Ben Walker is the COO for Go Carrera, a digital ecosystem that pairs flooring installers with flooring dealers. He left corporate America in 2008, “That was a great deal until it wasn’t,” for an opportunity to move to Kansas City and grow a floor contracting company.

“I've had a lot of entrepreneurial instincts for a long time, and I'm really proud of some of the things we accomplished there,” said Walker. “In year two, we increased our revenue six times over year one and year three, three times over year two and year four, two times over year three. We ended up, by the time I left, with 25 employees.”

But the biggest pain point for the company in terms of growth, according to Walker, was locating flooring installers who were passionate and strived to do quality work. As he transitioned out of that role, he met Paul Stuart, co-founder of Go Carrera.

Go Carrera was born out of Stuart’s own issues locating qualified installers for his own contractor business. “Paul, to his credit, instead of just recognizing that problem, he went out there and did something about it,” said Walker. “That's really how Go Carrera came to be.”

The following are excerpts of our conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety below.


FLOOR Trends & Installation: What is Go Carrera?

Ben Walker: Go Carrera started in 2018. For the first four years, the three co-founders were really focused on building the product. There was V1, and then version 2.0 came out later. Version two was the product of all the experience they had the first time around, and it was not an update. It was started from scratch, and so, Go Carrera is a very modern web- and app-based ecosystem that is a marketplace. The whole idea, in a nutshell, is to bring together installers who are looking for work and who want to find the right work and flooring companies who need to get their work done.


FTI: Let's talk about Go Carrera’s relationship to Preferred Flooring.

Walker: Go Carrera now has 10 member companies. Preferred Flooring is one of them. They're based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and just like our other members, they publish their work on the platform. They find the right installer; they end up awarding their work orders to the installer that they choose; and they manage that whole relationship with Go Carrera.

What they've also done is just become good friends. Jose and Daniel, along with Paul, host The Huddle, which is a podcast that airs Tuesdays at 3 p.m. live Central time. It is all about the installer. The whole purpose of The Huddle is to bring together experts and leaders who can address issues that are important to installers.


FTI: How was the platform created, and what is the Hammer Rating? 

Walker: The secret sauce of Go Carrera is the Hammer Rating. The Hammer Rating is a skill score. It is between zero and five. Every installer on the platform has one for each flooring discipline they install. So, your Hammer Rating in carpet may not be the same Hammer Rating you have in ceramic tile or resilient or epoxy.

The Hammer Rating is a patent-pending proprietary algorithm that takes into account a person's experience and their training, when they got each, and puts it all together and spits out the score from zero to five. It very accurately represents an installer’s skill level in that particular flooring discipline. It is completely data driven. There's nothing subjective. Me having a good experience with you as an installer is not going to change your Hammer Rating. That is another part of Go Carrera called Kudos, but the Hammer Rating is completely data-driven.

I remember interviewing installers, either to be an employee or to be a sub, and almost everybody has been installing flooring for 20 years. So, I would sit at a table, and I would hear people who maybe they were really good at selling themselves and I would believe it and find out later maybe they weren't quite as good as they had gotten me to believe. On the other hand, the reverse also happened. There were people who maybe weren't so good at that but really knew what they were doing around installing a floor. So, the Hammer Rating takes out that and lets you accurately assess an installer’s skill.


FTI: What is the sign-up process?

Walker: An installer who wants to become part of Go Carrera creates a free account and can either do it completely self-serve. You enter your business organizational information. We're going to need your W9. We're going to need a certificate of insurance, and we're going to need to know your experience and your training. We're also going to need to know what kind of flooring you want to install.

Alternatively, you can reach out to us, sign up the same way. Just start your account, we'll reach out to you and conduct what we call a concierge interview. We'll spend five minutes on the phone with you, we'll get all that same information, but if it's really not your gig to go and do that online or on an app, then we'll do all that for you.

The second part of it is we verify. In addition to getting that information, we're going to confirm that you really are CFI Commercial II or that you've been installing hard tile for 25 years. We're going to find ways to verify that with you so that when a company does assess each installer, they have information they can count on.


FTI: How does it work for a retailer or contractor that may be interested in Go Carrera?

Walker: So, it takes both sides and sometimes we have kind of a chicken and an egg thing. We are operating nationally, but where we are now and my primary responsibility is to grow the network on the installer side and the company side, and to make sure everybody on our platform is getting the most value out of it they possibly can. Installers in addition to getting work can do things like get discounts on tools and find other opportunities or other values within Go Carrera that they wouldn't have otherwise. We are trying to create an ecosystem where installers can get everything they need to operate their business.

To answer your question about companies, we pre-qualify every company on Go Carrera. We make sure that they are professional and sound and are financially responsible. Once they complete that pre-qualification form and we approve their account, it also becomes very simple for them.

What they will do is start using what we call the “killer tools,” and so, we have the functionality that manages the entire relationship. Say you're a company on Go Carrera. You have a work order—you have a McDonald's that you want to build in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You publish the work order which is going to include the scope, how much of each product that you're going to install, how much you intend to pay for that, and then, you include the specifications, any jobsite rules, any notes that you want to provide, anything you want your installers to know. You would also include maybe your takeoffs and the construction plans for the project. Go Carrera is going to take that and assess the installers that are on the platform who are a good match. You can also put in a minimum Hammer Rating. So you say, this is really complex, I think it needs a 2.0 Hammer Rating. GoCarrera is going to provide all the magic. Installers that are interested can then respond. They can accept it as is, or they could negotiate the price or the schedule. Part of the reason for that is compliance.

As a quick aside, one of the benefits that we provide for companies is compliance. So, the IRS is strict and getting stricter about making sure that a sub is a sub and not an employee. Using the Go Carrera system ensures that compliance because the installer has the ability to set their own price, to set their own schedule, has the opportunity to lose or make money. You'll be able to easily show the IRS that these people are actually subs, 1099 contractors, instead of W-2 employees.

So, a company gets all that information, they look at the Hammer Rating, they look at whether or not an installer accepted it as is or negotiated it, and then they decide which of the installers who have responded that they prefer. There's opportunities for conversations in there. We have a chat function where either side can ask questions of the other. And ultimately, the work order is awarded to somebody. Then the installer gets the final chance to decide if they still want to do it.

Now that there is an active work order, the work starts getting done. Depending on the size of the project, there might be progress invoices and so forth. Most of our member companies tend to pay weekly. So an invoice comes in, there's an opportunity for the company to approve it and to pay it or reject it. If it's rejected, it goes back, the installer makes whatever changes are needed. Then it's paid; it's approved. Once it's paid, then Go Carerra fires off a lean release. The installer signs it and depending on the speed the installer requests, the money's in their account anywhere from the same day to up to four to five days. They pay a transaction fee based on how fast they want to get their money.

The other thing that happens in there is change management. So inevitably, commercial projects change and additive and deductive change orders are handled easily and quickly in Go Carrera. Both sides approve it. Once it's approved, an installer can invoice against it as well. Go Carrera doesn't allow installers or anyone to invoice work that is not already awarded and approved.


FTI: You guys have recently launched some new features. Can you talk about Private Connections and Link?

Walker: Private connections is exactly what it sounds like. We are actively recruiting installers. Also, companies that come on board probably have long standing relationships with installers who they really look at as a competitive advantage. So, what a company can do if they choose to is to bring installers on in their private network, which means exactly that. They are working exclusively for that company in Go Carrera as opposed to bidding for other work. Private Connections allows companies to maintain that competitive advantage and still get all the other benefits of managing that relationship with Go Carrera.

Another element of that is we advocate training, and we don't train ourselves but we avail ourselves of every training opportunity we need know of. We communicate all those training opportunities to installers on our platform and really encourage them to get all the training that's appropriate for them. Coming up on $18 million has been processed over our rails so far, and we have learned over that time that installers with higher Hammer Ratings get paid more. So, we can say unequivocally that training pays.

That's another part that we can sort of take over the training function for a company by making sure they're private connected installers and any installer knows about the training and opportunities that are available to them so that they can up their Hammer Rating.

Part of what the whole matching function is all about is getting the right installer on the right job. All jobs don't require a 5.0 Hammer Rating, which is very difficult to achieve anyway. It still requires the right installer and what Go Carrera does is make sure that the right installer gets matched with the correct job.

Link is a new function, and I'm not aware of any similar functionality anywhere. It's kind of a video call on steroids. So, let's say I'm a project manager for a Go Carrera member company, and I am manning a job that is two or three hours away. It is a job that I would have a hard time visiting regularly because of all the time it takes and the money that it costs. So, with Link, I can just type in an installer or any other interested party up to eight people, type in their number and get all these people on a video call. I might get my superintendent. I might get the superintendent of my customer, maybe the project manager of my customer, maybe an architect or a designer, and then of course I'm there too.

The people on site, say my lead on site, I can control their phone and tell them exactly what to show me. I can zoom in. I can zoom out, record this whole thing, take screenshots, mark up those screenshots, and maybe solve layout problems. Maybe solve problems where the plans don't really accurately reflect what the job needs, and we need to sign off for multiple parties to make those kinds of changes. Or maybe the job's finished and I do a punch list with it, and you just take a screen shot of every item on the punch list. It's not like the person on site can just take the pictures they want to send. With Link, I ask them which pictures to take and where to point their camera. So, I get to see exactly what I want to see. Go Carrera packages all that up. You get a recording of the entire call. You get all the screenshots. You get the markups. It creates a report that I can file with the project and send it out to all the interested parties.

We did some analysis and for a job that is 100 miles away, Link saves about $75 per call per person. So, it saves money and really facilitates more rapid communication.


FTI: What is the Jumpstart program?

Walker: Jumpstart is a virtual digital job board. So we talked about the industry's outreach to recruit and to train and obviously that's critical, but what's not there is placement. We feel like Jumpstart, in a way that no other current initiative can or does, allows new industry entrants the opportunity to find their first job and maybe they want a job where they live. Maybe they want a job somewhere else. We facilitate that.

Up to 87% of all flooring is installed by subcontractors. So, it is not flooring contractor or dealer employees who are doing the vast majority of the work. It is subcontractors who are doing that work. So, the jobs are with the subcontractors. That's who has to hire these people. Our installers who are on board Go Carrera, anyone with a 1.0 Hammer Rating or above is eligible to hire a Jumpstarter.

The idea is these are fresh, young people who are probably pretty gung-ho and pretty excited and so, [we place them with] people with [at least ]a 1.0 Hammer Rating—that means they've gotten training because you can't get a Hammer Rating at that level without training. We place them with responsible, trained installers who are doing things the right way, so hopefully it includes that opportunity for somebody to continue to learn and develop their career. Maybe not trash the training they already got by learning the wrong way but continuing that and improving job outcomes at the same time. So, it's getting all of our member installers to have access to these new employees who they desperately need and who the industry desperately needs and allows them to continue their training and their career development.


FTI: Tell me a little more about the employers. 

Walker: They would be able to look at the Jumpstarters that are on site. They'll be able to see what their history is, what their training is, and they will be able to communicate directly with them and, assuming they decide to move forward, they'll offer them a job and all that communication is facilitated by Jumpstart.

Listen to the full interview!

Browse our FLOORtalk podcasts