When you think of technological disruption, the very physical and traditional business of construction may not be the first industry that comes to mind. But in fact, as perhaps one of the last frontiers yet to be fully disrupted by tech, it is now taking center stage for many entrepreneurs and investors seeking out big problems whose solutions could have big impacts. Construction-tech, as it’s called, touches many aspects of the business of building real world buildings, infrastructure, or even just making a repair to your home. From software to hardware, the space has exploded recently.
One of the companies getting a lion’s share of attention in construction-tech is Briq. They are a business management platform that has allowed countless construction companies to automate and streamline their operations (which has made construction more profitable as well). It prompted Business Insider to recently name Briq to their list of 31 Hottest Real Estate and Construction Tech Startups. We sat down with Briq’s co-founder and CEO Bassem Hamdy to get better insight into what construction-tech is and it’s unique place in the automation and digitization of our world.
What do you think is most attractive about the construction tech space right now?
Bassem Hamdy: Construction is a highly complex industry. Solving many of the challenges present makes a prime candidate for disruption. That’s why construction tech has become so attractive of late– we are solving challenges only a few companies are uniquely able to solve because they understand the industry. While there are many types of construction tech startups (everything from drones to robots), we at Briq are dedicated to helping contractors make better business decisions and have command over their cashflow.
What are some of the headwinds facing construction that the industry needs to rely on technology to solve?
BH: The business model in construction is such that contractors are always at risk of holding negative cash positions, which makes profitability a perpetual problem in the construction industry. In the modern construction business model, general contractors (GC) act as middlemen between the owners of projects and those that perform the labor, known as the trades. This means that every dollar that goes into a project– be it an airport, a hotel, or a data center– is passed through a GC, but a very low percentage of that dollar is actually retained by the contractor (the average profit margin is 1-3%). As a result, contractors are constantly under financial pressure and must work extremely hard to maintain positive cash positions. It is not uncommon for even a $100 million contractor to only have 30 days of cash in the bank.
As long as the builders of our economy are running on fumes, so too will the efforts to improve our infrastructure. The inability for many builders to scale their operations is directly correlated to their inability to scale financially. Furthermore, the lack of infrastructure development in many areas may be attributed to the bottlenecks existing in construction. Financial technology (fintech), data analytics, machine learning, and automation will provide a major boost to GCs’ ability to better forecast and plan their financials and will eliminate enormous amounts of waste in the accounting and financial management of construction companies.
How did the idea for Briq initially come to fruition?
BH: Briq is born from my decades of experience working in the construction technology industry. I have a degree from McMaster University in Toronto, but I really got my education in New York City construction when I worked with CMiC (a construction-focused ERP accounting solution) to help implement Turner Construction. There, I got to see first-hand the birth of something called “job cost accounting”. This is one of the most challenging features in all of accounting, and requires detailed understanding of how costs around labor, materials, and equipment will impact revenue for a single project. And when a GC may be running 200 projects a year, this calculation becomes extremely challenging to manage and typically requires an entire back-office team that most contractors cannot simply afford.
I have spent my life dedicated to this industry I love. In fact, I don’t know anyone who has worked a lifetime in construction who doesn’t love the absolute Hell out of it. We are a tough industry, an essential industry, an impactful industry. We build the places where things happen- where people are born, progress is made, competitions are won, and loved ones gather. Together, we build the foundation of our society.
Construction is an industry of honest and down-to-earth people. We are an industry of respect, experience, and tradition. The most important tradition, perhaps, being hard work. It’s no secret that contractors have tough jobs. So, years ago, when I saw the need for construction financial software, I got my hands dirty and I built it. And then later, when I saw the need for project management software, I got my hands dirty again and I built that too.
Briq is my third act and my greatest passion. From those early days, I knew that I wanted to innovate how contractors plan, budget, and spend their dollars. At Briq, we are distilling the arduous job costing process into a simple product that doesn’t require hundreds of spreadsheets and a degree in advanced data science. Following my success at Procore where I lead Enterprise Strategy and Marketing, I was able to finally launch. Briq with my co-founder and best man at my wedding, Ron Goldshmidt. Ron, a long-time veteran from the Finance industry, and I set forth on this venture in 2018 and have become one of the fastest growing start-ups in history all around one core purpose: make the lives of construction financial professionals easier and their businesses more profitable.
What were some of the earlier lessons that helped you optimize the company?
BH: It’s important to understand the challenges that your customer cares about and to use the language that your customers care about. Briq uses some of the most modern data and financial technology available in the market today, but our customer (the CFO at a general contractor) isn’t as interested in the buzz words as he or she is interested in the problems we can solve. It’s also tempting in the early days as you work to find product market fit to try to do everything, but if you are a company that strives to do everything, you ultimately end up doing nothing. Focus is paramount for product-lead SaaS companies, even in the early days.
As a founder who has scaled a multi-million dollar company, what do you think are some of the more underrated challenges of entrepreneurship?
BH: Building a strong culture is one of the most under-appreciated aspects of building a great company. This is especially true today where remote teams are more common, or where startups were forced to become remote without a real plan and teams no longer get to collaborate in person. For many leaders, it’s easy to focus on sales tactics, or the code that exists in your product. But at the end of the day, if you want to scale a business and you want everyone aligned around a common goal, it’s important to hone in on your values, and then repeat those values at every opportunity available. Those values aren’t just words: you have to hire, fire, promote, an reward your people based on those values. They must guide everything. If you want to be an entrepreneur, I believe it’s important to cultivate the following values: Build, Own, Evolve, Go Fast and Win, Just Say It.
First: Entrepreneurs are builders, and with that distinction comes the reality that what you are going to do is very hard. Be prepared for false-starts and uncertainty, but also you must be passionate about the opportunity of creating something from nothing.
Second: Take ownership in everything that you do. As an entrepreneur, you cannot be afraid of any problem and if you are presented with something that feels particularly challenging, you recognize that no one else may be able to solve this problem except for you. You take pride in your work and you never hide from the impossible.
Third: You must be willing to evolve. This means admitting when you’re wrong and being able to move on from an idea you thought was good, but in reality, was never going to work. Your curiosity should be insatiable: you are constantly learning about your market, honing your skills, and seeking the advice and coaching of others.
Fourth: Speed is critical in SaaS. This doesn’t mean you do everything at once without thinking; on the contrary– sometimes you must go slow in order to go fast. Instead, it means you are thinking of how you can have the most impact while being super-efficient. It doesn’t just mean work smarter …it means you must work smarter and harder!
Finally, speak your mind. Whether you are recruiting talent or speaking to customers, it’s important to be authentic with everyone you interact with. You won’t get along with everyone– and it’s inevitable you’ll have unhappy customers– but everyone will always respect your honesty and openness.
What do you think makes a startup scalable to a unicorn?
BH: Figure out you can make peoples’ lives easier. At Briq, we see some big, ugly, nasty problems that our customers face every day. Even though we are in B2B Vertical SaaS software, our customers are actual humans that spend a large part of their lives dealing with these problems. If we can help our customers solve those problems, it means they get to shut their computers off a little earlier, that they get to spend more time with their families, that they sleep easier at night. If you want to take a startup to a unicorn, find that big ugly problem and dedicate your life to improving your customers’ quality of life.
From there, you have to package that solution in a product that the market can buy easily and quickly. This means you need to go through a “scale-up” phase. If you are a founder that has established a strong team, no doubt you are working to find product market fit. This is one of the most sought-after milestones in SaaS, but once you have built the right product that is solving the right problem, the biggest hurdle is then how do you make that process repeatable? From the way your people message it, sell it, implement it, and to even how your customers use it– orchestrating a business that aligns around this vision is the key to becoming a unicorn.
What opportunities are you most excited about for Briq looking ahead?
BH: We have built the fastest growing construction tech start-up ever in this industry. Construction is a tough industry, an essential industry, and an impactful industry. We build the places where things happen- where people are born, progress is made, competitions are won, and loved ones gather. Together, we build the foundation of our society.
We want to enable the world’s hardest-working industry to work a little less hard, earn a few more dollars, and utilize tools that get folks home earlier- that’s what this is all about. We are building a global brand and will continue to build products that help contractors better manage their dollars. When people think about money and construction, we want people to think about Briq.
What’s the best piece of advice you would give to founders looking to build a SaaS company?
BH: The founder is the cultural leader of a company. Regardless of how great your idea is or how innovative your approach, the company you are building is born from your culture. The one mantra that has served me well throughout my career is “go fast and win”. Going fast means being scrappy, innovative and most importantly hardworking. There is one simple way to win in
SaaS: work harder than everyone else.
Also, your customers are more than logos on your website, they are family. You talk to them every day, confide in them, listen to them and even sometimes vent to them. Your customers allow you to continue on this amazing journey. If you truly love your client and your industry, you will be successful. This goes well beyond revenue planning: the money comes when you respect, know and value your client above all else.