Looking back on his collegiate career, one can immediately recognize why David Arnold was so successful at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, graduating with highest honors.
The Sutherland, Nebraska, native always thrived in settings of diverse learning and Wesleyan’s liberal arts curriculum suited him to a tee.
“One thing I really enjoyed about Wesleyan was the fact that we were required to take classes in all different areas,” he said. “It forced you to test things and in that process you learn well, I really didn’t like that area, but eventually you find something you love that you never would have considered otherwise.
“I think that structure really helped me understand the reason you explore and do new things is to not only learn what you like, but also to learn what you don’t like. Both of those things are valuable when you’re trying to figure out how to put your time to its best use, whether that’s life or your career.”
Even before he graduated college, Arnold was putting his broad-spectrum mindset to use in a diverse set of professional roles. Between 2006 and 2011 alone, he served as press intern for then-Sen. Ben Nelson, finished law school, clerked in the Nebraska Attorney General’s office, served roles in three different law firms and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Law before landing as deputy communications director for Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle.
Beginning in 2013, he shifted to the startup world with MindMixer, followed by three years at StraightShot. In 2016, he joined Buildertrend, working his way up to his current role as chief strategy officer in 2020.
“I had a mom who told me I could do anything and at some point I believed her,” he said with a shrug. “I am really a person who likes to do new things. And I think that’s why these startups and this investment-backed world that I’ve been in is such a good fit. There’s never two days that are the same.
“As the business changes rapidly, your job changes rapidly, which means you’re doing new things, you’re testing yourself. You’re trying to feel out where your ceiling is. I think that’s why I’ve fallen in love with high-growth companies.”
With each stop, Arnold gained key components of what is now a robust set of skills that he puts into play on a daily basis.
“Each role and each change, while it may not have made sense on paper, were evolutionary steps,” he said. “In the mayor’s office, I learned about communication and more specifically how leaders communicate, how they do it well, how they do it poorly. I developed an appreciation for how important speaking the right message to the right person is.
“As I switched to early-stage tech, I realized this reformed planner has to be comfortable with the revision process. That’s one of the things that I now really enjoy about this world, is that the revisions are how you make masterpieces. The first drafts don’t really matter as much.”
Buildertrend, a software product that helps contractors map out the various elements of a project more efficiently, took everything Arnold had learned up to that point and applied it over a much larger organization.
“I joined here at 150 people and we now have about 820 across the nation,” he said. “I think what I’ve learned here is scaling requires intentionality and planning. Growth can be a crushing force unless you plan how to handle that growth intentionally. Those are the highlighted lessons from all those experiences.”
The company got an unexpected boost from the pandemic era as builders large and small looked to squeeze every bit of efficiency out of a highly fluid and highly uncertain marketplace as COVID-19 got its hooks into personnel and supply chain. But even before that, the company had been taking steps to ensure its platform was malleable to a number of different business environments, strategic planning spearheaded by Arnold.
“I think the most important thing to call out first and foremost is that strategy and strategic planning is a team sport,” he said. “While it’s my job to organize a process to plan, and also to oversee teams that help different leaders execute, no one in isolation can control strategy. If they tell you that they can, then they’re misleading themselves or you or both.
“The thing that’s really exciting is, if you look at the health care industry, group purchasing organizations are super-prevalent. It is how procurement happens, especially for smaller hospitals and systems. That’s essentially what we’re trying to pull our industry into.
“We get excited because we’re not trying to create a brand-new business model, we’re just trying to apply it to an industry that sorely needs it. It certainly won’t be easy, but we think we’re onto something.”