Consolidation in the European SaaS/mobile construction software market as complementary solutions from GenieBelt and Aproplan combine, forming LetsBuild.
According to the joint news release, the (no cash) merger responds “to a rising need to deliver an all-in-one solution, supporting on-site planning, progress communication, snagging, drawings and checklists.”
Both businesses were formed to replace use of pen and paper for managing on-site construction processes. GenieBelt focused on on-site planning and progress communication giving customers a real-time schedule and progress reporting; Aproplan chose to tackle on-site follow-up communication by digitising snagging, drawings and checklists. Both companies experienced demand for functionality that the other company provided.
Aproplan CEO Thomas Goubau (left in photo) and GenieBelt CEO Klaus Nyengaard had met regularly to discuss developments in the construction technology sector and how to increase efficiency and minimise rework, miscommunication and errors. Both were committed to ‘simple-to-use’ products, and in October 2018 concluded that the best way to realise this was to unite the companies, create a broader product and cover more needs in the market. Nyengaard said:
“Our customers tell us that switching between tools to manage processes is a pain on a busy site, and makes data collection cumbersome. Their dream is to have one simple-to-use solution where they can keep track of planning and progress, access all documents and support processes such as snagging and quality checking. That is exactly what we will provide with LetsBuild.”
Goubau, set to be CCO in LetsBuild, said:
“We could have decided to just cooperate and integrate features from each other. But since our products complement each other extremely well and our companies have shared values, we felt this was an unmissable opportunity.”
The two companies’ products are currently used on around 50,000 projects in more than 35 countries (a reduction on early GenieBelt claims). The two have offices in Copenhagen, Brussels, London, Paris and Lodz; LetsBuild will have joint head offices in Brussels and Copenhagen, and a total combined headcount of 122 people.
GenieBelt back story
Copenhagen-based GenieBelt was founded in 2013, promoting a simple-to-start-and-use, mobile-first philosophy as an antidote to the feature-bloat of some other (PC-oriented, pre-smartphone) systems on the market. It was also focused more on the needs of the small and medium-sized businesses (the vast majority of the construction industry in just about every country), and was priced attractively for that market, with a 2014 “free forever” offering to get users to trial the system (as a result, it attracted lots of early users, allowing it to claim its use on 8000 projects in over 100 countries two years later).
It recruited former Woobius founder Bob Leung to lead its user experience work (February 2014), and tested real-time communication approaches familiar to many users of social media applications. It raised €700k in funding in 2015, and a further €2m in September 2016. At that time Nyengaard said the European sector needed a break-through workflow management solution that had the potential to challenge the status quo, and head off competition from the likes of the USA’s Plangrid (now active in Europe, and recently acquired for US$875m by Autodesk).
Aproplan back story
Aproplan was established in Belgium in 2012 but spread its European operations into the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, marketing itself as “the construction software that lets you keep track of your progress and collaborate with your team.” In January 2017 AproPlan CEO Thomas Goubau told me about their focus on creating open and transparent communication via a simple interface. Their concentration on ‘workflow in the field’ aimed to support asset owners and managers and their professional teams engaged in repetitive data-recording tasks (“What, where and when”): snagging, health and safety, security and environmental inspections, for example. The company’s asset strategy was “Mobile and API first,” and he mentioned Geniebelt as one of a batch of complementary tools. At that time, AproPlan had 48,000 users in 3,500 different customer organisations.
The construction mobile application market is growing and is increasingly competitive. There are numerous small players seeking to offer point solutions to resolve particular information or scheduling bottlenecks in site-based activities – often addressing particular issues or processes employed in a particular country, in a particular vertical industry sector, or a particular type of project. Such players, many of them startups, can struggle to achieve a critical mass and widespread adoption, as sales and marketing in a highly fragmented industry sector with many 1000s of potential SME subcontractor customers is challenging.
At the same time we have seen recent consolidation among some of the major international players, plus expansion into Europe by US firms. These businesses often have deeper marketing budgets, a wider product portfolio, and higher brand awareness.
Against such competition, when two businesses identify that they offer complementary solutions, and can help each other expand into their respective territories, while also pooling sales and marketing, software development and administrative overheads, the logic for a merger is clear. The combined LetsBuild offering may also tick more boxes for prospective customers wanting an expanded set of construction site-related functionalities.
The main gap in the current offering, though, is support for building information modelling-related processes. The Autodesk/Plangrid deal potentially brings BIM and construction closer together – something that Trimble/Viewpoint’s Field View was also aiming to achieve, and where Bentley Systems also has ambitions – but I suspect that the people and companies LetsBuild is targetting have yet to start their BIM journeys. While BIM remains a distant prospect and customers’ day-to-day reality is more about replacing paper-based processes, then LetsBuild will find some ready takers. Perhaps, like Plangrid, it will one day be acquired by a BIM-enabling business looking to connect to construction processes, or maybe it will become part of an ‘ecosystem’ of point solution providers from which customers can select and integrate their favoured applications.