BW Sessions: PlanGrid
by TODD STOLARSKI | July 2, 2015
Tracy Young, Co-founder, PlanGrid
Just a short time ago, Tracy Young was on a California construction site with a blueprint problem. Her “hundred pounds of solid muscle” (her words, not mine) were stuck lugging around a shopping cart filled with prints of all the colors in the rainbow, not just blue. The building’s plans were rapidly altering, making it difficult for everyone to stay on the same page, literally.
Fast forward five years and PlanGrid, the San Francisco-based mobile software application company that Young co-founded, has since been used to build over 200,000 projects. Nearly 20 million blueprints are stored in its cloud.
In anticipation of our Mobile Apps + Construction event on July 16, BW gained a glimpse inside the company that provides one of the most popular apps used every day on jobsites worldwide.
BW: What is the main idea behind PlanGrid?
Tracy Young (TY): PlanGrid originated out of the desire to bridge the gap between good software and the construction industry. The main idea is to have one platform where all construction information is organized and collaborated on so project team members can make meaningful decisions to manage their construction projects.
BW: What void in the market does PlanGrid look to fill?
TY: PlanGrid is built for anyone wearing a hard hat and safety vest on a job site, including contractors, architects and owners. We realized no one else is taking a mobile-first approach to solving problems that field construction workers face. We aim to supply the construction industry with easy-to-use software built specifically with the field in mind. This approach has helped us convince construction firms like Clark Builders Group, Power Designs and Structure Tone to use PlanGrid. In addition to field and contractor adoption, a lot of building owners like Nordstrom, Tishman Speyer and Sutter Health have seen the benefits of using PlanGrid to bring transparency and efficiency to their construction projects.
BW: Did you encounter any unexpected challenges bringing your app to market?
TY: A JB Knowledge survey found that 51% of construction professionals are using tablets, and we’ve noticed customers not having tablets isn’t as much of an issue anymore. This is certainly less of an issue now, but early on, some of our beta users did not have iPads. So we maxed out our credit cards at the Apple Store and bought 12 iPads for these users. It paid off (literally) when all of our beta users started paying us a couple of months later.
At PlanGrid, they’re thirsty: Co-founder Ralph Gootee reminds colleagues that the dishes are everyone’s responsibility.
BW: PlanGrid specializes in digital workflow on the jobsite. To say the AEC industry has been playing digital catch-up would be a bit of an understatement. In the time you have been in this market, how has the AEC industry changed in its acceptance of your tech?
TY: When PlanGrid first got started, there was some reluctance to adopt iPads in the field. Since 2012, iOS and Android devices are a lot more common in the field, as users are beginning to see the value that software like ours can provide. We also still see companies deploying software without looking at user reviews first. But that is changing as the construction industry catches up with the rest of the world in paying attention to user experience and adoption. Plus, as the word spreads about PlanGrid, many workers in the field are seeing how powerful and easy it is to use, and are making the switch without hesitation.
BW: Do you feel as if a paperless future on the jobsite is still far off?
BW > SF : Spring visit by our own Bryant Donnowitz (center).
TY: Not too far off at all. We’re seeing that tablet adoption in the field is rapidly increasing. Plus, the reasons for going paperless extend past printing budgets and green-building incentives. Using tablets for construction greatly enhances visibility, communication and collaboration both on and off-site, and can provide much better analytics than pen and paper — tracking punch stamps electronically with photo references, comments, and plan details, for example. So many other industries have made the switch to digital, and now we’re bringing that opportunity to the construction industry, as well.
BW: With PlanGrid being fully operational and successful, what’s the day-to-day goal within this office?
TY: On a day-to-day basis, we focus on building easy-to-use tools that increase construction productivity. We do this by talking to our users, going above and beyond in our customer support, prioritizing, iterating and building a team culture around treating people well.
BW: Are there plans to expand PlanGrid beyond this application into other avenues?
TY: We will keep adding functionality as long as we are able to help the industry become more efficient through collaboration and information sharing. That will certainly mean a lot of updates to our current platform, and maybe related areas in time. As long as we are listening to our users and helping them get their jobs done more easily and effectively, we will keep building new tools.
A day in the life: Co-founder Kenny Stone (standing) chats with staff in the homey downtown digs.
BW: How do you see mobile apps generally evolving five years from now?
TY: There are already multiple apps focused on construction, and we expect to see several more being developed in the next few years, ranging from full-spectrum solutions to more niche tasks. Cross-platform solutions and integrations will most likely increase as construction professionals begin to rely more heavily on applications for communication, as opposed to email or paper. We are also in a time where the best corporate software selections are starting to be made by the people who are actually using the software in the field. The most innovative construction companies have been able to leverage this by choosing solutions that get instant adoption and don’t require expensive rollouts. We expect these features will become even increasingly important over the next few years.
BW: So much has changed in the last 10 years. A decade from now, how will the industry be using your product?
TY: On lighter, faster, and more customized hardware in the field. We think the platform wars between Apple, Google and Microsoft will benefit construction consumers in a big way. Whatever those guys come up with, we will want to develop on it if it can help our construction customers.
Young calls the origin of PlanGrid the “saddest story in Silicon Valley.” As one delves deeper, though, it’s evident that is hardly the case. Having nearly doubled its staff from 70 employees to 130 since January alone, this rapidly growing mobile app company is building its proverbial tower to the stratosphere. They just won’t need a cart full of blueprints to get there.