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Ben and Amber Jackson: Driving Together for Success

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If you’ve moved a large item or a household, more than likely you’ve used a bungee cord to secure your cargo. Bungee, sometimes spelled bungie, is also known as a shock cord, and in Australia, it’s called an octopus strap. But in the Kansas City metro, it’s Bungii, which has taken on a meaning of its own. Bungii, a company based in Overland Park, Kansas, offers a similar concept to ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft. But instead of transporting people, it transports people’s stuff.

Ben Jackson, who grew up in Budapest, Hungary, where his parents continue their missionary work, dreamed up the idea after moving back to the U.S. for college. He received constant requests from college friends to borrow his truck to move their things. One day he had multiple appeals for his wheels and the muscles to get the loads picked up and delivered.

“At K-State in 2014, I drove a black 1999 Ford Ranger, which is not really considered a truck, but on one day four different people ask to borrow it,” he said. “Now, I like to consider myself a nice guy but that was a bit much. It got to the point that I actually hated having a truck.”

“Move It! Move It”
The next day in class, Ben shared the problem with his pal Harrison Proffitt, who suggested that the pair start a business. It was then that the concept of Bungii was conceived: tap a button on your phone and get a truck to haul your stuff. Ben likes to think of his company as “your friends with a truck.”

“If you need to move, haul or deliver large items around town, Bungii should be your choice. Instead of moving people, we move people’s stuff for commercial or residential. If it won’t fit into a Prius, that’s where Bungii comes in. Think of it as an Uber for pickup trucks,” explained the 28-year-old. “You select your location, take a photo of the item you need to move and, through the app, you send it to nearby drivers. Our typical delivery cost is $45 with an average 19 minutes arrival time.”

Ben is proud to point out that Bungii is more than a mover of things; it’s also a way to positively impact local communities. Many of the drivers he employs are using their wages to get their college education. Some are trying to pay off medical bills for their families. Quite a few are first responders who are drumming up extra money during their days off from protecting our communities.

All-Out Drive for Success
“We had the idea for Bungii right before our junior summer. Harrison and I had internships lined up, although we wanted to pursue our idea. But to secure funding from investors, we had to prove the idea was viable within the market. So we turned down internships and spent the summer hauling things around to prove the model,” commented Ben. “It was during a hot day in June, and we were strapping down a dresser. My friend said to pitch him a bungee cord and that was it. We had the name for the company. We found that was available and cheap. We proved our business model, and we built the app with $250,000 supplied by investors.”

While his business career was blossoming, so was his personal life. He’s been with his wife, Amber, for more than nine years. They met in college at Manhattan Christian College, where both attended. Ben also studied at Kansas State, Manhattan, Kansas, and graduated with degrees from both institutions. But it was Amber’s determination and hard work that proved to be a critical component to Bungii’s early success. The couple lived on nearly nothing financially for years to put every penny into the business. Amber’s wages as a waitress kept the couple and the business afloat for years.

“I worked full time so that we could pour everything into the business. We have always lived on a tight budget, below our means, and that’s a bit different from our peers,” recalled Amber. “We have contentment and don’t need to go out all the time and forgo all the new stuff. We said no to so much with the hope that it would pay off in the future. We lived off $25 a month for food, which meant a lot of beans and rice. It was difficult but we had a lot of contentment that kept us focused and happy.”

The Business Metrics
As the company grew, Ben needed to find a solid location for the fledgling start-up. He and his partner ran the data and found that Kansas City offered everything the new company needed. “We had a couple of different types of data from the areas where we could launch Bungii. Kansas City had an active startup community, progressive thinking, a higher per capita of pickups and a big volume of large items on Craigslist that is higher per capita than most cities,” revealed Ben. “The transient nature of those large items is what Bungii does.”

Next, he had to convince Amber that this should now be home; however, she had earlier stated that KC was not her choice. But Ben used the charm of the Plaza lights at Christmas to persuade the Lincoln, Nebraska, native she should consider this her new home. “In my defense, I had only been to the airport in Kansas City so in my mind it was the long road from Manhattan to the airport,” she laughed. “But when he told me about the excitement of Bungii and its potential success, I couldn’t say no. I’m here to support Ben and Bungii and when he explained it to me, I just decided that’s where we needed to be.”

Growth projections are solid for Bungii in the commercial and consumer segments of this pickup truck business. Right now, Bungii can be found in 11 metros; Louisville and Memphis came on this year. Twelve more are forecasted to join in 2020, meaning the company will be found in 120 cities with 5,000 drivers.

“In two years, we’re going to have nationwide infrastructure demand in place, including local drivers, techs and partners. Bungii will have one of the largest delivery footprints in the U.S. We have partners nationwide who need the service, and we have the platform to continue our expansion nationwide,” commented Ben. “We started in KC and our headquarters will remain here in KC. We just completed a $6 million funding round, and 95 percent of that money came from KC tech investors. You can start tech companies and be successful right here in KC.”

Recognition and Credit
Ben’s success has been noted by some very impressive business leaders. This year he was singled out as a Forbes Magazine 30 Under 30 for Consumer Technology. “When I found out, I was surprised, and called Amber because I thought it was a joke. But an email confirmed it, and over the next couple days, it really sank in. I don’t know how they found me. Someone nominated me, and I still do not know who that is,” he remarked. “It’s a huge honor, but the way I see it, it’s not about me. It’s never been about me and will never be about me. It’s about a God who loves us, a wife who’s ride or die, Harrison, my team, the investors and the lives we impact and those that we help. We’re still in our 20s, and people can look down on us or not take us seriously because of our age. This added a lot of credibility to help with that.”

This ride-or-die wife has found her own recipe for success as a supporter of Bungii. She relishes her role as mother to their eight-month-old daughter and keeper of the home front. This allows Ben to focus his energies on the business. “I offer more support from home because the forever constant with being an entrepreneur is the unknown. I’m really focused on staying sane and keeping the family sane with my foundation of truth, which is to rely on prayer,” she shared. “My natural instincts are to have anxiety, but with prayer, I can be the steadiness that Ben needs in his day-to-day life.”

“I say that if you’re in it for money or power or fame, you’re going to lose,” Ben added. “You have to find something bigger than yourself to get you through the tough times.”

And according to Ben, there can be many difficult stretches. It makes being an entrepreneur that much more draining because so much rides on your shoulders. To describe his dilemma, Ben used the analogy of playing a long-ago video game called Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! Every time you win a round you get put back into the ring to get “punched in the face.”

Getting Back Up
“The other week, my little brother told me that I make running a startup look so easy, and I replied that no, I’m just really good at getting punched in the face,” Ben recalled. “Maybe there’s a technical problem that causes the mobile app to go down. Maybe a deal is about to get done with a major investor and then they pull out or the investment doesn’t come through. We have a team of 30 full-time employees in Kansas City and that’s a lot of pressure on you.”

While a video game that mimics getting into the ring with a champion boxer isn’t Amber’s thing, she calls upon a deep sense of self to get through the rocky times. “It’s about learning the discipline of independence. You need to serve everyone and your spouse the way I serve Ben, and he honors and respects the independence that I can have,” Amber stated. “Maybe I’m getting the cars fixed or taking care of the house, but I’m joyfully doing this because I know that I’m serving him, which is a huge support to him as an entrepreneur.”

“For me, it comes down to communication, naming what you’re doing and making decisions together. Amber and I talked about starting Bungii. Being an entrepreneur is going to be harder than the traditional career working with a corporation. You’re working more, making less, but we made that decision together,” Ben replied. “Building something cool requires doing uncool things and those are things cool people don’t want to do. The daily grind isn’t always fun, but success comes from putting in the work, day in and day out. There’s never a quick solution. The reason companies are successful is due to the punches that they’ve taken in the face. Stay away from glamour and bling, and in ten years you’re going to have it.”