Ismael Valdez told himself to smile whenever he emerged from his office.
It was 2019, and the then-32-year-old had scaled his Southern California HVAC and plumbing business, NexGen, to $30 million in just three and a half years. He’d cruise around the cubicles and greet his team with a grin, adding a rowdy “How are you?” or “Let’s go kick a** today!”
But inside his office, behind a closed door, Valdez was unraveling.
His finances were a mess. He wasn’t sure how the business was performing or if he was hitting his goals. Every month, he worried about having enough money in the bank for payroll. He started using ServiceTitan, hoping the all-in-one trades software would streamline his business—but he only used the dispatch function.
To make matters worse, Valdez was drinking too much—both on and off the job.
Nobody knew Valdez was overstressed. That he was spending hours on the phone asking the bank for more money. That he was an alcoholic. Or that, despite pouring himself into NexGen, he was about to leave the trades.
Sure, Valdez might’ve been smiling.
“But I was about to call it quits,” he said.
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‘We're not financial advisors’
Before that happened, Valdez received a phone call that challenged one of his blindspots.
Because, like many in the trades, Valdez was far from a financial expert.
“I wasn't running the business properly. I wasn't priced properly. I was just selling, selling, selling, installing, and collecting, which 99 percent of contractors, that's all we're good at,” Valdez said. “We're not educated. We're not financial advisors. We're not tech-savvy. All we know how to do is sell this box, install this box, and collect the money for that box.”
That’s where ServiceTitan was supposed to help. Among its many capabilities, the accounting, invoicing and job costing features would’ve provided the financial visibility Valdez desperately needed.
“But I thought it was a dispatching software,” Valdez said. “I was kind of gaming the system on how to use it.”
That’s why, despite having a $30 million business, NexGen only had 5-10 ServiceTitan users—a perplexing number for a company of that size. Valdez voiced his frustrations with the software on Facebook. Soon, someone noticed both the odd account numbers and the complaints.
One day, Valdez’s phone rang. It was Ara Mahdessian, the CEO and co-founder of ServiceTitan.
“Hey Ismael,” Mahdessian said. “I need you to use ServiceTitan properly.”
But Valdez wasn’t convinced. He insisted ServiceTitan was just a dispatching software that hadn’t helped his business.
“Show me why this software is worth every penny that it's worth," Valdez replied.
Mahdessian took him up on the offer.
Knowing the numbers
Tom Howard arrived at NexGen prepared to show Valdez how to best use ServiceTitan—and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Valdez was one month away from a dried-up cash flow.
Today, Howard is the VP of Customer Experience at ServiceTitan. But back in 2019, he was a successful contractor who’d used ServiceTitan to scale his trade companies in Sacramento, Fresno, Beverly Hills, and Las Vegas. Mahdessian knew Howard would be the perfect mentor for Valdez.
Valdez explained to Howard that he could not understand why, with more than $30 million in yearly revenue, he had so little money in the bank.
“Show me your P&Ls,” Howard said.
Howard was stunned.
“Ismael, you’re running a $30 million business employing like 200 people, and you don't know your profit and loss numbers?"
“No, man,” Valdez said. “Nobody's ever taken the time to say, ‘This is what a business looks like.’”
So over the next month, Howard did just that. He showed Valdez that he had too much overhead. Too many customer sales representatives. That he wasn’t properly tracking his marketing. That he could digitally automate his paper invoices and checks on a tablet or smartphone.
“You can track all of this on ServiceTitan,” Howard said.
Valdez followed Howard’s advice. He also quit drinking. And after one month, he saw a complete turnaround with his company and stress levels.
“We went from not making a profit to, ‘Holy sh**, this is a badass business,’” Valdez said.
Paying it forward
Today, Valdez is four years sober and the happiest he’s ever been. He’s also the CEO of a $100 million company in NexGen—a company he sold in 2022.
As Valdez puts it, he now doesn’t have to work “for another 150 million years.” But when you arrive at NexGen’s headquarters on a Saturday, or go to a trades convention in Las Vegas or Texas or Arizona, or ask a question on Service Avengers—the popular trades Facebook page he created—you’ll still see plenty of Valdez. Why?
“I still do it because of what Tom did and how he impacted my life,” Valdez said. “I feel that I have to give back.”
Recently, four companies toured NexGen, and Valdez happily provided his pay plans and bonus plans, HR processes—and access to managers, executives and directors. Later that week, he had a 30-minute phone call with a business owner who needed advice to turn around their $2 million company.
In exchange for his insight, Valdez asks for one thing.
“If I'm going to help you, you better go and help somebody else, too,” he said. “In the trades, we all need to stay together to help each other.”
Valdez has been in your shoes. He’s felt the stress and panic of a struggling business. He’s battled alcoholism. He almost quit the trades.
So reach out. Write a post on ServiceAvengers. Stop him at a convention. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“Because I promise you, God as my witness, somebody in the trades will help you,” Valdez said. “That's how dope the trades are.”