Scott Wolfe Jr.
Founder and CEO
Back in 2007, in the frontier-like landscape of post-Katrina New Orleans, construction attorney Scott Wolfe Jr. saw a big problem: Local contractors had all the work they could handle, but getting paid for that work had become a substantial issue. He began researching potential solutions to this problem, which on top of everything else was deepening economic inequities in the city, as the smaller contractors were having the biggest problems.
He incorporated as zlien and developed software that provided contractors with the processes and paperwork they needed to expedite payments, or in the worst-case scenarios, pursue legal action. The need was great and the approach successful, and by 2011, the company had begun staffing up.
In 2013, Wolfe joined the Idea Village’s entrepreneurs-in-training program, a move that paid off handsomely when zlien won the 2014 New Orleans Entrepreneur Week Big Idea Pitch Contest. While the company had already recovered $1 billion in receivables for its clients by that point, this rapidly accelerated the company’s growth, both in terms of outside capital investment and new employees.
Wolfe rebranded the company to Levelset in March 2019, and in the next month hired its 100th employee. Investment capital continued to flow in, including $30 million raised in November 2019, and the pace of growth continued unabated despite the onset of the pandemic. Staff doubled again by September 2020, and another 100 personnel came on board by August 2021. In addition to New Orleans, Levelset operates offices in Austin, Texas and Cairo, Egypt.
This October, Procore Technologies, a construction management software firm, completed its acquisition of Levelset for approximately $500 million. At present, Wolfe plans to keep his base in New Orleans, and the company will operate largely as it did pre-acquisition while he maintains the CEO role.
On what he is most proud of: I’m proud of the way our team builds value and the way we are able to deliver it to our industry and our customers. Our software really does impact the construction industry. It helps people reduce their cash stress, to deal with how difficult it is to get paid.
On what is behind the recent flurry of purchases of New Orleans tech firms: Coincidence. TurboSquid, Levelset, Lucid all started around the same time. It’s like, why did all the seniors graduate from high school at the same time? And there is another whole class of people behind us. And like a school, we have to keep recruiting new classes and nurture those students until graduation.
Also, the macro-environment is extremely favorable. All around the world there is a lot of cash in tech companies, and the interest rates are low. We fielded multiple M&A [merger and acquisition] inquiries before we accepted one. This is happening everywhere, not just in New Orleans.
His advice to a new tech start-up: Focus on building team and building value. Your team will need to grow by leaps and bounds to do something special. It will require a team, it’s not something you can bench press by yourself. Getting your team to grow together is important. Businesses that succeed build value, for customers and for investors, so that people see why the business is worth what it’s worth. Build that team, build that value, and get your mind out of New Orleans and think big about your company.
On the past year
Every year is like 10 years for us; we’re a fast-growing company, so it is always a whirlwind. I tell people when they start working here that their jobs are likely to change every three months. But we have a lot to be grateful for. The market has been very good, stable, bullish during a time when the world has a lot of issues going on. We’ve been able to keep delivering a service that our industry really, really needs.
The macro-environment is unique for everyone right now, in business and in life. Political issues, health issues, these kinds of things are being driven into the workplace. I sometimes think, wouldn’t it be nice to run a company in a normal environment.
On the biggest challenges during the pandemic
We grew from 100 to 200 team members. How do you onboard new people and retain your current people when they can’t even meet each other? I would say 50% of our workforce has never met each other. How do you manage your company culture in this type of environment?
On what gives him optimism about New Orleans and the “Silicon Bayou”
New Orleans has always been a gem of a city, and one thing that gives me optimism is that uniqueness and character will always have value, to any kind of industry and economy. You can mess things up, not get it right, but you have that enduring gem. The community in New Orleans is very unique too, and this emergent tech community has a lot of the same markers. Compared to places like Austin or San Francisco, there is a greater amount of community, amount of grit and energy to help each other succeed.
On what concerns him about New Orleans
The things that make New Orleans great also swallow its potential. So much of the collective brain space goes to the prevailing industry, tourism. That sucks the attention, sucks the resources, sucks the mind space from other opportunities. The future of the world is in software, and New Orleans just doesn’t get it – the people, the press, government, professionals, the old money, they just don’t get it, and I don’t know how to change that. There is so much money to be made, so many jobs to be created, so many problems to be solved, and New Orleans plays small ball. We’re on the sidelines of a lot of prosperity, while our schools, our roads, our infrastructure are all suffering.
On business leadership
Being a leader, it’s important to have a vision you can articulate, to have a lot of enthusiasm for it, and to garner a lot of trust from your team to help them carry that vision to success. For a business to lead, it has to have a vision and a point of view. A business is more than just something that makes money, it becomes part of the fabric of an industry or a community.
If an alien came down and took your business away, what would be different about the world? If the difference would be big, you are leading.
His big thought for 2022
Keep turning the flywheel. Because every little push gives it more momentum, and you can’t always tell which push was the most valuable, made the most difference.