Youthful, but wise: Ron (at left) and Jon Antevy have managed to survive the ups and downs of the tech revolution.
by JUDY SCHRIENER, for BuiltWorlds | Oct 29, 2015
While an editor at ENR some 20 years ago, I “discovered” Jon Antevy and his fledgling tech company, later known as e-Builder, when he was still trying to explain to most designers and builders what the internet even was. Since then, the Fort Lauderdale FL-based, family-owned firm has emerged as a pioneer in fully integrated, cloud-based construction program management software. And it has demonstrated unusual staying power.
Along the way, Jon was named one of ENR’s Top 25 Newsmakers in 1996 and, just three years later, he earned a spot on ENR’s list of The Top 125 Innovators in the 125-year life span of the magazine. Today, e-Builder is about the only survivor, let alone thriver, from that early tech scene. Certainly, it is the last independent firm standing, among dozens of similar competitors that emerged over the years. Below is an edited version of my recent interview with e-Builder co-founders Jon and brother Ron Antevy, who is now the firm’s President and CEO.
BW: Ron and Jon, tell us what you can about e-Builder’s current employee count, revenues, projects and so forth.
JON: We have 160 employees and revenues close to $40 million. We’re growing at 30% or more annually with $200 billion worth of active construction projects under management in the system. Most of our clients are in North America, though a few have taken us along as they’ve moved to other parts of the world.
BW: Jon, you started what would later become e-Builder in 1995, and Ron joined it a bit later. From the late ‘90s until about 2001, literally hundreds of online suppliers to the AEC industry popped up, many securing millions of dollars of venture capital. Nearly all them subsequently died or were swallowed up by large firms, most of them burning through those millions pretty quickly. You didn’t go that route, and I remember your frustration at all of the exaggeration and often outright lying some of these firms engaged in at the time when so many enterprises were competing for customers. It was a crazy time. How did you survive it and how, since then, have you managed to thrive?
JON: We had a little bit of a head start on those folks that were all talking hype. We had subscription revenue. They needed venture capital to survive while we had real customers and a recurring revenue stream. In 2001, we had a healthy revenue flow, many clients, and we were singularly focused on our customers and providing value to them. With that, we can survive anything.
RON: We’re big on focus and proud of it. We’re also big on honesty.
BW: People often accuse the construction industry of being unsophisticated. Over the years, have you seen greater technical sophistication among owners?
RON: I wouldn’t say they’re unsophisticated. They’re very sophisticated in terms of the projects they are taking on. Buildings are getting a lot more complicated, though. But what’s interesting is that, even after all these years, about two-thirds of owners still don’t take advantage of the systems available. They act as pleasantly surprised now as they did 20 years ago when they see and experience the technology. But the momentum has changed in the last three to five years. Many owners are more interested in systems like e-Builder Enterprise – it’s all post-recession. It seems that was a turning point. Owners are much more focused on being more efficient and performing work better, faster, and cheaper.
JON: Owners’ interests have changed dramatically. The mobile revolution – beginning with the iPhone, along with touchscreen interface, and all these emerging apps – is big. With personal usage of all of these devices and apps, people now expect more at the job site. They ask, “Why can’t I deal with this when there’s an issue in the field?” Owners ask us, “Can you do this?” People continue to get excited about some of the basic capabilities that we’ve had for several years. However, there are still executives in the industry who did not grow up in the [digital] age, and have not warmed to technology and all of its capabilities yet. This new generation grew up with technology, so there will be a big shift as they continue to move into executive roles and other positions of power.
BW: How is building information modeling (BIM) changing project closeout and how owners learn the operations and maintenance needs for these newer, more complicated buildings?
JON: There’s a big BIM tie-in. As owners begin to leverage BIM product capabilities, we’ve built tools that allow for the import of BIM data into e-Builder and then for the export of completed project data into facility operations and maintenance software.
RON: We recently acquired a BIM technology company. We are integrating it into e-Builder now and are launching it in phases. The company, Scenario Virtual Project Delivery, was spun off of a very large specialty contractor. Its technology was born out of the needs of this contractor while working on a number of very complex projects. They needed 3D technology, 3D visualization, and the ability to collaborate around the BIM model. We acquired the assets of the business – its technology and several of its people – and are seamlessly integrating that technology into e-Builder now.
JON: We did extensive research and asked owners what they wanted regarding BIM technology and tools. We realized their needs were very different from the designer and contractors. For example, contractors use BIM for clash detection. Owners hire contractors to perform those tasks, so they don’t care about that. However, we learned that owners do care about visualization capability, meaning the ability to perform walk-throughs, and view the structure in 3 dimensions. Secondly, they want to link the model to other information already in e-Builder such as cost, schedule, RFI’s and other workflows. And third they want to export the data to their asset management and operations and maintenance systems when the projects are complete. We are providing all of these capabilities.
BW: In addition to expanding BIM use, what’s new at e-Builder this fall?
RON: There’s more momentum now among facility owners than ever before. Many with high-profile projects proactively come to us, so we are not evangelizing the technology to the extent we had to in the past. These owners understand the benefits and they know what they want and need.
As far as what is new or what is coming down the road? Mobile capabilities, BIM and big data are changing things in our world. Mobile isn’t new per se, but we’re now seeing owners and – really everyone, including the folks in the field – benefit from having data and being able to work on iPads, phones, etc. We were early to mobile and we continue to innovate with additional capabilities. Big data will become a powerful added capability. For example, we have data now for over $200 billion worth of active construction projects, as well as over $1 trillion worth of completed projects. It’s very granular information and it spans far and wide. We are still figuring out how our customers can leverage it and we’ve partnered with several clients and the Construction Industry Institute (CII) to help figure it out. The idea is to mine this information and use it to predict challenges and opportunities on projects in advance and achieve better project outcomes.
JON: You see this happening in other industries. The data is extremely powerful.
BW: What else do you want people to know about e-Builder?
JON: When you look at all the companies with industry presence, we’re the only ones left that still own the company, still run the company, come from the industry, and we continue to have a passion that goes back to our core values and our mission: We exist “to enable repeat builders to improve construction project execution, making construction faster, less expensive and more reliable, thus freeing up time and energy for society’s higher priorities.”
RON: We hear this from a lot of our clients: “Hey, you guys really care.” Other companies can copy our features or aspects of our platform, but they can’t copy our culture, who we are and what we’re about.
For case studies and white papers on e-Builder’s public and private clients, go to http://e-builder.net.
Ahh, Fort Lauderdale… Life at e-Builder may not always be a day at the beach, but surely some days are.
A regular contributor to BuiltWorlds, the author is an award-winning veteran journalist who has covered design and construction since the 1980s. As an associate editor with ENR, she was one of the few women who traveled alone to the Middle East to cover the reconstruction after the first Gulf War. Later, she was among the first industry reporters to write on the use and potential of the Internet for commercial construction. In 2010, Schriener also co-authored Building for Boomers, Guide to Design and Construction, published by McGraw-Hill. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.