This month, Plumbing & Mechanical Chief Editor Nicole Krawcke had a chance to sit down with Billy Stevens, founder and CEO of Sera Systems, a subscription software provider for the home service industry, to discuss current trends with contractor software.

Stevens, a licensed master plumber, purchased a failing new construction plumbing business in 1996, immediately converted it to residential and commercial service and followed by adding HVAC before selling it to a private equity firm for millions in 2011. Stevens is known for his expertise in helping service business owners achieve high operating efficiency and reduce overhead to substantially improve gross and net margins.

PM: Before we jump into it, why don't you explain to our readers a little bit about your background?

BS: All right. Well, I got into the business in 1996. I was actually working for a homebuilder, and our plumber passed away. We couldn't find a good plumber to do the work, so I ended up borrowing some money from my father-in-law — about $10,000 — and we bought a new construction plumbing company. Then, about a year later, we converted it to 100% service. The name of that company was called Berkeys Plumbing, Heating and Air, and we added air-conditioning shortly thereafter. Over the course of my career at Berkeys, we grew the company 100 times over and met a couple of guys that had a PE (private equity) firm, and we started Berkeys Holdings. And we started buying other companies 11 years ago, before all the craziness of what's going on now. We kind of were the pioneers of how that all got started.

After a successful exit with the PE firm, after I ran that for almost two years, I decided to change what I was doing and took a break. And during that break, I decided I wanted to get back to the industry and build a software that actually helps them run the companies the way I ran mine, which was through efficiencies, and really focus in on what really helps businesses drive success. And I couldn't find that software anywhere. Basically, the software that's out there today is just placeholders where you put information in and you hope you put it in the right spot. Well, what we actually do, our software actually helps you run the business, gives you great insight on what's happening and metrics that you need to hit to be successful.


Listen to our exclusive podcast with Billy Stevens, founder and CEO of Sera Systems, a subscription software provider for the home service industry.

PM: And that's a little bit about what we're going to talk about today. First off, can you tell us, what are the largest trends you're seeing in the field service management software industry for plumbing and HVAC contractors?

BS: I guess the trend now is basically the way we build software vs. what's been built previously. And so software evolves. We are using the latest technology. It enables us to do anything that we want with the software. And as we build our software, it becomes easier to use rather than more difficult. And that's the neat thing, where software today is built and you just keep stacking data tables on top of data tables, so you just imagine all these bricks stacking up. And every time you add more and more stuff, you create complexity. And the way we build our software is we connect dots. And so as we connect dots and bring more things to our software, we actually simplify the whole way that the software works. And so improvements actually improve it for ease of use. And we use a lot of automated intelligence and AI. Eventually, we'll have a lot of AI in this. And this allows us to do things that the previous software out there right now is not able to do, and that's the big differentiator for us.

PM: What do you think is driving that trend toward ease of use? Does it have anything to do with the workforce shortage?

BS: I think it has a lot to do with several things, but workforce shortage is definitely one. If we can create efficiencies in our business, the Gallup research poll says we're 38% efficient in our industry, which means that 62% of the time, we're paying people and they're not really doing anything to move the company forward. What Sera focuses on is those inefficiencies, and how do we drive you from 38% efficient to 100% efficient? And by doing this, actually, it's like hiring more people during the efficiency process while you're improving it, without actually hiring more people. It's taking what you have and doing a much better job running the business and getting productivity out of your employees, in a way that allows you to grow your business without having to add more people. And once these companies get on Sera, and the owners take control of their businesses again, they start seeing this happen in a very quick amount of time. Very quickly, this changes their businesses, within months.