

    Mike:

    Yeah, you don't know.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah, he had no idea.

    Mike:

    And not only find the baseline, but then once you have the data it helps you make better decisions and plan a little better. So that's where actually the actual saving comes from.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah, no, hey, as a business owner, I totally get it. I went from, we just transitioned from QuickBooks online and this other inventory system to NetSuite and I'm like, I had to ask the question, how do I get my half million dollars back here? Because it seems like a big, big upcharge. And that's what it really came down to was I have better data, I can make better decisions, we can be more efficient at our jobs. It doesn't take 10 minutes to process something anymore. It was just all those things you don't typically measure inside your business, but you also know if you have those things you can grow your business and know what's going on. Figure out the foundational stuff today. Right?

    Mike:

    Absolutely. And for every business that wants to scale, they have to set up correctly from the beginning.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah, no, man, I think I got that tattoo about eight times on me. Just go grow and I'll deal with it later. And then it whacks me aside the head twice. And, hey, by the way, you made that comment earlier too about making mistakes, man, I have been there. We're on V three, four, and five as some things around here just because we keep having to zig and zag and redo things that we've made. I think I've made... I'll blame myself. I think I've made every software mistake you can make. And finally, I just hired a bunch of people that are really smart and can go do it. So I'm like, perfect. Here's the ideas. Go build these things.

    So Mike, it's been great having you on here. We're definitely going to put your link in the show notes and all those things. Give you those nice link backs. Help you with your SEO stuff too, I'm sure, which we all care about. But if people want to get ahold of you or Fleet Pal, how would they go about doing that?

    Mike:

    I think the best way to reach out to me is via email. My email is mike@fleetpal.io. I'm also on LinkedIn, but really, hit me up on my email. I try to respond as soon as possible and that's the best way to get one on one connection with me. Also, you can find information on our website, Fleetpal.io.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Well, Mike and I know we're friends on Facebook too, and I see a lot of good stuff going on in your personal life. So man, seriously, it's just a great story, coming on over here, not knowing English, driving a truck. Now you have a successful career, you got a business going, you got a family going. You got a lot going on, man. Best of luck to you the future.

    Mike:

    Living the dream.

    Tyler Robertson:

    Yeah, living the dream. I love it.

    Mike:

    Yeah.

    Tyler Robertson:

    I love it. So with that, we're going to call this one an episode here. So again, thank you for watching. Thank you for listening. Like, comment, share, subscribe, whatever, whatever all you guys are doing now on all these social media platforms, keep on doing it for us. We appreciate it. And it's not just diagnostics, it's diagnostics done right. And that applies to fleets as well. And you need software to manage all these things in your fleet. So check out FleetPal.io. We'll see you on the next one.

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    Ariel Ifill

    Ariel Ifill is an Internet Marketing Specialist for Diesel Laptops where diagnostics are done right. She has a bachelor's degree from the University of South Carolina. Go Cocks! In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, hiking, and cooking.

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