SaaS veterans Ron and Jon Antevy are helping e-Builder grow steadily by focusing on the detailed needs of major owner/operator customers.
Florida, US-based SaaS construction collaboration pioneer e-Builder will be 19 years old this year, and its founders, Ron and Jon Antevy, appear fully committed to growing through its 20th anniversary and beyond. I spoke to the brothers last week and they updated on the how the business has moved on since we last talked in August 2011.
Growing at 40%
Despite the global financial crisis, e-Builder continued to grow its revenues steadily at around 40% per annum, and it expects to do the same this year. To support its growth, it has been expanding its workforce which now stands at just over 100 people, and will reach around 135 people by the end of 2014, with the additional personnel roughly equally split across software development, implementation and sales and marketing. President and CEO Ron Antevy attributed the sustained growth to their strategy of focusing on owner/operator customers rather than contractors: “The majority of our customers are in healthcare, education and government owners with ongoing capital programmes. Some survived the recession partly due to the stimulus funding put into the economy.”
These customers, managing some US$100bn of projects on e-builder, are predominantly focused on the North American market, but a handful also have operations in other countries, and if these, as Ron expects, make a big push into other markets, then e-Builder will expand with them…
In addition to the needs of its current customers, e-Builder is looking at two other factors in prioritizing its expansion: (1) the general desire for owner/operators to bring increased transparency and accountability (especially around project costs) to their projects; and (2) the degree of product internationalisation required.
Ease of use and new functionality
e-builder’s growth has not just been fuelled by increased customer adoption. The company has also invested heavily in making its platform more user-friendly, more mobile (“owners have been taking to this in a big way”) and adding new functionality – particularly to meet the needs of some of its long-standing owner/operator customers. Ron highlighted recent developments including:
- electronic signature using an integration with Docusign
- funding source management
- earned value management (EVM is also now offered by European vendor Conject – post), and
- enhanced analytics and reporting – business intelligence, linking to “big data”
On this final item, Ron said “Some e-builder customers are now back-filling the platform with 10-15 years of back data so that they have all their information in one place and can run detailed analyses across all their assets, not just the ones initially developed using e-builder.”
e-Builder likes apps
Mobile-native access to e-Builder has long been a feature. It launched a Blackberry-based service in 2006 and was one of the first vendors I know to launch iPad-specific apps in 2011. Ron said Apple’s iOS remains a popular choice for operating systems, as does Android, but “Blackberry is dead”. There is no appetite yet for Microsoft Windows-based mobile applications and “we won’t develop any until the market starts pushing for it, and at the moment customers are not asking about it”, he said before wondering if Microsoft’s new CEO might hasten its embrace of cloud-based tools. Meanwhile, he is scathing of rivals who believe net-native web-browser access will offer adequate service: “that doesn’t work – it has to be apps”.
e-Builder’s apps now offered enhanced issue management, better reporting and a commissioning management module was coming soon, Ron said (the second time this month I’ve heard commissioning mentioned; London’s Dome – post – also specialises in this area).
Since I last talked to e-Builder, the north American AEC software space has seen some significant activity. Co-founder Jon Antevy highlighted Oracle’s addition of Skire to its portfolio alongside Primavera; we also talked about Trimble (adding Sketchup and Vico to a buildings suite already including Meridian Systems – post), the Textura IPO and about IBM, now owner of Tririga. “These deals have all helped raise the profile of construction software,” Jon said.
While e-Builder was aware that US ERP provider Viewpoint had acquired UK SaaS vendor 4Projects just over a year ago, Jon didn’t see this as a threat:
“First, they [Viewpoint] operate in a another space to us, mainly dealing with mid-range contractors, while our clients are multi-billion dollar owner organisations. Second, we think our focus on SaaS makes us stronger; companies that provide hybrid portfolios of both cloud and on-premise solutions cannot be as efficient as a pure SaaS business delivering a multi-tenant service.
Aconex, expanding its sales and marketing in the US, was bluntly dismissed: “They offer basic document management and have no construction cost module. We don’t come up against them.”
US appetite for BIM?
I had taken time out of the TSB’s BIM competition launch (see previous post) to talk to e-Builder, and Jon said they were watching the UK Government’s BIM programme with keen interest. However…
“US owner/operators, with a few exceptions like the GSA, are mainly interested in what BIM can offer in terms of improved visualisation, clash detection and coordination. They know a bit about COBie but they don’t yet see how BIM might help them improve the operational performance of their assets. It may change as we learn from the UK experience, but BIM is still at an early stage for many of our customers.”