Tats Nakagawa, chief operating officer and co-founder of green roof coatings company Castagra, has been sharing insights and collaborating in the digital space for some time now.
Not only has he been sharing information on his social media platforms, but he also hosts his own podcast on the building materials and coatings industry. In this CoatingsPro podcast, Nakagawa joined us to share some of his tips and tricks, opportunities, and considerations with our readers.
[This podcast was recorded on April 22, 2020.]
Stephanie Chizik: Tats, thanks for joining us.
Tats Nakagawa: Thank you for having me. You’re doing a very good thing with these updates. I’ve been following along.
SC: Thank you. In a really time-sensitive time, we felt like it’s a good time to start sending out these types of materials. We want to put out as much content as we can and thought it would be helpful for our readers. Thanks for saying that, and we’re happy to have you here.
TN: I’ve been so grateful. Everyone’s been so open and caring and sharing. I’m very proud of being part of this community.
SC: Can you give our listeners a little bit of your background? Let us know who we’re talking to.
TN: Sure. My background is in marketing, launching different products. We started our company 10 years ago based on a technology that my partner invented 30 years ago. We’ve been part of a lot of different industries over the years, just trying to figure out our place. We’ve settled in on roofing, and we do flooring primarily in North America. We do have customers outside it, but our focus is in North America.
SC: You mentioned the roofing part. I think, from what I understand, there have been a lot of interesting developments, at least with who is considered essential and not with the COVID-19 pandemic in the roofing industry in particular. Have you heard anything from the field as far as that goes?
TN: In most jurisdictions, at the current time, roofers are deemed essential. Obviously, it’s a changing situation. Some situations do alter. For the most part, from our operation standpoint, our customers’ standpoint, they have been able to complete their projects and do their business the best that they could.
SC: Have you heard anything from your clients in the field, who are working right now, on any challenges or even positives that have come out of this experience?
TN: Yes, I think the overall positive, whenever you're face with a big challenge, it’s the amount of innovation and forward thinking that you see out in the field, and with ourselves and our counterparts as well. Being forced to work remote and think through using new technologies — not necessarily would have been adopted so readily in the past — it’s inspiring.
We are fairly technology based. We’ve always liked that, to a point where, sometimes I find it a little embarrassing that we were so digital and so remote on certain things. But now it seems to be the norm. The adoption rate that I see — companies in the past that maybe it took a rap of being a little bit more “old school,” when push comes to shove I’ve seen them respond so proactively. For my part it’s been very inspiring, watching them execute.
SC: I do think you hit the nail on the head as far as what I’m seeing. The companies — related to construction or not — that are able to adapt to the new experiences and environments, digitally or remotely, are probably going to do much better in the long run just because of that quick change and thinking on your feet. Do you see anything from Castagra? You guys are based out of Nevada, right?
TN: Yes, absolutely.
SC: Anything locally there that’s going on as far as how things have changed in the last couple of weeks?
TN: Nevada, Arizona, Colorado — it’s fairly straightforward in those states at this point. We haven’t noticed that much change. Of course, everyone’s taking appropriate health and safety measures, social distancing practices. We haven’t seen any issues that we should be concerned about. But we have to be very diligent because things can change very quickly. We are always paying attention to credible outlets like yourself, NACE, and other organizations —listening to the right type of information. There’s a lot of information out there that contradicts each other, so you have to pick and choose what you're going to focus on. We’ve figured out what those sources are for us, and we try to stay close to it.
Also, we try to figure out what we can control and what we can’t control. There’s a million things that could be coming around the corner that could be an issue for us. Just try not to focus on those things. Just focus on things that we have control over and not try to get overloaded by all the things that you could possibly do to prepare for the future. Because when you carry too much on you, you get task overload.
I remember — it’s not a great comparison, but in 2008, our company was heavily in oil and gas. We had most of our clients in oil and gas. I remember in a span of months we lost 80 percent of our clients. It was shocking for us. I remember sitting at my desk thinking, “How are we going to get through this.” All those things that flash into your head, like, “We worked so hard.” The feeling gets overwhelming. I called a mentor of mine that was very experienced in going through stuff like this. I remember he told me something very, very simple, but it made sense because we were all trying to get advice on what we should do. Even though our company is not as affected, we’re all connected in some way. So in some way, shape, and form we’re all going to be affected. He told me, “Well, what you need to do is figure out what is the next most important thing you have to do. Then you go and you do it. Once you do it, then you find the next most important thing you have to do after that.”
I thought it was really good because we can think, “We’re so busy, there are so many things happening. Let’s cram so many things in our day.” Then when you look up you realize, “I’m working at home and I’m not seeing my kids.” I’m supposed to be at home, so just balancing it out. Realize that this is going to be a marathon for us, not a sprint, and that we have to maintain a healthy perspective with your own self and also make sure that the team and everyone knows to stay calm. We just have to view this as an ongoing situation.
SC: Those are some really good tips. I also feel like we’re all in it. To me, that brings a little bit of comfort. Just because you're going through a hard day doesn’t mean that the next guy isn’t, too, where we can lift each other up or commiserate. This is definitely a unique situation where everyone is going to be affected in some capacity. It’s so interesting.
TN: I saw something interesting that someone was saying as well. Everyone’s switching to doing online stuff. Some people are very familiar with this, some people not. You look at your social media stuff, and you see a lot of direct messages, people trying to sell you stuff or they’re trying to do all these things. Maybe an instant reaction is to be a little annoyed at that, but then to think through what the other person must be going through. Trying to figure out their situation, to be more empathetic for what people are doing because they’re all figuring things out, failing and growing. Take something that may be like “Why are they being so pushy?” to being a little bit more kind. I saw that advice out there. I thought it was really fitting.
SC: I think the opposite of that is also helpful potentially for our contractors. Like you said, we’re all just trying to figure it out. This is unprecedented. Try something out, if it doesn’t work, be agile and try something else out until you figure out what does work for you.
TN: We’ve been doing a lot of virtual trainings. We’ve been doing a lot of virtual inspections. We’ve been coaching, as much as we could, our team, our contractors, our contractor’s clients. Whoever we can help out, because we love technology, to make their life better in any way. We’ve made it a goal to try to do whatever we can. Also ask for help, too, for things that we may not be good at. In these situations, we all have a common goal. People are left [going] back and forth on who’s doing what or if they’re with our company or not. Coming together as an industry, as people, and trying to figure out how we can help each other in any way possible is the only way to go about it, I think.
SC: You guys have done such an amazing job. You already had been working in the digital space, from what I saw on social media, but you’ve done the podcast now for a while. I saw on LinkedIn you're putting out a lot of “Tats Talks,” which is really helpful, even just thought-provoking. I really commend you guys for doing such a good job and being such good partners with all of your customers, and even with us. You’re the one who reached out to me and said, “How can we help?” It’s such a huge help for the industry. It’s great. Thank you for that.
TN: Thank you for your leadership as well. I’ve been following very closely on how you guys are approaching things, and I’ve always admired your approach.
SC: Thank you. We’re doing what we can. You’ve mentioned a few things — moving virtually or trying things on the digital side. Do you have any predictions about what these short-term changes could mean for our industry in the long term?
TN: I think the acceptance of virtual training, virtual inspections — the efficiency driven out of being able to do things less face-to-face, when appropriate. Obviously, you cannot emulate the relationship you can develop by being face-to-face, but being able to augment that appropriately, I think the industry is going to take that on and use that efficiency to drive the speed of innovation and also to be able to service customers better and to adapt to change. Who says that these sorts of things aren’t going to happen in the future?
So I think that is what’s going to be on people’s minds and they’re going to want to be more flexible. They’re going to figure out better ways to collaborate. I see tons of different ways that people are figuring out ways to interact online. There’s a rise of personal brands, as it relates to collaboration and also the sales process. I think those have been accelerated. I think there’s a bunch of bad things that happened, but I think there will be a lot of positives to take out of it in terms of quality of life improvement and industry growth and knowledge.
SC: I also think, at least personally, this has forced me not only to slow down and to be mindful, but also to look for those positives, which is not a practice I always have had. I this situation it feels like, “I need to find a positive today, so what is that positive going to be?” I wonder if that will help people tailor their decisions moving forward, to find those silver linings. That’s a good point. You had mentioned the virtual inspections. Can you walk us through that? What does that entail? How does that work? I’m assuming you mean mostly with roofing project, potentially?
TN: Yes, roofing projects. We look at videos, we look at photos. Obviously, there are limitations to virtual inspections. We’d only used VR equipment. I know some people are experimenting, they have some of that, they’re starting to do that. I think there’s an increase and that will come about. But at this point we’re relying on certain types of contractors that we trust. When they’re walking on a roof, they understand the structural elements of the roof so that they can provide us feedback on that. But then we can look at drone footage. We can look at photographs, videos, FaceTime things to really figure out and to be of service to our customers.
In this way, we can be very responsive so that we don’t slow down any of their projects just because we can’t get someone there onsite to review the project, whether it’s a warranty that needs to be issued or a recommendation that needs to be made. I’ve seen that a little bit in the construction side as well. It’s something we were talking about doing for six to eight months, and we were inching toward it. We figured it was going to take us two to three years to really go in that direction, but because of these changes we fast-tracked it. So far, so good. I’m sure there’s a lot of innovation that’s going to come as an industry in that area.
SC: Absolutely. I also feel like — it’s not the end-all, be-all, of course, like you said, but — it has to have a bit of improvement as far as safety goes. If you don’t have to put someone on the roof necessarily, then maybe we can keep them off the roof. Always a consideration, at least, in our part of the world, of “What can we do safer to help the contractor at the end of the day?” You also mentioned innovations. I know you co-authored the book, Overcoming Inventoritis: The Silent Killer of Innovation. What’s that all about? Can you give us a brief overview of that book?
TN: It’s inventor syndrome, if you want to think of it that way. High level, we were working on a project. It was a consumer product, and we were launching it. Long story short, we sold a million units and we were doing well. We wanted to take it to the next level, but we had a minority stake in the business. The inventor wanted to go a certain way and we just couldn’t convince him to do it in a more “commercial” way. We were frustrated because he was so attached to his product — rightfully so — but we couldn't understand what that was. We came up with the word “inventoritis” — people falling in love with their product.
We started to explore that more and understand what is a healthy attachment to innovation. How do you focus — the goal of innovation is to make people’s lives better — and then it’s not becoming part of your identity. We started to really explore this. Out of frustration, we wrote a whole book on it. Honestly, for us, I think we missed a few things. It was a while ago when we wrote our book. But we focused on the technology and not falling in love with the technology. The key thing that we missed that we didn’t write about is, “What do you fall in love with?” You fall in love with the people that are doing it. The purpose — that’s what you have to fall in love with. We didn’t get that aspect in the book.
I think the first aspect is, whenever you're trying to get new ideas to market, you have to make sure that you're not attached to the idea in a very unhealthy way. One of the easy tests that I like to mention that I got from the direct response world was: Imagine you have an idea. It’s 3 a.m. You go to one of your customers’ or prospects’ door and you kick the door down. You’re so excited. You run upstairs, you run into their bedroom — I know, it’s a little creepy — and you grab them and shake them. You say, “I have this great idea! I want to tell you about it.” They’re so tired, they’re kind of groggy, and they’re half awake, and then you tell them the idea. One of two things is going to happen. The first thing that could happen is they listen to your idea and they go back to sleep. Or they could get excited and jump up and down with your idea. You really have to visualize that whole sequence and be honest with yourself. How good is your idea? Have you just fallen in love with your idea because you think it’s clever, and you're giving yourself a nice pat on your back? Or is it really something that’s valuable that’s going to make the world better and the lives or your clients or team members better?
The idea doesn’t necessarily have to come from yourself. It could come from anywhere. Practice humility and distance yourself from the idea for a second. Look at it carefully. This is an important factor in innovation. A lot of companies try to achieve it. For a while — I think the company was PNG — they had the “proudly not invented here” kind of slogan going — but that’s what we all aspire to as a company. Just because we didn’t come up with it doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it and promote it, whether it’s another company or it’s a rival or anything. I think that we have to get to a place where we promote the best ideas. Especially in a climate like we are today. The best ideas have to come out because that’s the only way we’re going to make it out of this and thrive. Those are my thoughts on that.
SC: I love that visual. The idea of collaboration and humility are probably really useful right now, too. That’s great. We’re pretty familiar with that on the publications side, too. A lot of people who write articles — not necessarily for us, but just in general — you’re in love with a specific phrase or sentence, and if it gets cut, they have a hard time with that. It’s an interesting concept, for sure. Any other opportunities that our readers should know about, virtually or otherwise? There’s obviously a lot of opportunities. Potentially people have time on their hands. Of course, there are a lot of contractors who are probably busier than ever trying to bang those projects out. But any other ideas you can think of that you might want to share?
TN: An idea, or something that we’d definitely like to offer, for myself personally or anyone in our company, we’re always willing to see how we can help. If there’s any of your listeners — regardless if they’re affiliated with our company or not, it really does not matter — feel free to reach out to us, and I’m happy to help out however we can. Also, happy to take suggestions, like you said, on the podcast. If there are any guests or anyone that we should cover who has a story that we need to get out there, that has the innovation/entrepreneurial spirit attached to them, I’m open to feedback as well. Again, I’ll reiterate, love what you guys are doing. I love what a lot of the associations are doing. I love how people are stepping up to help, whether it’s traditionally a competitor or not, I applaud that. I’m inspired by that. For us, we want to do whatever we can to contribute and help along.
SC: Where can people find you or find the company in general if they want to reach out?
TN: Castagra.com. You will provide links to that, I guess?
TN: Or just through any of my social media stuff that I’m involved in. Feel free to connect, send me a note. Any genuine request to connect, I’ll be happy and open to respond. Feel free.
SC: Perfect. Thank you so much for your time, Tats. I appreciate it. Hopefully I’ll get to see you sometime soon in the near future and talk to you another time in a better situation. But we are all making the best of it that we can. Thanks so much.
TN: Thank you so much, Stephanie.
For more information, contact: Castagra, (888) 388-2935, www.castagra.com
Editor's note: Listen to all of the other interviews in CoatingsPro's COVID-19 podcast series.