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Construction tech startups are poised to shake up a $1.3-trillion-dollar industry

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In the wake of COVID-19 this spring, construction sites across the nation emptied out alongside neighboring restaurants, retail stores, offices and other commercial establishments. Debates ensued over whether the construction industry’s seven million employees should be considered “essential,” while regulations continued to shift on the operation of job sites. Meanwhile, project demand steadily shrank.

Amidst the chaos, construction firms faced an existential question: How will they survive? This question is as relevant today as it was in April. As one of the least-digitized sectors of our economy, construction is ripe for technology disruption.

Construction is a massive, $1.3 trillion industry in the United States — a complex ecosystem of lenders, owners, developers, architects, general contractors, subcontractors and more. While each construction project has a combination of these key roles, the construction process itself is highly variable depending on the asset type. Roughly 41% of domestic construction value is in residential property, 25% in commercial property and 34% in industrial projects. Because each asset type, and even subassets within these classes, tends to involve a different set of stakeholders and processes, most construction firms specialize in one or a few asset groups.

Regardless of asset type, there are four key challenges across construction projects:

High fragmentation: Beyond the developer, architect, engineer and general contractor, projects could involve hundreds of subcontractors with specialized expertise. As the scope of the project increases, coordination among parties becomes increasingly difficult and decision-making slows.

Poor communication: With so many different parties both in the field and in the office, it is often difficult to relay information from one party to the next. Miscommunication and poor project data accounts for 48% of all rework on U.S. construction job sites, costing the industry over $31 billion annually according to FMI research.

Lack of data transparency: Manual data collection and data entry are still common on construction sites. On top of being laborious and error-prone, the lack of real-time data is extremely limited, therefore decision-making is often based on outdated information.

Skilled labor shortage: The construction workforce is aging faster than the younger population that joins it, resulting in a shortage of labor particularly for skilled trades that may require years of training and certifications. The shortage drives up labor costs across the industry, particularly in the residential sector, which traditionally sees higher attrition due to its more variable project demand.

A construction tech boom

Too many of the key processes involved in managing multimillion-dollar construction projects are carried out on Excel or even with pen and paper. The lack of tech sophistication on construction sites materially contributes to job delays, missed budgets and increased job site safety risk. Technology startups are emerging to help solve these problems.

Here are the main categories in which we’re seeing construction tech startups emerge.

1. Project conception

  • How it works today: During a project’s conception, asset owners and/or developers develop site proposals and may work with lenders to manage the project financing.
  • Key challenges: Processes for managing construction loans are cumbersome and time intensive today given the complexity of the loan draw process.
  • How technology can address challenges: Design software such as Spacemaker AI can help developers create site proposals, while construction loan financing software such as Built Technologies and Rabbet are helping lenders and developers manage the draw process in a more efficient manner.

2. Design and engineering

  • How it works today: Developers work with design, architect and engineering teams to turn ideas into blueprints.
  • Key challenges: Because the design and engineering teams are often siloed from the contractors, it’s hard for designers and engineers to know the real-time impact of their decisions on the ultimate cost or timing of the project. Lack of coordination with construction teams can lead to time-consuming changes.
  • How technology can address challenges: Of all the elements of the construction process, the design and engineering process itself is the most technologically sophisticated today, with relatively high adoption of software like Autodesk to help with design documentation, specification development, quality assurance and more. Autodesk is moving downstream to offer a suite of solutions that includes construction management, providing more connectivity between the teams.

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Adobe expands customer data platform to include B2B sales

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The concept of the customer data platform (CDP) is a relatively new one. Up until now, it has focused primarily on pulling data about an individual consumer from a variety of channels into a super record, where in theory you can serve more meaningful content and deliver more customized experiences based on all this detailed knowledge. Adobe announced its intention today to create such a product for business to business (B2B) customers, a key market where this kind of data consolidation had been missing.

Indeed Brian Glover, Adobe’s director of product marketing for Marketo Engage, who has been put in charge of this product, says that these kinds of sales are much more complex and B2B sales and marketing teams are clamoring for a CDP.

“We have spent the last couple of years integrating Marketo Engage across Adobe Experience Cloud, and now what we’re doing is building out the next generation of new and complimentary B2B offerings on the Experience platform, the first of which is the B2B CDP offering,” Glover told me.

He says that they face unique challenges adapting CDP for B2B sales because they typically involve buying groups, meaning you need to customize your messages for different people depending on their role in the process.

An individual consumer usually knows what they want and you can prod them to make a decision and complete the purchase, but a B2B sale is usually longer and more complex involving different levels of procurement. For example, in a technology sale, it may involve the CIO, a group, division or department who will be using the tech, the finance department, legal and others. There may be an RFP and the sales cycle may span months or even years.

Adobe believes this kind of sale should still be able to use the same customized messaging approach you use in an individual sale, perhaps even more so because of the inherent complexity in the process. Yet B2B marketers face the same issues as their B2C counterparts when it comes to having data spread across an organization.

“In B2B that complexity of buying groups and accounts just adds another level to the data management problem because ultimately you need to be able to connect to your customer people data, but you also need to be able to connect the account data too and be able to [bring] the two together,” Glover explained.

By building a more complete picture of each individual in the buying cycle, you can, as Glover puts it, begin to put the bread crumbs together for the entire account. He believes that a CRM isn’t built for this kind of complexity and it requires a specialty tool like a CDP built to support B2B sales and marketing.

Adobe is working with early customers on the product and expects to go into beta before the end of next month with GA some time in the first half of next year.

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Two-year-old Day One Ventures raises new $52.5M fund to invest in Valley startups

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Back in 2018 Day One Ventures launched in Silicon Valley specifically designed to be both a VC and an investor that would also lead marketing and communications for its portfolio. Two years on, Day One has invested in numerous startups to do just that and has today filed with the SEC its new $52.5M fund.

The new fund is similar to the first one: investing across industries from pre-seed to seed, with occasional series A investments (from $100K to $5M).

The fund was founded and is headed by Russian émigré Masha Drokova, who, since arriving in the US a few years ago, has been variously a PR and angel investor, but famously dumped her former life in Russia as a politician and TV reporter.

Drokova says the fund focuses on ‘day one’ companies, as defined by Jeff Bezos, which have ‘customer obsession’ in-built into their company culture.

She says the fund was raised during the pandemic over zoom with $45 million coming from LPs in the first fund. More than 30% of the capital is invested in POC founders; it has 25 female founders in its portfolio; and 33% of its capital is invested in high-growth ‘impact’ companies. Day one has frequently co-invested with Andreessen, Index Ventures, Founders Fund, and Lightspeed.

The fund has had three exits so far: Lvl5, Acquired, Feastly and has invested in Remote.com (with Index and Sequoia).

So far among its portfolio is:

DoNotPay: British founder Joshua Browder, started a chatbot that pays your parking ticket, cancels subscriptions and gets refunds for you. This raised a $15M series A led by Coatue and Andreessen.
Superhuman: An AI-based email client for execs founded by Brit Rahul Vohra – it has raised $35M series B from Andreessen.
MSCHF: This creates viral and controversial products on a Supreme-drop-like model, invested with Founders Fund.
Truebill: a personal finance & savings app.

The fund says its portfolio companies have now raised $825 million in aggregate; over 25% of its capital is in fintech companies; over 30% in AI-powered startups; and it claims to have hit over 500 media publications for its portfolio.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Drakova said “We choose startups with ‘customer obsession’ as the main focus for selection. Secondly, our value add in communications means we have people like Jack Randall who did comms for Robin Hood on our team. Not many women immigrants to the US have raised as much as this, as fast as this. So it’s a good sign for the market.”

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India bans another 43 Chinese apps

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India is not done banning Chinese apps. The world’s second largest internet market, which has banned over 175 apps with links to the neighboring nation in recent months, said on Tuesday it was banning an additional 43 such apps.

Like with the previous orders, India cited cybersecurity concerns to block these apps. “This action was taken based on the inputs regarding these apps for engaging in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order,” said India’s IT Ministry in a statement.

The ministry said it issued the order of blocking these apps “based on the comprehensive reports received from Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Center, Ministry of Home Affairs.”

The apps that have been banned include popular short video service Snack Video, which had surged to the top of the chart in recent months, as well as e-commerce app AliExpress, delivery app Lalamove, and shopping app Taobao Live. Full list here. At this point, there doesn’t appear to be any Chinese app left in the top 500 apps used in India.

Tuesday order comes as a handful of apps including PUBG Mobile and TikTok explore ways to make a return to the country. In recent weeks, PUBG has registered a local entity in India, partnered with Microsoft for computing needs, and publicly vowed to invest $100 million in the country. Though it is yet to hear from the government.

Tensions between the world’s two most populous nations escalated after more than 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a military clash in the Himalayas in June. Ever since, “Boycott China” sentiment has trended on social media in India as a growing number of people post videos demonstrating destruction of Chinese-made smartphones, TVs and other products.

In April, India also made a change to its foreign investment policy that requires Chinese investors — who have ploughed billions of dollars into Indian startups in recent years — to take approval from New Delhi before they could write new checks to Indian firms. The move has significantly reduced Chinese investors’ presence in Indian startups’ deal flows in the months since.

More to follow…

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