Chris Teetor, director of operations for DE Storage, which builds storage units, mobile homes and other properties across Delaware, needed 800 cu yd of clay material typically used for berms in ponds. He did what construction people usually do—called all his contacts, looking for the material—to no avail.
“It delayed our job for a couple of weeks,” he recalls.
Then he literally hit pay dirt.
He came across an app called Soil Connect and put up a request. “Four days later I got a call and it was free soil. I just paid for hauling and loading,” Teetor says. “I saved $20,000.”
Similar to a dating app, Craigslist or Airbnb, Soil Connect matches builders, contractors, landscapers and other industry professionals so they can arrange the transport and management of soil between those who need it and those want to get rid of it. Traditionally, the construction community has had to rely on word of mouth and its established networks to broker these exchanges of earth.
Cliff Fetner, founder and CEO of the Soil Connect startup, conceived of the idea two years ago during a project.
“I’ve spent 20 years building luxury homes,” he says. “We had 2,000 cu yd of material and didn’t know what to do with it. Soil Connect was born at that minute. Why should I pay you to get rid of my dirt, when two hours later someone else will call me willing to pay for it?”
Fetner and his son hired a software development firm to build the beta version of the app. “After nine months, we had several thousand users and over 22 million yards of material posted on our site,” he says. “It is the first institutionally backed platform addressing the movement of soil in the country.”
Users can see how much and what kind of soil is on offer, and where it is located. The app is attracting a variety of users. “You might have a national homebuilder from the Midwest who needs to get rid of one million yards of soil, and might only post one time for a year,” says Fetner. “Then you might have Tommy the pool guy who moves [smaller amounts of] dirt every day.”
Fetner used the venture capital received to invest in version two of the app in 2019. “We have a couple thousand more users and posted 83 million cu yd of material,” he says. Soil Connect says the number of users is now around 4,000. The app is still free, although Fetner hopes to someday monetize it.
New features include a text-alert function. “It’s a dirt alert,” says Fetner. Another feature vets the users and materials, as regions vary in terms of regulations and certification of material. “If you need a geotechnical report, you click a box. If you need a soil analysis, you click another box. I can post that I have 10,000 cu yd of certified, clean fill,” says Fetner.
Arco/Murray, a Chicago-based design-build construction firm specializing in commercial and industrial work, is a strategic partner with Soil Connect, providing feedback and suggestions. “We see the opportunity for hundreds of projects,” says Eric Whobrey, Arco/Murray technology manager. “We have several earthwork subcontractors that have saved money using this to trade dirt as opposed to taking it to the dump or paying to have someone take it away.”
Version three, expected to be ready later this year, will include digitization of both the manifests for the truckers hauling material and the entire ticketing process, says Fetner. Currently, “we’re manually taking tickets, putting them into the system and sending them to clients, and often they can’t read [the tickets],” he says. “We [will be] digitizing ticketing using GPS and uploading the information into the clients’ accounting software. Then, the truck driver doesn’t have to do anything but drive.”
Future versions could include an Uber-like function where truckers are on-demand to haul material, says Fetner. “We want to be the one-stop shop for all your dirt needs someday.”