At only 24 years old, Conrad Engelbrecht has gone from painting and building homes to helping run a local tech company with his older brother, Josh Engelbrecht.
As the younger sibling, Conrad Engelbrecht oversees operations at ToolBelt, an app used by companies and tradespeople to connect on projects.
“The best way to describe it is: it’s the ‘Indeed’ for construction,” Engelbrecht said, referring to the popular job website indeed.com. “So pretty much whether you’re a homebuilder or just some type of regular contractor and you need to hire somebody, you post a job on the app, then tradespeople or contractors see the job and apply to it.”
The app’s creators saw an opportunity to fill a gap in the specialized world of construction.
“I know it sounds kind of simple,” he said. “But contracting is very unique where everything is done through word of mouth. It’s very old school in that sense. You ask a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy.”
He said the purpose of the app is to show real-time posted projects, which will attract more applicants quicker than word of mouth does.
ToolBelt is still in its infancy, only launching in 2019, but it’s realizing quick growth. It now has between 3,500 and 4,000 users, Engelbrecht said, serving the “entire I-5 corridor.”
“We’re getting some organic growth even in places we don’t serve, which is exciting. The next place we want to go is Southern California,” he said.
The Columbian caught up with Engelbrecht to learn more.
Tell me about yourself.
I grew up in Central Illinois, in a small rural town. I ended up in Washington, moving out to the Spokane area to work as a painter for a summer. That’s where I connected with my brother, Josh. After that, I worked in residential contracting and I ran my own company. I ended up going back to college and graduated from Evergreen State College in Olympia. I met up with Josh again. Two weeks after graduation, I moved back to Vancouver, and I’ve been here almost two years now.
What’s it like working with your brother?
It’s good. A lot of people ask this question; you know, “I couldn’t work with my brother, we’d butt heads.” We have a really solid relationship. What’s nice is we’re able to work together, like personality and skillwise. We balance each other out. There are never any scenarios of stepping on toes.
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How has business been during the pandemic?
What’s nice is that since we’re about connecting people for jobs, whether it’s for companies finding labor or for those individual tradespeople to find work, the pandemic has actually accelerated that aspect. At the beginning of COVID, some activity shut down, but since, jobs have reopened in some capacity. We’re able to get people jobs.
What is the advantage of using this versus some other job site?
The main advantage that I see is how people connect is all project-based. Now indeed.com is primarily positions; “I’m an employer. I need a full-time employee – I’m going to go to Indeed and post it.” Sometimes for construction companies, that’s what they need. But for construction and contracting, especially in the residential space, it’s still that old school word-of-mouth type of deal. It all happens through projects. The only thing that connects me to the person that installs the roof is the project we’re working on. We may work together again or we might not. That’s something Josh really felt; he experienced the pain point of not being able to book more work because he doesn’t know enough people personally. Everyone’s losing out on money. If ToolBelt was around when I ran my own painting company, I would have probably been able to do double the business I did.
Do you ever miss doing painting jobs?
Working in the trades – the hands-on work and the sense of fulfillment, every day I got that because I was able to visibly see the progress I was making. That was one of my favorite aspects of working in it. A lot of my hobbies are craft-oriented in nature. I’ve been starting woodworking, drawing and art-related stuff.
So framing was my favorite trade I ever did; I got to build actual houses. People are going to live in this. The fact I was working a job that had such a direct impact on homeowners’ lives – a house for almost everybody out there is their most valuable asset. Not just someone’s net worth but it’s their home. It’s a place to de-stress and get away from the world.
That is something I do miss because obviously working for like a tech company it’s sitting at a computer and Zoom meetings, but what helps contextualize it for me is that I’m helping a lot more people have the chance to work with more homeowners to do better work and to help businesses make more money and grow. I’m still helping to facilitate those experiences. That’s what stops me from being cynical, especially during COVID as I’m just sitting in my apartment by myself, is that the work that I’m doing helps people find more jobs. I’m like this is good, I’m proud to be doing this.