On this week’s podcast, Marcus sits down with Matt Gray, a local entrepreneur. Hopping from country to country traveling with his first job out of school, Matt was inspired by an award winning author to create something new of his own! Listen to this week’s episode to hear all about Leveld! You can find this episode on MobileAL.com, Spotify, or iTunes.
Matt: Hey, I'm Matt Gray, founder of Leveld.
Marcus: Awesome, Matt. Well it's good to have you on the podcast.
Matt: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Marcus: Yeah, absolutely. So we'll get into a little bit about what Leveld is here in just a minute, but to get started, why don't you tell us the story of Matt. Where are you from? Where did you go to high school? Did you go to college? Married? Anything else you want to share with the audience.
Matt: Well I'm a simple creature for the most part. So yeah, I grew up in ... born in Alabama, actually born up near Birmingham, spent a lot of my childhood in Alabama, grew up just out in West Mobile, I actually grew up in Mississippi, West Mobile was always our home.
Marcus: That is considered West Mobile by now, right?
Matt: Yeah, well you know, some people argue that, right?
Marcus: [crosstalk 00:00:51]
Matt: Yeah, yeah. So I grew up in Mississippi, all my family is there. Went to school there in Mississippi, near Hattiesburg, I actually graduated high school there, little small town called Purvis, Mississippi, and from there, went to school at Mississippi State University, got my engineering degree. Mechanical Engineering is my background, so the tech venture and all of the things that I'm diving into here with Leveld has been new for me. But yeah, I'm a single entrepreneur if you will. I've spent a lot of my early career, early life traveling the world. My first career out of college took me abroad to about nine different countries, so I spent the first three to four years living out of a suitcase if you will. So just kind of traveling around. I spent a lot of time in Asia and Africa, and made my way back here to Mobile about a year and a half ago, to this area, and started trying to figure out what's next for Matt, what's next in the journey. So I kind of came up with the concept of Leveld, and it started getting really rooted here in this area, here in Mobile on the eastern shore, so this has just kind of been where I set up shop if you will.
Matt: Spending all of my time here, so. I'm calling it home if you will. I'm putting down a flag.
Marcus: Yeah. I know you ... I mean, when we talked originally, you had mentioned that you were doing a lot of traveling and stuff-
Matt: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Marcus: So I'm glad to hear that some of that's calming down, because I know that as Leveld kind of grows, that the focus you're going to need to have is ... traveling is not going to mix well with that.
Matt: Sure. Well there's a good bit of personal time that you could use there that works well for you. I get a lot of my inspiration, a lot of the great ideas I've had, I've learned from abroad, my travels abroad, but yeah, absolutely. It's imperative I guess at this point, when you're trying to launch a business or a company or anything like that, you really have to spend a lot of your time and focus in the business and not so much in airports and traveling, so it's got its balance for sure, so yeah.
Marcus: So tell us about Leveld.
Marcus: What is it? What do people need to know?
Matt: So when I kind of brand it to people and people who have no idea what we're doing, I pitch it as we're just like Airbnb, but for tools and equipment. So granted, I'm not licensed to use Airbnb as a reference or their name, but we're taking that platform and we've kind of put our own little spin on it. We've innovated a little bit in trying to implement that type of marketplace, peer to peer interaction, into a new industry that really hasn't had much of that yet. If any yet. So Leveld is an out based marketplace, essentially, where we bring together two people who have a problem. We have, on one side, we have people who have tools, equipment, whether it be large equipment, small equipment, lawn equipment, whatever that is, might have that in their house, their garage. We tend to find, or at least I have so far, where you have a lot of angry spouses who said, "Oh, I've got a garage full of stuff that I would love for my spouse to get out there and get out of our way." So you have these people who have a lot of inventory that's not being utilized. They spend a lot of money, it's being used a few times a year, and it's just kind of thrown out of the way, right? Out of sight, out of mind. So that's one side of the fence. On the other side of the fence, we have people who need items throughout the year to do projects around their home, whether it's a DIY project or some kind of larger undertaking that they've decided to do themselves-
Marcus: Renovating a potential office space.
Matt: Renovating, right. Building a new office space, absolutely. Just like you. After this is over, hit me up, we might could work. But yeah, you have folks who don't necessarily want to invest time and money in purchasing things, they don't have space to store things, and maybe they don't use it but a few times a year or a few times every couple of years, so it doesn't make economic sense for them to buy something. So the polar opposites there, that's what we're here to connect. So we created this marketplace where we can allow people to put their own items on there. They set their own price, they set their own availability to rent it in and out, and it's a great way for those folks to make some passive income, right? I mean, they've got a lot of money invested potentially into these things, and it's just sitting around, so why not put it out there to work for you?
Marcus: Now, I mean, I'm keenly aware because I have tons of tools that literally just sit, and my issue is just time. You know, like the idea of sitting down, and I'm sure this is going to get easier. And I'm not making a judgment call on the app, so let's be clear, but even just sitting down for two or three minutes would be a bit much right now with a renovation project and running a business, but getting some of those in so that I can make those kinds of transactions is interesting to me because I've got all kinds of power tools and torque wrenches and all kinds of other stuff that just sits around unused, so. But yeah. Go back in your history to your first job, and not your first engineering job, but your first burger flipping job or sweeping the floor job, that job. Your first crap job, how about that? Were there any lessons that you still remember from that?
Matt: My first job that I ever had, I started when I was fifteen years old working for a local ... he was an entrepreneur himself, he was very successful in real estate and construction, and he had a large farm, and I went to work for him afternoons after school, weekends, that type of thing. And even today, when I'm going through a challenge or when I'm faced with something in business or even in my "day job", there's one thing that resonates with me from working for him, and one thing he used to say all the time, he said, "If there's a will, there's a way." So anytime you're in business, anytime you come across challenges, there is a way, I should say, if you're willing to look for it. If you look hard enough. And that's been something that really has resonated for me. Yeah, is to really think about that anytime you hit a roadblock. If there's a will, there's a way to get around this, there's a way to get through it.
Marcus: Yeah. And setting your intentions on that positive outlook versus, "Oh my gosh, the sky is falling."
Matt: Right. If you focused on the negative, you'd just give up and quit, right? If you focused on the negative, you wouldn't be moving into a new office space, right? You wouldn't be growing your business. So you have to be able to look at the positive side of it and think, "Well, there's always an out. There's always a way to get around something." Right? So-
Marcus: Yeah. No, very good.
Matt: And search it out.
Marcus: So tell us a little bit about how you started Leveld? How did that come to fruition and what efforts have you kind of undertaken so far?
Matt: So the idea came about, I was sitting in a conference actually through my prior job, and we were listening to a speaker, the keynote speaker, his name was Jack Uldrich, and he was ... and he is, I think, a New York best-selling author, I guess, if you will ... New York Times best-selling author. And he was giving a presentation on kind of the evolution of technology, and he was really kind of looking in the present where we are and kind of flipping backwards in real time on the screen as to where we came from, what we were. Really, he focused around Uber, right? Twenty years ago, no one would have thought about sharing a car with a random stranger-
Marcus: Shoot, man. Five years ago, nobody would have thought about it.
Matt: Well five years ago, for sure, and he was really showing the rapid expansion of technology in about a twenty year span, so he was kind of flipping back and forth between twenty years and now, present day. This was a year and a half, two years ago that I sat through that, and that's really started resonating with me, thinking about how we've made strides. And he kind of hit on Airbnb as well, we talked about that at a great deal of length. And now you have a marketplace where strangers are interacting, and the largest hotel chain in the world doesn't actually own a hotel, right? They don't have any inventory, they don't have any "employees". So he was really diving into that, and he made a comment in passing, "Who knows what could be next? We could change how we rent the things in our closet out or how we work independently with each other and start interacting with people on a day to day basis." And when he mentioned renting out things in your house, my mind kind of started working, thinking about, "What do I have in my house that other people might want?" Right?
Matt: And it came across about a week and a half later, at that time, I was helping my girlfriend at the time who I was dating, and she had a project and didn't have the tools that we needed to get it finished, and I thought, "Man, if I only had a neighbor down the street or if I only knew someone down the street." You know? So it all just started coming together. At that point, the wheels were put into motion, I guess, and I thought back to that presentation and how we were talking about, "Man, this could be a great platform to use. If I'm needing this, there's probably someone else out there needing something similar." You know?
Marcus: It's wild how something in passing that somebody said can spawn off a completely different-
Marcus: Yeah. It's incredible.
Matt: And his presentation was an hour long, and I took away maybe a ten second blip of that and thought about it long enough that it resonated with me throughout the weeks and days after.
Marcus: Now I think it's fair to say, you've been planning this for awhile, but you're still fairly new into this venture?
Matt: Right. Yeah.
Marcus: Is that fair to say?
Matt: Yeah, I started planning it quite awhile back actually.
Marcus: Yeah. But if you were talking to someone that was wanting to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them? Because obviously you ... as you've been going through this process, you've learned some things.
Matt: I've learned a great deal, absolutely, and I guess it all goes back to what I said a moment ago. If there's a will, there's a way. I had really no business contacts in Mobile. I had a lot of friends here, I've been in the area most of my life, so it really goes back to the beginning when I thought about the idea, and I had no clue where to get started, and I just started reaching out to everyone I could think of, and making cold calls, and cold emailing as I call it, just reaching out to individuals in the city that I thought might could point me in the right direction. So if there are people out there, and I talk to them all the time, that are trying to get started and do their entrepreneur thing if you will, I always tell them that. I always say, "Look. If you want to get into it and you've got a great idea and you're passionate about it, you need to find the right people. The right people that can help you push that along." And when I got started, I connected one person, and they connected me with two people, and those two connected me with four, and then it's just growing in that way.
Marcus: Yeah. Network can be everything when it comes to that.
Matt: Yeah, and it's not so much networking in the sense where you go out to social hour and have a drink, it was more or less just connecting, "Hey, you've got this idea. I know this person is working on something similar." And then you kind of start building that out. So it was networking unintentionally. It just started building upon itself, and that's one aspect of it I tell people, you really can't be afraid to get out and just start knocking on doors and trying to find people. I was able to reach out to our local chamber, some of the folks there at the time, and they put me in connection with a few folks at the small business group and the entrepreneur center out at south, and then that kind of expanded into Exchange 202, and then it just ... the network's been building ever since.
Marcus: It grew from there.
Matt: Yeah. Absolutely.
Marcus: If you look to the business world, is there someone that motivates you or that you kind of look to and think, "Yeah, I want to get there." Or they've got some skillset like you're ... yeah.
Matt: There's a lot of people. There's people from my past. I mentioned the gentleman awhile back that I worked for when I was just starting. He's passed on now, but he was an entrepreneur from the beginning, right? He had been through a lot of financial hardships I believe, and he had been able to rebuild himself and rebrand himself and come back and achieve success ultimately. So he was one I really looked up to just from a ... what's the word? From a persistence-
Marcus: A mindset, yeah persistence.
Matt: Yeah, persistence standpoint. He never backed down from a challenge. If there was a problem, whether it be a legal issue or financial issue, he always found a work around, he always found a way to get through it and be successful on the other side. There are some folks here that I've met just on this journey in Mobile, somebody from a mindset perspective and a thought perspective, Todd Greer here in Mobile. Todd is a phenomenal individual.
Marcus: He keeps coming up. That name and Mel Washington. Those are the names that are kind of ingrained in our-
Matt: Well, I can't leave Mel out either, I was going there next. Mel was the first person I connected with in Mobile, and he brought a huge amount of enthusiasm to the project that we're working on with Leveld, and then he helped me meet Todd, and Todd helped me meet the others, and ended up recommending you as well, so it all kind of came through together. So yeah, those two guys just bring a wealth of knowledge, but there's been so many people along the way. I look at the business culture here in Mobile, a lot of entrepreneurs that are starting out, young and old, I think there's something to learn from each of those. Each of their backgrounds, each of their experiences. If you look at the pool here, it is deep. We have a lot of great talent here, and there's a lot of folks here that I look up to. Yeah, absolutely.
Marcus: That's very cool. Are there any books or other organizations outside of the ones you've mentioned that have been helpful in moving you forward?
Matt: Books? Yeah.
Marcus: What are you reading right now?
Matt: I tend to read ... so I actually found this book the other day that had been thrown out ... not thrown out, I should say. It had been given to me awhile back and I kind of tossed it aside, never really circled back to it, but it's called "On Fire" it's by John O'Leary, and if you've never heard of John O'Leary, look him up, he's an incredible inspiration, and not just from an entrepreneurial standpoint, but he was injured severely as a child, near death experience. Spent six months in the hospital I think, came back from it. But he puts just such a positive vibe on everything, and basically it's not what happens to you, it's how you respond to it. So I think that goes a long way in life, but that goes a long way as well in business too because there are challenges every day that you face, right?
Marcus: Right. Absolutely.
Matt: And I face. And you've got to kind of figure out, okay, well I can't change what's happened here. How do we push forward? What do we do? Whether it's money, whether it's any other situation that might come up. So I found that book, I've been reading that. "Lean Start Up" was a good book, that's one that Todd had recommended to me in the beginning.
Marcus: Kind of appropriate for you.
Matt: Yeah. That was kind of the bible at the beginning, right? Trying to understand and just kind of get introduced into the world a bit more. So, that was a great book. Yeah. That's been the couple that really stick out to me right now, and then I read a book, my mother actually gave to me for my 30th birthday, and it was called "Detour", and it's more of a spiritual, religious type book, and she had given it to me I guess because mothers love in their own bounds, right? So she had given me the book, and I kind of tossed it aside, but it really talks about your life and journey through that, and I really felt like there was a lot of parallels in the business/entrepreneurship side of things too, that really take you through a lot of detours if you will, right? When you get momentum or you get things moving forward, and then all of a sudden you've got a little bit of a sidetrack.
Marcus: We've changed the term from detours to pivot, you know? Right? But it is what it is. You're going to hit something and it's going to change your direction whether you want to call it a detour or a pivot, which is the more modern term. You just have to ... it's a guaranteed.
Marcus: You just kind of have to accept that's going to be the way things go. Running a business or founding a company is much like the game Plinko, where you stick a quarter or something or a ball in the top and it kind of bounces around.
Matt: That's right.
Marcus: That is the life of a business owner.
Matt: That's right. And you never know where it's going to land until the chips fall. Absolutely.
Marcus: What's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business?
Matt: Responsibility I think would probably be that. I mean, there's no one looking over your shoulder to tell you what you need to do next. You have to be persistent, you have to be aggressive, you have to be out thinking the next move if you will. And I knew that, right? I say I knew that. I kind of had a sense that, "Hey, this is what a business life is like." But when there's no one there to hold you accountable, it's up to you to achieve success or wither and die. So I think for me, it's the accountability part of things. When you go out and you're looking for investors or you go out to talk with a banker about raising or acquiring some funds to get things started, they're not ... you don't have a ton for them to base things off of, right? They're really putting their money in you as a person, and I think that's been important for me to learn and understand, and I hold that value very close to me because I feel like I am the person that's accountable. I am the person that's looking over my own shoulder if you will to make sure that, "Hey, you're doing all you can to make this a success." We've pushed it this far. You've got to push it the next mile and just trying to keep one up yourself if you will.
Marcus: I think people underestimate the ... what's the word I'm looking for? They underestimate the pressure that it takes to even just be able to make the decisions that are required for running a business.
Matt: Sure. I had to ... in the beginning, I had to make a decision whether or not I was going to personally spend my own money to fund the beginning of the project. I mean-
Marcus: [crosstalk 00:18:42]
Matt: We couldn't find the investors, we couldn't find ... right? In the market we were in, we had to proof it out, we had to come up with our MVP, so that was all on my shoulders to do that. So there were a lot of sleepless nights after writing that check or clicking send on that wire transfer, yeah. Absolutely. It's a lot of stress that goes into making the big decisions that have to be made, and no one else can do it for you.
Marcus: Well it's even the small ones, too. Even the small decisions, because there's this thing that many people don't know about called decision fatigue, right? So I'm just speaking from personal experience. Getting out of the office at night, sometimes seven, eight, nine o'clock or later, the last thing I even want to think about is what I need to eat. So it's literally just like just go home and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because I don't even want to think about that. I just want to go home and get something in me that's going to take away the pain in my stomach, you know?
Matt: Right. Right.
Marcus: And I don't think people really understand just how even making small decisions throughout the day, all of those get tossed on top of the pile of the larger decisions too, and you get to the end of the day, or the end of the week, or the end of the month, or the end of the year, and you're just like, "Good night, I'm just over this." But I get what you're saying as a business owner, not having somebody else. That's not there for you to bounce those ideas from. There's nobody there that's telling you what to do. There's nobody there that's ultimately going to take responsibility, it lands on your shoulders.
Matt: That's right. Yeah, and it's difficult too when you don't have someone who shares a ... maybe your vision, or maybe they don't share your aggression towards the project, so they don't understand exactly how you're looking into it, right? So when you don't have those types of people to bounce ideas off of, it comes back to you, and you have to think through, and like I said a moment ago, you really have to anticipate the next move before you even get close to it so that you can understand a little bit more about, how risky is this situation? How risky will this decision be if it goes wrong? That type of thing.
Marcus: No, very good. How do you like to unwind? This is the hardest question.
Matt: Outdoors. I love being outdoors. We live in an incredible place here in Mobile on the bay, the beach, right here on the coast. So I love being outdoors, whether it's on a boat, fishing, riding my bike. That's what I get the most stress free weekends, I guess, come from being out on the beach with a book or something, just hanging out, no thoughts in mind.
Marcus: Well tell people where they can find out more about Leveld and get the app and all that other stuff.
Matt: Sure. Sure. So the app is available for download now in the IOS store. So currently, we're only in the IOS store. We're looking to expand to the Android market hopefully by the end of this year.
Matt: But yeah, you can check it out there. And then you can also go on our website, GetLeveld.com, it's L-E-V-E-L-D. So it's Leveld misspelled. Yes, that was intentional.
Marcus: Because you can imagine Leveld all spelled out correctly was probably quite expensive as a domain name.
Matt: Well and it makes no sense. Why would you spell it correctly when you can spell it wrong?
Marcus: Yeah, exactly.
Marcus: Nice. Well I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Matt: Thank you, man. I appreciate you having me. I want to acknowledge you for a moment. Small business of the year in Mobile. That's big for yourself and your team here at Bluefish-
Marcus: Very much so. Thank you.
Matt: Congratulations on that, and just the work you're doing here with Mobile and what you're trying to do with getting the word out here in Mobile for a lot of the cool stuff that's happening. So yeah, I want to acknowledge you for that as well.
Marcus: Yeah, I mean, we've kind of moved away from this, but Jared reminded me of it earlier today because we've recorded ... you're our fifth podcast of the day.
Matt: It was strong, I hope.
Marcus: Yeah. No, absolutely. No, where I was going to go with that is we started this because we wanted to be cheerleaders for the business community and we wanted to share the stories of people like you and the cool things that are happening here because I think oftentimes, those stories get lost in the larger picture of Airbus and Austal and some of the larger job providers here, but the truth is that Mobile is an economy made up of individuals like you and like me that are providing jobs for fifteen, 20, 30 people or so, and there's just a plethora of people out there that are doing that.
Matt: And one thing that's cool I'd like to mention and showcase, even when we launched, my big message pushing Mobile has been the people that are here, the culture that we're building, a lot of the young talent that's here that's coming up with ideas, and they're expanding on it and they're building it. It's bringing a lot of attention to Mobile, right?
Matt: Far too long, Birmingham, Hunstville, they had gotten a lot more of the attention. I think it's time to bring some of that attention south. Bring it to Mobile, bring it to the gold coast here if you will, and I think there's a lot of cool stuff happening especially exciting things, big projects here that are going to be expanding and exploding out of Mobile soon, so it's exciting.
Marcus: I couldn't agree with you more because I think I knows some of the same people you're talking about. Well I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's been great talking with you.
Matt: Thanks. Absolutely.