Cliff Fetner, founder and CEO of Soil Connect, at a...

Cliff Fetner, founder and CEO of Soil Connect, at a recycling facility in Melville. The Plainview company is creating a software platform designed to make the collecting and moving of earth more efficient. Credit: Soil Connect

Soil Connect wants to be the Tinder of dirt.

The Plainview startup has raised more than $5 million in seed and venture capital to create a marketplace that lets builders buy and sell dirt and aggregates such as sand, gravel and crushed stone.

"If you like what you see, swipe right," said founder and chief executive Cliff Fetner. "If you don't, swipe left."

Though Fetner was speaking metaphorically (there is no actual swiping), the online marketplace does match buyers with sellers.

Fetner, a third-generation builder and developer, said that builders have been moving dirt to and from job sites since the time of the pyramids.

"Nothing has changed for a thousand years," he said.

In almost every case, builders have to bring dirt to a construction site or haul it away, Fetner said, but the timing can create a bottleneck.

For instance, a builder who digs a foundation, might not be able to transfer the soil directly into a dump truck if there is no immediate destination for the fill.

Creating holding piles can impede construction and take additional time and manpower to load dump trucks once a buyer is found.

On the other hand, finding the nearest buyer or seller can help keep transportation costs in check.

"Our goal is not to create friction," Fetner said. "We talk about efficiency at Soil Connect. We're no different than Airbnb or Craigslist. You connect and you make a deal."

Soil Connect, founded in 2018, estimates the total addressable market for dirt in the United States — the portion of the market that potentially could be served by Soil Connect — at $30 billion to $50 billion.

"Dirt's not really dirt," Fetner said. "It's a commodity."

The 20-person company's potential has attracted $5.6 million in seed and venture capital, including a $3.25 million funding round in December 2020. The largest investor is Heartland Ventures, based in Columbus, Ohio.

"Cliff and his team are not Silicon Valley programmers — they're construction leaders that know the customer," Mark Accomando, partner at Heartland Ventures and a Soil Connect director, said in a statement. "This is a huge advantage in an industry often wary of technology."

The business plan calls for keeping the online dirt marketplace free of charge as the company seeks to gain market share.

"It took Airbnb almost four years after the seed-stage investment to get market density," Fetner said.

Two other products — eTickets and eRegulatory — are providing $350,000 in annual recurring revenue for Soil Connect', he said.

The eTickets software digitizes the paperwork required to track the type of material, quantity and location where it is picked up and deposited.

The eRegulatory software supplants a paper trail and provides an online "chain of custody" required by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation when moving contaminated soil.

A version for New Jersey authorities will be launched within weeks, said Fetner, who filed in July to restructure personal debt under chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code. That filing stemmed from COVID-19’s impact on a real estate project and is "unrelated to Soil Connect," a company statement said.

Soil Connect's online dirt marketplace is available in all 50 states, but the company is focusing its initial efforts in Ohio, Indiana, Florida and the New York metropolitan area, markets where it has investors and partners.

Foreign markets eventually could follow.

"That's on our road map," Fetner said. "I'm going to be the dirt king of the world."

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