Look around you — we live, work and inhabit buildings, yet for decades, architects have used nothing more than spreadsheets to manage and coordinate how buildings come to be. My team is bringing something new to the industry, a better solution for architectural project management. I saw a void for a cross-functional and cloud-based project management application that was tailored specifically to the AEC industry. Rather than trying to piece together various tools that treat cost, resource and project management as separate activities, Monograph aims to be a system of record for building that brings everything and everyone together into one integrated, collaborative platform — think the G Suite for the AEC industry
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Yuen.
Robert Yuen, Assoc. AIA, is the CEO and Co-Founder of Monograph, a software company revolutionizing the future in how architectural projects are managed. A serial entrepreneur, a trained architect, and zealously productive, Yuen is an active member and avid public speaker within the architecture, design, and engineering industries. He graduated with a Masters in Architecture and a Masters in Science in Digital Technologies from the University of Michigan.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I worked as an architectural designer in my hometown of Chicago. After graduating with my Masters in Architecture and Masters in Science in Digital Technologies, I discovered my passion for designing software solutions for the AEC industry. I worked with some of the industry’s most renowned firms and designers, including SOM, Holabird & Root, and BluHomes. It was then when I discovered a void for a simple cloud-based project management application that was tailored to the industry. So, that’s how Monograph came to be. I co-founded the company alongside Alex Dixon and Moe Amaya, to help architects and engineers oversee projects in an integrated, user-friendly, and ever-evolving interface.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Look around you — we live, work and inhabit buildings, yet for decades, architects have used nothing more than spreadsheets to manage and coordinate how buildings come to be. My team is bringing something new to the industry, a better solution for architectural project management. I saw a void for a cross-functional and cloud-based project management application that was tailored specifically to the AEC industry. Rather than trying to piece together various tools that treat cost, resource and project management as separate activities, Monograph aims to be a system of record for building that brings everything and everyone together into one integrated, collaborative platform — think the G Suite for the AEC industry. Ultimately, Monograph offers an easier way to manage projects, collaboration, and the financial health of the teams that design and build the world around us, putting an end to the disorganized, untrackable use of spreadsheets for architects.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Great question! I wouldn’t call this a mistake, but it was extremely funny at the time. Our very first customer discovered us randomly and was so eager to pay us, however, we hadn’t built in our payments system yet. He literally called me and asked if I would write down his credit card information and to send him a receipt. It’s incredibly funny knowing that we were off to races, but yet the last part of the app we worked on was addressing how we collect payments.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
There are so many mentors that have helped along the journey. In no particular order, Rosa Sheng, FAIA, LEED AP BD C, who is a Principal, Director of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion at SmithGroup and the Founder of Equity by Design has had a massive impact on my journey. For example, in Monograph’s early days in business, she unlocked so many opportunities by simply giving us a voice on her platform. My very first panel invitation was from Rosa and because of her, my fear of public speaking ended. Since then, I’ve continued to have a voice in the industry, speaking on webinars, panels, and podcasts. I’ll always see Rosa as a role model and mentor.
I’d also like to mention Karl Daubman, Dean and Professor at Lawrence Technological University. He was my thesis advisor at the University of Michigan, as well as my employer at Ply Architecture and Blu Homes. Thinking back to my college days, it was Karl that allowed my interest in the intersection of technology and architecture to really flourish, and he continued supporting my journey through Ply Architecture and Blu Homes.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
In today’s parlance, being disruptive (as noted) is typically seen to be positive, but without context or the motive’s alignment, or even being disruptive for the sake of being “trendy,” then there is a problem. At the end of the day, I believe that starting with “I want to be disruptive” is the wrong approach and can turn out “not so positive.”. For me, I’ve found that the best industry disruptions come naturally in the sense that they arise as a direct result of discovering a solution for an industry-wide problem, meeting a largely unmet need or demand, or thinking of a new, innovative way to address concepts we see in everyday life.
All industries will go through periods of change, disruptive occurrences are unavoidable. We are currently in a global pandemic and I’m positive when we look back to 2020 we’ll discover there were many industries disrupted solely due to how the means and methods in how we work have changed.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Trust, listen, and learn. Starting and growing a company is extremely hard and I would say near impossible without the ability to show empathy. The ability to trust, truly listen, and then to quickly learn are the best words of advice I have received and continue to give to others. An example of this is Monograph’s 4-day workweek. The concept stems from understanding the net value add of shaping a work environment to have a work / life balance, and not only encourage it but prioritize it. From that, the results are happier employees, that are motivated, productive, and ultimately lend to a more fruitful business operations model.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
In a B2B space, strategies around generating good and qualified leads start with LinkedIn. Between direct and indirect messages, creating value-add content, and participating within groups have and will continue to drive qualified leads for Monograph.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We’re definitely not ‘done’ yet! From the very beginning, our team has prioritized working closely with our customers to rebuild how architects plan, budget, and allocate resources across their projects to make the back-office much simpler to manage. We understand that businesses are continually evolving and refining their practice operations so we’re in constant communication with our customers. We make a real effort to listen to their feedback and then work to create new features or updates to our software that address those ‘wish list’ items. We’re excited to unveil some new features later this year.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
I received my Master of Architecture and Master of Science in Architecture at the University of Michigan where I had the opportunity to grow relationships with classmates and professors that will last a lifetime. Of those who I’ve met, I continue to find myself going back to Perry Kupler’s response to “What is Architecture.”
His capacity to abstract meaning and be completely situational is phenomenal. I’ve continued to find ways in how my education in architecture fuels the type of entrepreneur I see myself becoming.
Additionally, Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on “Start with Why” is a standard default of mine as the company grows, serving as a rigorous reminder that we must always start with the why.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson can be summarized in one word: try. I’m a firm believer in the power of trying. One of the biggest challenges in starting your own business is overcoming the fear of failing. I realized that if I didn’t try to bring my ideas to fruition, there’s a 100% guarantee that nothing will succeed. Even if it’s a 1% success, that’s better than zero. Keep your priorities straight and work on the things that are a few steps ahead of you.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The movement I’m seeking to inspire is already in motion! I intend to continue this journey in the hopes of leading the way in fundamentally changing the culture around work. Monograph operates on a 4-day workweek.
How can our readers follow you online?
Monograph’s Blog: https://monograph.io/blog