Written by: Madeleine Jenness
Tema Woods, a 36 year-old student here at the University of Washington Bothell, is an entrepreneur who recently launched a new roadside assistance app called “Roady.”
Woods, originally from Chicago, Illinois, has been an entrepreneur since he was a kid. “I started the newspaper route at seven years old. And so, when I first got the newspaper route I was like ‘okay… I’m making money, but how can I scale this?’”
Woods then had the idea to hire friends to do the routes for him, and he could then take a percentage of the profits from each of them.
“At the time I hired the crew I had about 16 kids all working these routes. And at that point I was just managing them, at seven years old. That’s when I kinda, I guess you say ‘got the bug.’ I was just like ‘yeah, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life’… I wanna be the guy wearing the suit.”
Since then, Woods has bought multiple businesses. He currently works four jobs, including the app, a cleaning business, real estate, and a credit repair company he recently bought.
“I enjoy it! I have friends tell me all the time like, ‘I think you have an obsession with buying businesses.’” Woods said.
He looks for companies that he says are on “autopilot” where he can purchase them and manage them, but they mostly still run on their own.
“Not everyone can make that one-ticket item that makes them a millionaire. But if I can buy 100 small businesses and make me a millionaire, why not do it?” he said.
So how did Woods become so knowledgeable, and where did he learn it all?
“Real estate is my background. I bought my first house when I was 18. It was a program on one of those infomercials, like ‘buying houses no money down’ and so I ended up buying that system… And I studied it for like the whole year when I was 17… As soon as I turned 18 I was like ‘okay let’s see if these strategies work,’ and I bought my first house, no money down… So I just started buying more and buying more houses after that.”
Woods describes himself as a “real estate wholesaler.” Investopedia.com describes real estate wholesaling as: “a wholesaler contracts a home with a seller, then finds an interested party to buy it… The wholesaler contracts the home with a buyer at a higher price than with the seller, and keeps the difference as profit.”
Presently, Woods owns three houses. The most he has ever owned at one time is eight.
Woods is an avid reader and he attributes this to part of his success as an entrepreneur.
The books he recommends the most are “The E Myth” and “The E Myth Revisited” by Michael E. Gerber, as well as “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries.
“Being a college student, college doesn’t prepare you for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is a lot of trial and error, and just what you’re gonna do to go outside the norm, and learn some new skills on your own. So I read a lot, lots of reading, going to a lot of entrepreneur events and trying to meet people who already did what I’m trying to do,” he said.
Woods originally went into the army after graduating high school, getting the idea one day when he saw a commercial to enlist.
“I was just like God… I’m getting bored with everyday doing the same thing… They were enlisting people now. So, I went in, that was Monday and I went in on Tuesday to speak to a recruiter and I left next Tuesday… I knew I had to do it quickly to not give myself the opportunity to talk myself out of it.”
He then spent four years in active duty as route clearance, then two years reserve in the air force. His time in the military included one deployment to Afghanistan.
“It opens up your eyes to the way the other side lives… Like a lot of things we have here that we take for granted… They don’t have it.”
After the military, he moved to California, and then from California to Washington, where he started working full-time as security for Jeff Bezos’ office. This is where he got the idea for his new roadside assistance app: Roady.
Woods designed Roady to be an on-demand roadside assistance service, a sort-of combination between Uber and AAA. He got the idea when a man got a flat tire in front of Bezos’ office. Seeing that the man wasn’t sure what to do, Woods approached him and helped him to change his tire.
“Next time, call an Uber,” he told the man.
“Does Uber… Change tires?” the man asked.
At that point, the idea struck him, and stuck in Woods’ head. Seeing the lack of a platform for on-call roadside services, he set his mind that he would create an app that served that need. That app would later become Roady.
From the beginning, Woods envisioned the app as an open-market system. “If you look at Uber and Lyft today, they set the price points for the providers. So what I did was I went out and talked to tow truck drivers. And I was like, ‘what is the biggest problem you have being a tow truck driver?’ And what a lot of them would tell you is the money. Even though they charge us $150, $300, to take your car for a mile down the road, out of that $150, they might only get $40 of it, and the rest goes to AAA.”
Woods continues, “This is what I’m going to create with this app called Roady, where we’re getting rid of the dispatch service.”
By having an open-market system, the providers are then able to set their own prices. Woods explains: “So, say you and I are both providers, and someone says ‘I need a tire change.’ And you say, ‘okay I’ll do a tire change, but I’m charging $30.’ And I say ‘Okay I’ll do tire changes, but I want $50.’”
“It puts the buying power back in the user’s hand, instead of just being stuck with the price that the company created, they can choose how much they’re willing to pay depending on how fast they want that service,” Woods said.
He has been developing the app for two years, outsourcing certain parts and then bringing it all back together to create the app. The app had been near completion last year, but he ran into issues with the servers not working in the US.
“I had the first version of it, which was complete, and then we ran into issues with the server and it working here in the United States. So, I went back to the developer and of course the developer was just trying to get more money out of me, and then, long story short, at the end of the conversation he was like ‘oh I could have just fixed this in two days.”
Woods talks about how in business, especially the tech industry, perception and reputation are everything.
“You get a lot of people thinking you don’t know until you open your mouth. That’s why I tell people you have to read…Perception is the biggest issue… If they feel like you don’t know anything, they’re gonna try to take you for as much as they can,” he said.
Woods says that he has been scammed in the tech and real estate industries before. He now mentors people in real estate, and helps them learn how to not get scammed. “I would say the biggest key is never take people for what they say, only what’s in black an white… Cause if you just take somebody’s word for it, they’re going to screw you over nine out of ten times.”
Woods also discusses how African American men, as well as all women, are underrepresented in the tech industry. “[I]n my last research, it was 3 percent male African American men are in the tech industry. 6 percent women. So we’re so underrepresented when it comes to the tech industry.” Woods hopes to work to change these numbers with Roady. “[T]hat was one of the biggest things about Roady, was like, one day, I’m gonna turn this into the biggest African-American owned tech company in the United States.”
Although one may think Woods is already incredibly successful, he isn’t satisfied just yet.
“I haven’t reached that point yet, that legacy,” he said.
He has made his goal to be on the cover of the Washington Business Journal by the end of the year.
At the time of interview, Woods was also working on launching another app called “Ebba” which he co-founded. Ebba is going to be an app intended to give minority companies better marketing when they might not have a lot of funds. The hope is that it will be launched at the beginning of February for Black History Month.
Woods is avid about networking, and is open to interested students reaching out to him. You can contact him at email@example.com.