Livegistics CEO Justin Turk on Building a Software Company in Detroit
Justin Turk, co-founder and CEO of Livegistics, has a family heritage in Detroit’s construction and contracting industry, a sector he hopes to help modernize through the use of a software startup growth company that he leads.
The Detroit-based company offers a cloud-based materials management system for contractors and businesses in the landfill industry that comes with GPS tracking, which can minimize paper usage and reduce fraud, loss revenue and lawsuits using real-time data analytics.
Turk’s family owned Turk’s Paving, at one time Detroit’s largest minority-owned contractor.
Livegistics recently closed a $6 million capital raise, which brought the company to a valuation of $27 million, according to Turk.
- While the company has seen positive growth over the past year or so, what are you learning as CEO and what kinds of challenges or issues are you encountering?
So over the last calendar year, we’ve grown by about 4X. So when you think about that kind of growth, not just in terms of revenue, but in terms of the number of people in our organization – and doing it mostly in a remote area…because we have people in multiple states – we’re doing this where we try to ensure that our mission statement and vision stay current.
So my job obviously is not just to lead the mission and vision of our organization, but also to make sure that the culture that we want it to continue to spread is reflected by everyone who comes in, regardless the part of the country where they are located. in.
- What are some examples of the culture you mentioned above?
We’re talking about building technology to have integrity in the system, (but) also have integrity within ourselves. And those are things that we’ve instilled in our core principles and our values are that people come into this organization because we think it’s a direct reflection not just of us but of what we think of the markets in the construction and the environment and on the future.
- What do you see as the value of the company headquartered in Detroit?
We always talk about opportunities in Detroit because it’s an infrastructure renaissance. So we talked about starting a building technology business (with a focus on) environmental impact (and) that’s a great place to start, because of the big projects we have going on in this region. We have amazing team members who hail from Metro Detroit. We have been able to recruit people from all over the country who want to work for a company headquartered in Detroit. They see the unique proposition we provide. They see a diverse group, and in our time in 2022, when many people are still working remotely, they have the ability to work wherever they want, and that appealed to them. So that’s something we’re very proud of.
- When you think about the industry you’re in – construction and landfill waste – why is this a ripe area for software innovation?
It has layers. What I would say first and foremost is an industry I’m very comfortable with. Twenty-five years in the construction industry, up to the level of vice president, I have made many great relationships, not only in Michigan, but in this region.
At the same time, I saw the impact of what technology can bring to the construction industry. (Construction) is one of our largest industries in the United States. So when you think about it from an opportunity perspective, the opportunity is definitely there. But at the same time, the impact is significant. When we looked at the ramifications of getting people in the construction industry to go digital — and it’s not just a business decision — once you start looking at how that impacts the environment .
- Livegistics closed a $6 million seed round last month from a handful of investors. Venture capital investment has been slow to materialize for black-owned startups and is only now beginning to pick up speed. How important do you think this investment is, along with the $1 million grant the company received last year through an initiative backed by musician Pharrell Williams?
Its very important. I can speak specifically to black-led businesses: when you talk about accepting venture capital money, we’re often unaware and uneducated because we’re not sitting at those same tables. It is not something that is part of our daily conversations in our home.
So to be able to take this investment from Black Ambition (Williams Group)… we had a lot of tools so that we could take our time and start asking the right questions so that we could position ourselves in the best possible scenario for this round, because the seed cycle prepares you for the growth of your organization. And if you don’t do it the right way, you’re going to have to unravel some things later, or you’re going to pay the price later. So being able to get all that value up front, ask the questions, and make sure we get the best possible terms for our organization. It’s part of education, and I think what’s missing is not money first, it’s not first and foremost. It’s that a lot of the minority-led founding groups are uneducated, and they’re not in the circle that gives them the opportunity to learn the good things you need to know to navigate this space. And it is a unique space to navigate.
- What advice would you give to others navigating the VC space?
First of all, you’re not taking anyone’s money. And I know that sometimes because people give you a check, you think that’s the right decision, and it’s not. We were very deliberate. We were very careful in the discussions we had with these venture capital companies.
- What will the next 12-24 months look like for Livegistics business?
We’ll be in landfills in all 50 states. We are also looking at recyclables and metal processing, so the facilities that Livegistics is in will grow exponentially. When it comes to clients and contracts using our platform, there is tremendous focus and opportunity in the Midwest. So first and foremost, we take care of the house, not only Michigan, but also Ohio and Indiana. When we talk about our entrepreneur platform, we will work both eastward and westward. And we expect these numbers to increase significantly, both on the side of contractors and truckers.
To learn more about Crain’s conversations, visit crainsdetroit.com/theconversation.