Given the climate these days to support black businesses and entrepreneurs, one might expect that Khalid David would have a call center running 24/7 to handle the avalanche of calls from investors looking to fund his business.
David, who is black, has developed a pioneering app that can save construction subcontractors from financial ruin. The app is proven and already being used by one of the biggest construction companies in the world. David knows the construction industry cold, having run a carpentry subcontracting business for several years. His educational bona fides are impressive: An MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, a civil engineering degree from Columbia, and a degree in applied physics from Morehouse College.
Yet, David says he isn’t feeling any more love these days from potential investors than before the Black Lives Movement took hold. He’s working as hard as ever trying to raise a modest $500,000 to fund product development and hire more sales staff for TracFlo, his New York-based software company. David says he hasn’t benefited from the movement to support black entrepreneurs because of a stereotype that even supposed progressives have of black businesses and entrepreneurs.
“There’s a widespread tendency to stereotype black businesses as restaurants, barber shops, and stores selling t-shirts, beads, and oils in predominately black neighborhoods,” David says. “The idea that a black entrepreneur could be responsible for developing game-changing software in the construction industry is difficult for some people to accept. Far too often, the expectation is that black technology companies develop products aimed at black consumers.”
David, who parents emigrated to the U.S. from the Caribbean, has never been someone to focus on race. He was taken aback when I asked him if minorities are underrepresented in the construction industry. After considerable silence, he replied, “That’s a really good question. I have no data on that.” (Minorities comprise about 20 percent of the construction industry workforce.)
David’s passion for the construction industry is readily apparent as he becomes quite animated explaining the intricacies and the finances of the business. He’d prefer to attract investors who appreciate his talents and insights and understand the game changing benefits of his app, rather than financiers who want to support him simply because he’s black.
“I’m one of the most talented persons period,” David says.
David literally learned the construction business from the ground up. As a boy his father gave him chores that involved rudimentary carpentry projects. As he grew older, his father taught him the intricacies of the trade. Eventually, David went on to start his own construction subcontracting business in New York City, where he was born and raised. He was the first person in his family to attend college.
David got the idea for his app while working at Turner Construction, where he focused on safety and cost control management. At Turner, David befriended Jacob Snyder, a technologist and designer who was working on developing software to streamline the change order process and electronically keep track of the records. David left Turner to attend MIT in 2017 and founded TracFlo while studying there.
(Full Disclosure: Jake Snyder is a friend and former colleague who introduced me to David. He is far and away the best designer I ever worked with. Snyder has a financial interest in TracFlo.)
One of the biggest challenges and risks in construction is change order management. Regardless of all the detailed architectural and engineering planning that goes into the design of a building, shit happens during the construction phase. That’s why all construction contracts come with additional fees built in to deal with unforeseen events, such as having to move a partition wall which then requires a reconfiguring of electrical wiring and other modifications.
So-called change orders are the bane of subcontractors, who are expected to accommodate unexpected work adjustments on demand and then file for reimbursement for the added expense. Construction sub-contractors trust they will ultimately get paid for the additional work they perform.
The problem is the construction industry is still very much a paper-based business, and change orders are often processed in carbon copy ticket books. This antediluvian process makes it difficult to readily track the changes and determine who approved them.
Sometimes the trail goes awry, and subcontractors are left holding the bag. A Boston electrical subcontractor who worked on the construction of Boston’s $2.6 billion Encore Boston Casino last year became financially imperiled allegedly because the building’s contractor delayed approving more than $30 million in change order work the vendor performed.
David says he’s never been preoccupied with his race in pursuing challenges. “I don’t carry around the burden of blackness and I don’t associate my challenges with my skin tone,” he says.
But some of David’s colleagues believe that he instinctively pushes himself harder to overcome barriers that he isn’t consciously aware of. While prepping his head of sales for a major meeting and driving him crazy to be cognizant of the most minute details, the white marketing executive told David he was being overly zealous.
“You have to let my white privilege work for us,” the executive said.
David is in the process of registering TracFlo as a certified minority business enterprise, which could provide him with additional opportunities to market the company. But ultimately, he says the company’s success will be predicated on the myriad benefits of its software to the construction business.
“I love and I’m committed to the construction industry,” David says. “I’ve worked in the business my entire life.”