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Q&A: Flipping the script on Toolbox for the Trades host Jackie Aubel, to celebrate Episode 150

Mike Persinger
November 20th, 2023
15 Min Read

Toolbox for the Trades host Jackie Aubel is hitting a milestone, the 150th episode of ServiceTitan’s podcast, although she’d cringe at that description.

In her view, it’s a podcast for contractors, and the last thing she wants to talk about is ServiceTitan. It’s about struggles and triumphs, about humor and raw emotion, and about always improving, for herself and her listeners. 

We turned the tables on her to celebrate the occasion, taking our turn to ask the questions and making her the guest. Come for the story of how she got into the trades and ended up at ServiceTitan, stay for her history in comedy, the episodes of Toolbox that affected her in surprising ways, the guests in Episode 150 and the things they endured to become one of the largest businesses of their kind. 

Without further ado …

Welcome to Toolbox for the Trades in reverse! Let’s start with one of your go-tos. How did you get into the trades?

Jackie: I was born in the trades! My father is a carpenter. He had his own business in the '90s. It was called Furniture Medic. I think he did all the five boroughs of New York City and even jobs in Jersey, just fixing furniture. 

My mom was a stay-at-home mom/CSR/dispatcher. I am one of two daughters, so my sister and I were often recruited by our dad to help him. I've done grout work, I've helped assemble furniture.

The joke is whenever we heard our dad call our names from the basement, it was like, "Ugh," because we knew we were going to be occupied for a while.

So for me, working at ServiceTitan and interviewing contractors is really interesting and really aligned with my upbringing.

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Was working at ServiceTitan the plan when you came to California?

Jackie: No, no, no. I moved to California to become a writer for television, and I worked my butt off and I think I got pretty far. I was on a sketch team and I had a comedy podcast, but unfortunately, I wasn't making any money.

I attended a writing workshop once where a teacher told me there were more NFL players than there were writers currently employed in Hollywood, and that was the splash of water I needed to tell me maybe I should be focusing my career elsewhere. 

I always say marketers are just artists without trust funds. So here we are.

» Listen to Episode 150 now!

You've been with ServiceTitan for a long time, relatively speaking. Did you always think it was going to lead to where you are today, as the Toolbox for the Trades host?

Jackie: Not at all. I started at ServiceTitan in 2017 as the social media manager, and I had no idea I would still be here. I'm employee number 287, and basically as the company grew, I looked for spots where my skills could offer help, and that got me into content.

Eventually, right at the end of 2019, two of my managers were like, "Oh, you had a comedy podcast?" and I was like, "Yeah, it actually did pretty well," and they're like, "Well, maybe you should also do a podcast for ServiceTitan." I'm like, "Really?" 

So that was fantastic.

You also did some standup, didn't you? How did that prepare you for what you do now?

Jackie: I've done the comedy trifecta, which is sketch comedy like you see on “Saturday Night Live,” improv comedy, which is making up scenes on the spot, and standup—microphone, person, brick wall.

Within all three of those mediums, you have to learn how to tell a story, you have to learn how to engage your audience.

My audience, when I'm recording podcasts, is my guest. You have to make sure that they're engaged, they're enjoying themselves. I think that background in storytelling really laid the foundation for me being able to create engaging, thought-provoking, entertaining interviews.

That active listening and that quick-on-your-feet piece, like when you get a comment from the crowd in standup, can you replicate that in interviews for Toolbox?

Jackie: Yes, for sure. I love when the script gets flipped. I always say that when things don't go perfectly according to plan, it shows our authenticity as people.

It's moments like that that really connect humanity and also, going back to standup, why crowd work and that stuff can be so fun. So I love opportunities like that. I think it keeps me on my toes, it keeps the listener on their toes, and it can be really fun if you know what you're doing.

What does your process look like for finding a great focus for an episode? 

Jackie: First and foremost, my goal is to do an interview the guest will be proud of. I want to create content that when it publishes, this person, my interview subject, is like, "I can't wait to share this interview with my network." So I always say to potential guests, "The podcast is your chance to take a megaphone to the industry. What is it that you want to say?" 

You know how if you find something that someone loves, their eyes just light up and they love talking about it? That's the moment I'm looking for.

I always say tangents are welcome, if not encouraged, on Toolbox for the Trades. In improv, there's a term—follow the fun—and I do the same thing when it comes to recording for Toolbox. I usually know the moment—I'm pretty good at reading people. I also have a degree in marriage and family therapy, which I guess honed that skill a bit. 

You talk about being a brand driver. You’ve really become a brand all to yourself. How does it feel to be so prominent in the minds of ServiceTitan customers?

Jackie: It's incredibly humbling. I'm very grateful for it. I consider it to be a privilege. I moved to Los Angeles with the hope of gaining notoriety in the entertainment industry, and somehow I found myself somewhat a bit of a micro celebrity in this industry. I consider myself very lucky and privileged to be that.

You launched Toolbox during the pandemic … 

Jackie: I try to forget about that! We were supposed to launch March 15, 2020, and I remember that because it's the Ides of March, when Caesar was betrayed by Brutus. Because of what was happening, I think mid-April 2020 was our launch date.

I think sometimes we all forget how difficult and hard and scary that time was. I had to make sure with launching the show that the first episode was speaking to the reality of that situation. The podcast became a vehicle by which folks could hear from contractors dealing with the same thing and feel a little bit less alone.

To think we’re at 150 episodes now … 

You had The Guilty Pleasure podcast before, but that was a humor podcast, a totally different audience. What is the difference between doing a podcast like that versus doing a B2B podcast? 

Jackie: They're the same in that I'm trying to entertain people. I want people listening to think that they are bystanders in a really interesting conversation. That's how I feel when I listen to podcasts, like I'm there with the host, with the guest, and I'm part of this.

Obviously with Guilty Pleasure, I did not censor myself as much. That was about me and my beautiful, amazing co-host, Amanda Salvatore, branding ourselves as comedians. There still is a lot of my personality in Toolbox for the Trades, but it’s not The Jackie Show, it's Toolbox for the Trades. I'm more of a servant to prop the contractors up, versus in the humor one, we propped ourselves up.

How have you grown as a host from the beginning to Episode 150?

Jackie: The amount of knowledge I've gained about running a residential service and replacement shop is literally insane. I remember specifically my first interview with Ellen Rohr, who used the term COD, and I was like, "What's COD?" 

So my knowledge of the industry has quadrupled, at least, from doing this podcast. It's almost like I've done an anthropological study of how home service businesses work. 

With your comedy background, what do you find funny, and why? 

Jackie: I love truth in comedy. I love comedy that's a good commentary on what's going on in the world or that relates to an experience I've had. So I truly think one of the best comedic albums of all time is Bo Burnham: Inside, which was released in 2021. I was actually revisiting it recently, and it's such an incredible album that speaks to, I think, the loneliness and some pressures of being a millennial at this time. It hit me in a way that I just loved.

I also love ridiculous comedy. And I love comedy that makes you feel something, too. I like quick, simple, elegant. I had a really fantastic sketch coach named Adam Lustick who made sure we had no props, nothing. Everything is bare bones. 

In some ways, that's how I think about Toolbox for the Trades. For the most part, it's bare bones, stripped down, I'm at my apartment, the guests are in their office somewhere, and we're just having a real conversation. I think that's where the beauty is. 

One real conversation from Toolbox was NexGen’s Ismael Valdez on the day he almost quit the trades. It was real and raw, honest and beautiful. And it was stunning. 

Jackie: Thank you. When I came up with the idea of talking to people about the day they almost quit the trades, I was like, "I need to have Ismael on.” 

Ismael, for a lot of people, represents, "Wow, this is what I can potentially achieve in this industry." He's just very aspirational for a lot of people.

What I've learned from doing this show is that being a business owner is one of the hardest things you can put yourself through. You are putting your personal finances on the line, your reputation on the line, and you are also taking ownership of several other people's livelihoods, their families’ livelihoods.

For so many guests, there is this undercurrent about how difficult this job is for them, and the responsibility on their shoulders.That can manifest through anxiety, through depression, through becoming a workaholic. There's a lot of mental health issues that can happen if you feel like you're the only one who experiences that. 

I knew Ismael was someone a lot of people look up to in the industry. He gave it to me very straight. I highly recommend that episode to anyone who's maybe struggling in this industry and who is feeling a sense of like, "I don't know how anyone else is doing this."

I thought he was going to take it to 80. He took it to 125. He got real and I respect him tremendously because of that. I would encourage everyone to do the exact same thing because that's how you form connections. That's how you get people to trust you. You've got to lean into the humanity.

How do you encourage that vulnerability, when they're going to a place that really is going to be instructive for them and also instructive for the listeners, without getting in the way?

Jackie: The key to having these real conversations is you have to give a bit of yourself first. You have to be vulnerable yourself. Very transparently, I have a history of depression and anxiety. I also have ADHD, which Tommy Mello has, and he talks about that and the day he almost quit too. Whenever people are really getting to that vulnerable place, I just want them to know that I'm a safe person for them to talk to about it and that I've been there too. 

You have to set the stage, make sure the person knows they're in a safe space, and also thank them because it is hard, but it is incredibly powerful, when you allow yourself to be vulnerable.

Is there an episode of the podcast that affected you in a way you didn’t expect?

Jackie: There are so many episodes that have made me gasp, that have made me a better person. The first time I ever had Eddie McFarlane on, he took my breath away. Such a brilliant mind and so passionate about the trades. 

Keith Mercurio, that's the first episode where we really got into mental health on the podcast, which was really wonderful for me.

And Trevor Lively, wonderful guy, owner of Blue Jay Irrigation. Very sad story. His father was running the business and suddenly passed away, had no succession plan, and Trevor came on the podcast basically to issue a warning to say, "Hey, this is something that can happen to you." Despite the tragedy he went through, his primary objective was to make sure that other folks didn't go through the same thing he did.

There's honestly some great stuff in the archives that affected me pretty deeply. I truly can't think of just one.

Episode 150 centers on some societal issues involving race. How important is it to you to have those realities and challenges be part of the fabric of what you're doing?

Jackie: It goes against my instincts to not talk about some of these issues facing the trades. I've always been super cognizant about trying to highlight women who are doing incredible things. There are so many cool women in this industry. 

When it comes to race, there's a whole different component. I have to be very blunt with you. Looking at potential guests for the podcast, it's been hard for me to find people of color in this industry. I found out in my research for Episode 150, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 8% of plumbers are Black and only 2.5% of plumbers nationwide are women.

So Episode 150 features a brother-sister duo, Khadija and Odari Head, who are the owners of Head's Plumbing Sales and Service in Atlanta. They are the oldest Black-owned plumbing company in the Southeast. 

They truly have not been able to find any other company that compares to them, but Khadija tells a heartbreaking story about when her grandfather, a master plumber, went to take the master plumbing test in, like, the 1980s. He was the only Black man in the room. When he handed the test to the test taker, the test taker ripped it up.

These are the stories we have to tell. I think when we talk about, especially the labor shortage and the trades, which is literally touched on in every episode because everyone is feeling it, we have to talk about, "OK. Well, how can we include women and people of color who have been systemically removed from this industry and how can we make it a more welcoming place to these minority groups that historically have not had a place here?"

I think it would be remiss for us not to acknowledge some of the systems in place that kept people out of these trades, and do the work now to make sure that the work is open to people from all backgrounds because that's what we need. We're in a hiring crisis. This is the only way we can solve it.

What do you love the most about talking to people in the trades? 

Jackie: I am so humbled and so proud to be part of a community that loves giving back to one another. Everyone is here to help one another. I have never seen anything like it. 

It is just so cool to be able to be part of an industry that just wants to help and support one another. I had a great episode recently with Matt LaMartina, who talked about how he's collaborating directly with his competitor to overturn some local legislation that's preventing them from hiring more apprentices. I love that.

Lots of B2B podcasts don't last very long. Why has this one endured?

Jackie: I think part of it is I'm really focused on the story. I want to talk about your entrepreneurship journey. I want to talk about the challenges you overcame, insights you gained while you were growing your business, and what you would like to share with other contractors.

We also have a fantastic agency, Westport Studios, and a wonderful production team that has helped me hone my craft and helped us promote the show so much.

Toolbox for the Trades is a ServiceTitan podcast, the last thing I want to talk about is ServiceTitan. Sometimes it happens naturally because a lot of guests are ServiceTitan customers. But it’s not about traditional B2B marketing efforts.

If anything, I think Toolbox for the Trades helps humanize myself and the hardworking folks at ServiceTitan who work to create an excellent product for our team. The goal of the show internally is to be a brand driver, not directly a sales driver.

And we prioritize customer stories. I think that's what really made it successful. We’re just going to keep doing that. 

Maybe we’ll get to 300 and beyond. Who knows?

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