Like many kids, Douglas Tyler FTMBA ’19 craved to have a space of his own in the form of a treehouse. While the Richmond, Virginia native’s dream was never realized as a young child, it would serve as the inspiration later on when he started his own company, A Tiny House.
“It was a thirst that never got quenched,” he said. “I always had an affinity for building so when I learned about tiny houses a few years ago I thought to myself, could I potentially make a childhood dream come true?”
Laying the foundation
For his undergraduate education, Tyler sought a degree in civil engineering at the University of Kentucky. His decision of what to pursue academically was an easy one; he came from a family of engineers and was inspired by his father, also an engineer. Plus, he says he had a natural inclination towards math and the sciences over liberal arts.
The civil engineering design program at Kentucky was based on providing students with technical skills required to build everything from roads to bridges to underground utilities. Tyler excelled at his studies and was admitted into Chi Epsilon, the National Honor Society for civil engineers.
During summer breaks from school, Tyler held several internships with commercial and residential construction companies near his hometown. Following graduation, he went to work full-time for his family’s business, the Tyler Development Group, as a project manager where he oversaw the daily construction activities of the company’s residential land development projects.
“It was purely a role in operations and I was more interested in the business side of business than the operations,” he explained. “I felt like I had a lot more communications skills than your average design engineer and I wanted to leverage my outgoing personality with all of my technical training.”
In order to pivot out of operations, Tyler decided to pursue an MBA degree. For him, the full-time MBA program at William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business was the obvious choice.
“William & Mary has a rigorous academic curriculum. I didn’t want to pursue an alternative to a full-time program because I would be too distracted. I wanted to focus and to do it well,” he said. “It being the second oldest school in the nation had a real romantic charm to it and I’ve always enjoyed Colonial Williamsburg.”
Discovering his entrepreneurial spirit
To a degree, Tyler always had an inkling he would at some point walk the path of an entrepreneur. He says he looked up to his father growing up who was also an entrepreneur and all of Tyler’s other heroes had created ventures of their own, creating everything from businesses to rock bands.
“Entrepreneurship allows you to have more freedom to control aspects of a business,” he said. “I liked the idea of making it my own and not working in a corporate environment.”
Tyler spent much of his second year in the full-time MBA program pursuing a variety of different entrepreneurial ventures but his main focus was on securing funding for a start-up, one-man private equity investment firm. But he was unable to find enough investors to get the operation off the ground.
“Frankly, I was out of my league,” he laughed. “But like a phoenix rising out of the ashes of that failed venture, I was inspired to start A Tiny House.”
His thought process was simple: instead of starting a business that would require outside investment, he would start one that he could afford to fund entirely with his own personal equity. A tiny house company was a project Tyler could financially support on his own and it would help him realize his childhood dream.
Building a tiny house
Prior to graduation from the full-time MBA program, Tyler secured land in New Hampshire to serve as his construction site. After graduation, he picked up a twenty-eight-foot custom trailer in Tennessee, left most of his belongings packed up in a storage unit in Virginia, and made the 13-hour drive north.
For the next five months, Tyler built A Tiny House both literally and figuratively. He used traditional building materials to construct a full-functioning home with innovative and multifunctional space-saving concepts. He also built the company from scratch, doing everything from acquiring a tax ID number from the IRS to developing a website.
“It was a very lonely journey, especially in the beginning,” he said. “I want to share that with people who are thinking about going into entrepreneurship but also tell them to not be deterred by it because entrepreneurs are what makes the economy go. If you have the strength to see it to the end, the rewards are ecstasy.”
Tyler says that his MBA experience at William & Mary has brought him tremendous value as he’s built his company. He is more resilient to adversity and has a depth of knowledge related to business he could not have received elsewhere.
“The program taught me how to think about business in the appropriate way and how to use things like credit. Professor Scott Gibson was top-notch in helping me to understand money management and how to use bank loans or revolving lines of credit to have a higher internal rate of return.”
While not directly related to the growth of his entrepreneurial venture, Tyler believes the diversity of his cohort helped him to grow personally.
“I really liked the number of international students,” he said. “Hearing their perspectives helped me to become more understanding and appreciative of diversity.”
Helping others find home
Today, Tyler’s tiny home is listed for sale. He is confident that demand for tiny homes will increase especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and projected economic recession.
“Tiny homes are still a big purchase and maybe people will want to conserve their cash. But there’s another school of thought that people are losing faith in our banks and mortgage loan system. They want relief, they want to take control of where they live, and they may not want to live in densely populated areas making a tiny home a perfect option,” he said.
In addition to running A Tiny House, Tyler is a real estate agent with Long & Foster in Richmond. He was recruited to the company while in the full-time MBA program but decided to defer working there until he finished his first tiny home. Though he’s only been working in the role for several months, he’s using his past experience in residential construction as well as the soft skills he honed in the full-time MBA program, like communication and teamwork, to excel.
“I really like helping people because homebuying is a scary, stressful thing,” he said. “My clients get not just me, but the entire team I work closely with behind the transaction. This was an opportunity that I thought could be a good fit and it’s really working out well.”