Conducting a successful lighting audit is no simple feat. But in an industry where time equals money, the most savvy auditors are always looking for ways to streamline the process for greater efficiency. Some even go so far as software design in an attempt to create their own custom tool that can quickly resolve the most common problems they face.
But that’s no simple thing, either. Just ask Ty Clark, the founder of LightBids. LightBids is a lighting audit software Ty developed in his quest to help auditors overcome the most common challenges they face on the job. The lessons he learned in the process are invaluable for anyone thinking of going down the same path.
After nearly a decade in business, Ty has decided to focus his attention on Bay Efficiency – an energy-efficiency company that helps commercial buildings get into compliance with energy audit and energy benchmark regulations, with an eye toward maximum energy savings. I recently sat down with Ty to ask about his experiences across the two companies, the lessons he has learned along the way, and his advice for auditors.
JEFF: Thanks for joining me today, Ty. I’d love to hear more about why you started LightBids in the first place.
TY: I think that decision shows my own naivete, to some degree — I was so naïve about how much work it would take to build a viable product. But I saw a real need in the market. Lighting audits are so complex, and I think auditors are very open to finding a tool that helps make the process more efficient.
At the same time, they’re not experts at purchasing software. Why should they be? But that lack of expertise means they’re sometimes settling for tools that are incomplete. I wanted to create something comprehensive enough to handle all the real-world applications auditors encounter.
JEFF: How long did that take you to complete?
TY: I wouldn't say it ever reached a state of "completion". Software takes years of development and a huge investment of money -- particularly for a niche marketing like lighting.
JEFF: So not something you’d recommend auditors try to do on their own?
TY: No, not at all. I think there’s a misconception that audit software is simple, so it should be quick to develop. The truth is that it’s a huge commitment of time, and that’s when it’s your full-time job. It’s a never-ending process of discovering new things you need your software to do.
If you’re a contracting company thinking about lighting audit software, it makes so much more sense to buy something that’s already been developed, that already works, than to try to develop your own.
JEFF: It’s not where the money is.
TY: Exactly. Creating your own software prevents you from growing sales and winning contracts because your resources are so heavily tied up in development. The irony is that while you’re trying to create this tool to help you do more business, your competitors are beating you in the market because they’re using software they purchased.
JEFF: Does it have to be purchased? There are free tools out there, or digital spreadsheets. Why not use those?
TY: You get the return when you invest. You have to remember, with software on the “freemium” model, it’s usually driven by ads. You’re not the customer; rather, you’re the product they’re selling to advertisers.
Spreadsheets, on the other hand, might seem like a cheap option at first, but they lead to all kinds of problems in the long run. Spreadsheets are a good way to introduce errors into your audits, and they can cause other expensive mistakes. They also turn into a time sink, since you constantly have to fiddle with them to adjust them to the needs of the job.
The other problem with spreadsheets is that it’s hard to bring in other people. If that’s your tool, then you’re always the one doing the work. How can you possibly scale your business? You need software that can support other users so you can keep growing your business.
JEFF: What should people look for if they’re shopping around for lighting audit software?
TY: First, will it actually help you win more business? One of the things I love about SnapCount, for example, is that it’s designed in accordance with the selling principles of industry masters like Mark Jewell. Right from the jump, it’s designed to help you sell.
The other question to ask is how is this software evolving? There will always be changes in the industry, or new challenges that pop up during audits. Does the software approve and adapt? Or will it be exactly the same tool in 10 years?
That’s another thing I really like about SnapCount. It’s constantly being made better based on the feedback of thousands of real-world users. So once you buy in, you’re benefitting from the experience and wisdom of all those auditors who came before you.
If you want to accelerate the growth of your business, you should be using that kind of tool.
JEFF: That’s high praise coming from a former competitor.
TY: I spent a long time in this industry. I can tell people from first-hand experience how complex it is to design, develop, and launch this kind of software, let alone to keep refining it to be better and better. And from my perspective, I feel completely confident recommending SnapCount to anybody that’s going to be installing lighting projects.
Good software simplifies extremely complicated things. You look at a tool like SnapCount, and it seems simple at first, but it’s like an iceberg — once you peek under the surface, you realize there’s so much more there. That’s what you need when you encounter complexity during an audit — a tool that’s ready for anything.
JEFF: And you think that’s SnapCount?
TY: I do. As human beings, I think people naturally tend to think about discrete tasks, rather than taking a holistic approach. So we get very focused on the problem at hand and how we’re trying to solve it.
But as a systems designer, my skill is thinking holistically. Stepping back to see the big picture and to understand that those “edge cases” people encounter aren’t really as unusual as we’d like to believe. A lot of my development process was spent trying to identify those challenges and create software that could handle them.
You guys have already done that. You started with a great tool and refined it based on hundreds of thousands of hours of user experience. For someone else to get to that level would take such an investment of time, energy, and money — it just doesn’t make any sense. Why reinvent the wheel when you can use SnapCount right now?