Who’s got the dirt? Thanks to Soil Connect, now contractors who need to get it or get rid of it can find each other at the touch of a finger.
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 startup, conceived of the idea three years ago during a home-building project in New York City. “It was the middle of winter, and there was 3,000 yards of dirt on the site,” he recalls. “The foundation guy is yelling at me because he can’t get his equipment anywhere near the hole. I call up the excavation contractor. He says he called everyone he knew, and didn’t know what to do with it. At that moment, I realized there had to be a better way of re-sourcing dirt.”
Fetner and his tech-savvy son hired a software developer to create the beta version. Users saved days of time, tons of calls and up to thousands of dollars in finding or getting rid of soil. Soil Connect raised $3.5 million in 2020 as investors and users dug in. The app hit a milestone of 100 million cu yd of material advertised in June, says Fetner. App users can also swap aggregates, rock, recyclable concrete and asphalt, glass, compost and mulch. The team is working on an e-ticketing manifest program so that truckers hauling material don’t have to handle paper tickets or get out of their vehicles on site.
“We want to be a one-stop shop for all your dirt needs,” says Fetner, a third-generation builder and developer who marveled that throughout his career, he had not seen any solutions other than calling around. “I love Airbnb, Craigslist,” he says. “I didn’t reinvent the wheel. I dressed it up and inserted dirt on a platform.”
Wills Hapworth, general partner with TIA Ventures, a venture capital firm that backed Soil Connect, praises Fetner’s business savvy and contracting background. “Cliff possesses a very rare, and essential, quality as the founder of an early-stage company—the ability to listen and then act on what he hears,” says Hapworth. “It seems obvious, but too many founders think they have things all figured out themselves and operate in their own echo chambers. Cliff’s ability is especially rare for a business leader who has already had tremendous success in his career. We view this trait as one of his greatest assets, which serves him incredibly well as he turns Soil Connect into the de facto brand in the industry for solving all dirt-related problems.”
Referring to the Soil Connect team, which has grown to eight, Hapworth adds: “Cliff places a ton of value on bringing pros onto the team who know how to power key functions of the business way better than he ever could—which frees him up to focus on what he is great at.”