The Built by Builders interview series by ConCntric features conversations with entrepreneurs who have construction backgrounds and have started technology companies to address the pains they have experienced in their construction careers. ConCntric’s Founder & CEO, Steve Dell’Orto, chats with guests about the importance of technology in the construction industry and discusses the various solutions being developed.
Steve Dell’Orto: Welcome everybody to Built by Builders. This is a conversation video series we’ve created highlighting construction professionals who have started tech companies that provide solutions for the construction industry, having come from the construction industry. We think that’s a really unique value proposition to have solutions created by the very people that experienced all of these pain points first-hand throughout their career. It’s great to have Chris Callen, the CEO and Founder of PLOT with us today. Chris, you come from a concrete contracting company and you have history in the industry from as early as a kid all the way up through some of the other construction tech solutions you’ve created. Tell us a little bit more about PLOT.
Chris Callen: It’s a pleasure to be on with you today and thank you for the opportunity. My background really started at birth. The way I phrase it is that I was “involuntarily involved” at a young age since I’ve always been around construction. Even when I played baseball, my family company sponsored the team. And because it’s always been around me, naturally I rebelled and got into technology. That was about as far away as I thought I could go at that time, but when I got out into the real world, I realized that there was this really unique connection between construction and technology. I launched my first company that had a very powerful piece of technology, but it just didn’t really connect with today’s job sites, or at least not the majority of them. So when we launched PLOT, we were primarily focused on how we make something that solves an immediate need for those in the job trailer. People often say that connecting field to office and making all of these preconstruction and financial connection points is crucial. We focus on just making lives easier for the subcontractor form, the general contractor superintendent and the delivery drivers that are all setting boots on the ground at the job site. We are automating a lot of the workflows that are well beneath their ability and beneath their pay grade, in order to help them get back to real work. That’s really what PLOT initially focused on, the nonsense text messages and phone calls and even the unnecessary meetings that are being held just to manage where truck’s were being unloaded and who was responsible for the tower crane and skip hoist. These steps are to make sure that we have an efficient workflow on our job site and that people know where they’re going. We are focusing on the actual problem solving that our people in the field are so experienced in and what we really value them for.
The focus of ConCntric is more so on preconstruction, and we’re really focused on construction. I guess the thing that I’m interested to hear from you, Steve, is what do you think is going to make a major impact over the next 5 to 10 years, how do you see technology evolving from where we are today?
Steve Dell’Orto: What PLOT is doing and just seeing first-hand the manual efforts that the on site folks have to go through just to coordinate and bring everything through one door, it’s always made me scratch my head and wonder why we aren’t using more technology. We really should be taking the load off of people and letting them do what they do best. I think both of our platforms augment the talent that’s out there. I think it’s unfortunate that outsiders want to characterize our industry as antiquated and backwards as if that’s how we are. Our industry has a tremendous amount of talent, we often just have both hands tied behind our back because processes are having to move so much faster these days than they ever did before. If we can augment and supplement all of this talent with technology, we would be taking that load off, allowing our talent to do amazing things with the data that helps them think even further down the line.
In 5 to 10 years, the industry is just going to benefit as a whole. More rapidly, I think people are starting to see the value of their data and the need to put it to work, they just don’t know how. And it’s not in the builder or the contractor’s core competence to build software. It’s not even in their core competence to manipulate point solutions and migrate data. I think it’s essential for companies like ours and people with our backgrounds to come in and build that machine to serve us better. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you see technology augmenting the folks in the field, particularly with the use of PLOT?
Chris Callen: I love this question and it comes up quite often. I think there’s a phrase that I’ll butcher and I apologize to whoever I’m quoting, but it goes “If you judge an elephant’s ability to climb a tree, you’d consider him a failure.” We have had so many decades of best practices and craftsmanship and all of this training that is so difficult to share and educate and move throughout the industry, that it takes all of the focus of our trades craftsmen to even just put pieces in place and to build better buildings than ever before. These buildings are more complex, more sufficient and more sustainable. I believe we have often oversold technology as a solution to these pain points and I think that is on the software industry, we need to own that and we need to empathize a little bit more with what our solutions have lacked in the past and make it into something that is very practical and pragmatic for their workflows today.
With PLOT, we don’t say we’re going to solve everything. We’re not going to go in there and reducing something by 90% like I often see on a lot of marketing websites. I think some of that has a lot of validity to it, but what it really comes down to is taking focus off of mundane activities that take up a lot of time so you can focus on the things that you really need to focus on. You can do all this while building a great data set that allows those not necessarily at the work phase, to be able to educate their preconstruction and design teams to make something that is easier to install, so that we can really focus on putting pieces in place quicker. And that really comes down to, how do we make something that is easy to adopt? I’m really curious to hear from you, what have you seen with the industry adopting ConCntric, but also just technology in general in the industry? What are the major hurdles that you have overcome or are looking to still work on?
Steve Dell’Orto: I think the adoption and the cycle it takes for people to understand it, grab it, use it, and fall in love with it, takes longer than other industries. But I think that might be a case of, whatever software’s has been developed to date, largely has been developed by outsiders that are trying to solve things in ways that don’t exactly apply to the problem at hand. So again, folks like you and me and others that are coming from within the industry, tend to do a better job — a more complete and in tune job — to address the true pain points, making it a much more natural fit.
I think that the way things have been going, we’ve been very well received in the short period of time we have been around, simply because we are addressing the problem in a way that our customers have always wanted it to be addressed. Speaking of being in tune with the current needs and shaping the platform, you’ve just recently rolled out a lead time module which has everything to do with a lot of the supply chain pain points and getting things delivered on time. Tell us a little bit about the new module you’ve rolled out.
Chris Callen: The new module really focuses on the gap between the submittal approval process, product data submission and approval from the design team to the actual delivery on site. It’s in similar fashion as our other tools. We’re not really attacking this whole procurement process, that’s not what we aim to build, because we think that’s a big problem that might have an overbuilt solution. We’re really focusing on keeping the subcontractors informed with some very simple interfaces, like automated emails, rather than trying to get them to adopt a new workflow. We are truly just trying to get the subcontractors in tune with making the ordering in time, inputting realistic lead times into the system and tracking those orders to make sure that material is going to show up in time for the installation activity. We want to make sure that your submittal connects to your CPM schedule so that you can have data connectivity. We don’t want you to work in these individual silos of “point solutions”, rather we want you to have a tool that speaks before the process and connects afterwards.