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Davisware: The OG of Vertical SaaS
the story of an enduring company for commercial food service
Long before, vertical SaaS was a known category, chockfull of venture capital, there were still companies creating game-changing software for industries. Some of these, including Jack Henry and Associates, I have written about before. One that has escaped much public attention: Davisware. Yet, Davisware was the OG vertical software company in field services. Long before there was any thought of ServiceTitan, Jennifer and Dan Davis were building software for the space.
Dan and Jennifer started the company together when they were 17 and 22 years old respectively and bootstrapped the entire thing. Not only did they bootstrap their business growth and operations for over 30 years, they did so for the 3 businesses they acquired along the way. This was all accomplished while raising 10 kids. The company grew into an absolute force within the industry. It is now the standard operating system for commercial equipment service verticals and even handles vast parts of manufacturers’ workflows for over 80% of the warranty claims in the foodservice industry.
And as Davisware continues that legacy into the next era, their CEO, Tasos, and I sat down to chat through what the future holds.
Why were Jennifer and Dan able to build such a powerful vertical SaaS company? And where is Tasos and team taking the company? It’s probably best to start with why commercial kitchen repairs can be so complex. If you recall from a past piece on field services, many complex industrial equipment verticals internalize their servicing teams. The calculus makes sense: these OEMs need robust product feedback and have highly complex technical installation and servicing. That combined with the high price of these products enables and mandates them to internalize the support function.
But commercial equipment in many other spheres is not like that. There are just way too many appliances in the market to internalize. Take commercial kitchen equipment. There are about 2,000+ manufacturers according to Tasos. This isn’t a winner-take-all market. Second, their customers service spans ~800k+ restaurants all of whom have myriad appliances in need of maintenance and repair. And if you start to include the tens of thousands of other businesses with commercial kitchens, such as schools, prisons, office complexes and convenience stores, you’re looking at a massive client base with myriad products to potentially service.
It’s really hard to internalize a servicing base across a million customers scattered throughout the country. To solve that, a complex web of distributors, OEMS, and service companies handle the support function. In some ways, you can think of this as akin to the car dealership model. There’s plenty of parallels in terms of distribution, warranty management, and more. Except rather than service happening on a dealer’s lot, it happens in the kitchen itself. So what tends to happen is a stove breaks, and a restaurant either reaches out to their manufacturer or distributor, or calls a service company they’ve worked with directly.
And therein lies all the difficulty that software needs to solve: multiple entities including the manufacturer, the distributor, and the service company need to communicate information about the parts, the timeline for repair, and various warranty information.
You get all the complications of supply chains, warranty management, and the actual repair work across hundreds of thousands of end locations. And while the repair certainly eats up time, the real drain for companies happens in the back office where teams spend large swaths of time simply navigating communications between various parties. Before Davisware, this happened via pen, paper and too many phone calls with tons of friction for getting kitchens operational again.
Jennifer and Dan saw this and decided to fix it.
The core Davisware products, GlobalEdge and Vision, have undergone several renditions over the company’s lifecycle. The gist though is a verticalized ERP & FSM meant to handle all the nuances of how a commercial service company is structured. There isn’t exactly a standardized way that these companies handle interfacing with clients, distributors, and manufacturers. But you can boil down Davisware into this: Whether a repair order stems from a manufacturer, distributor or directly from a kitchen, they need to dispatch the right person, with the right skills, and the right parts, at the right time and ensure all counterparties are aware of what’s happening.
When Davisware began to reach mass industry adoption, it began to span the other parts of the value chain. All commercial equipment typically comes with a warranty. Whenever something breaks, usually warranties are the first item checked by service companies and up the value chain. Davisware then acquired Service Management Group and their legacy product, Warranty Central. The legacy software was replaced with a completely rewritten Davisware product, GlobalWarranty. This platform allowed manufacturers to manage all aspects of the claims process as well as the expanded features to handle all OEM communications with external parties.
Today, Davisware has achieved the sort of industry adoption that every vertical SaaS company dreams of. That buys you an opportunity to think about the future. Tasos and the team are focused on extending Davisware into the new era.
One of the largest opportunities is to facilitate deeper interoperability within the industry. Davisware is in a somewhat unique position to accomplish this given the vast control points in the industry they already occupy. Today, many similar vertical industries deal with a lot of “double entry.” Details on a job or parts must be logged into both your own system as a servicer and the software systems underlying distributors, OEMs, and 3rd party facilities managers.
You can imagine a world where Davisware better facilitates interoperability using the software stacks they have created amidst warranty management in the OEMs and their own native ERP & FSM products on the field service side.
Everybody wants this - solving it technically remains challenging. Yet, this is the sort of challenge that Davisware is uniquely suited to solve given the complexities they’ve already solved in the ecosystem.
In many respects, this is the way the industry is going to continually go. As more tech-enabled food equipment enters the space, replete with data that all industry participants will need to tap into, there will be a massive need for interoperability layers that Davisware can create to serve the market. And if they capitalize, we will be talking about Davisware for another 30 years.