Nov 22 2018

Construction-savvy Plangrid adds to Autodesk toolset

Plangrid has been expanding into the UK since 2017 with internationalisation now largely complete, and the solution now more about workflows than ‘sheet’ management. Company executive Bill Smith also identified how Plangrid complemented Autodesk’s design strengths.

Plangrid logoOn 18 October 2018, around a month before Autodesk announced its US$875m acquisition of Plangrid, I talked to Bill Smith, Plangrid‘s president of global field operations, about the company’s growth.

Smith was in London to visit the Digital Construction Week trade show, and to work with Plangrid’s growing UK-based team, now 10-strong, as it expanded its sales and marketing efforts (having made its first concerted UK marketing efforts with a stand at DCW in 2017).

Internationalising Plangrid

The company has since recruited UK staff from other vendors, including three people from Viewpoint, he said. Viewpoint has apparently been shedding some UK staff following its April 2018 acquisition by Trimble, while Plangrid said it had also attracted interest from some Viewpoint customers when it exhibited recently at UK Construction Week in Birmingham.

As well as Viewpoint, Plangrid’s competitive landscape includes mature SaaS solutions such as Oracle Aconex, Asite, Procore, Autodesk and Bentley’s collaborative toolsets, plus more recently founded businesses such as US rival FieldLens and France-based Finalcad – which Smith said shared some investors with Plangrid, and was encountered as a rival for projects, particularly in Asia. Plangrid was also getting enquiries from potential customers in mainland Europe, he said – the UK was to be the hub of the company’s European operations.

Since 2017, Plangrid had spent time internationalising its solution so that it would appeal to non-US construction businesses, with the work likely to finish in early 2019, Smith said:

“While most of the functions are the same – they are just called different things, so we have either renamed processes or given them more generic titles. … Plangrid started out working on US hospital projects so we learned from how teams worked on those, but even in the US there are different terms for the same things. Most of the internationalisation, particularly in the back end, is now complete, so it’s now about rethinking US names such as punchlists to make them more generic – we are tending to talk more about ‘issues’ and ‘tasks’ now, for example.”

Plangrid Android drawing viewThe platform has expanded from its original focus on ‘Sheets’, and moving more towards of a classic SaaS workflow platform, he continued. “We are managing submittals, issues, tasks – we’ve just done a major release on this – and we are now more of a business application rather than managing paper.” Building information modelling (BIM) hasn’t had a major impact yet, but Plangrid was planning a new release incorporating a 3D viewer in early 2019.

The Plangrid platform is hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS), with UK customers currently supported by an AWS facility hosted on the US east coast – though, as a mobile solution provider, Smith said customers should be less concerned about “data at rest” and focus on ensuring device and transmission security. “Construction is probably the least secure industry I’ve every seen in my life.”

Initially iOS-only, the Plangrid solution is now available on Android and as a Windows application, as well as offering a web browser-based environment, with major releases made about every 60 days. People in management tend to like iPad devices, but at site level smartphones are more widely deployed, Smith said. Originally developed in English and Spanish language versions, the solution is now supported in approaching 20 different languages.

Plangrid growth

By October 2018, Plangrid’s global headcount had grown to 380 staff, and the company was planning to reach 400 by the end of 2018. Most of these staff are based in the United States, with around a third in San Francisco. International sales and marketing offices in Canada, the UK, Australia, Hong Kong and India (and “soon to be in Singapore”) accounted for around 40 people, he said.

Bill Smith - Plangrid president, global opsGlobally Plangrid has around 10,000 paying customers (“we’ve moved from the original user model to a customer model”), predominantly in its US heartland, but including a growing number (“currently around 200 customers”) in each of EMEA and Asia Pacific. This translated into around 100,000 end users of the Plangrid platform, with user growth currently around 15-17% year on year, and the company is “acquiring about 10 customers every day”. Smith said Plangrid was seeing growing interest from owner-operators (he divided the company’s customer base into roughly 20% owners, 40% general contractors and 40% subcontractors) – with hospitals, retail, hotels, and corporate campus owners increasingly interested in the platform.

Smith joined Plangrid in October 2014, shortly before its US$19m Series A funding round, led by Sequoia Capital, in May 2015. The company then had about 45 employees, and Smith’s job was to grow the Software-as-a-Service business, drawing on over a decade’s experience of successfully growing SaaS operations at San Francisco-based Taleo, a HR solution acquired by Oracle in 2012.

A Series B Funding round in November 2015, led by Tenaya Capital, with additional fundings from Sequoia Capital, Founders Fund, Y Combinator, and Northgate Capital, raised a further US$40m (news) – a round that valued the company then at US$419 million, according to PitchBook. Ambitions were to grow the company in what was seen as a massive market that is just beginning to utilise technology in the field, with a view, Smith said, to future acquisition or a possible float – though he said compliance issues often deterred US businesses from going public. He had identified a lot of interest in construction from software majors including SAP and Microsoft, and mentioned that former Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz now sits on Plangrid’s board. Regarding Autodesk’s solutions he said, “We overlap a little bit on design, but mainly we pick up where they leave off as teams move into construction.”

Postscript

That final remark perhaps confirms some of the rationale for Autodesk’s acquisition. Its mobile solution is attractive to workers needing information out on site – not an area where Autodesk solutions have traditionally been strong (to be fair, this is also common to other software vendors strong on design – rival Bentley Systems, for example, has been growing out its construction management toolset too; post).

The business is also growing at a good rate, expanding into new markets, taking the collaboration battle to rival products such as Viewpoint and Aconex – both going through post-acquisition adjustments – and offers a strong mobile-first product to complement Autodesk solutions that were mainly designed for office-based deskop/laptop interaction.

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