by ROB McMANAMY and KARL SORENSEN
BuiltWorlds recently had the opportunity to speak with Patrick Allin, chairman & CEO of Textura Corp., a 10-year-old, Deerfield, IL-based provider of cloud-based collaboration and productivity solutions for the construction industry. Last month, the company’s phenomenal 1,022% revenue gain between 2009 and 2013 earned it 118th place on Deloitte’s Technology ‘Fast 500’ ranking. In June, Allin also was named Ernst & Young’s Technology Entrepreneur of the Year for the Midwest.
BW: Prior to starting Textura in 2004, you and cofounders Bill Eichhorn and Howard Niden all worked together at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). Was there some ‘light bulb’ moment when all of you realized there was an irresistible opportunity in the construction industry?
ALLIN: Bill had done a consulting project in the construction space, and he came away with the feeling that there were significant opportunities to leverage technology to improve business processes in that industry. So Bill, Howard and I spent the next nine months looking at the commercial construction market and talking to as many professionals as we could, which gave us a great sense of the business landscape and how the industry operated.
BW: So what did you find out?
ALLIN: During those months of research, we talked to hundreds of people, met with subcontractors and general contractors, held focus groups, etc. We learned an awful lot about the technology they were using then, or not using.
BW: How did that exercise shape your strategy in creating Textura?
ALLIN: We knew from the outset that there was a clear value proposition in using technology to help the construction business operate more efficiently and effectively. Historically, the industry had always been such an outlier, because the success of any project ultimately depended on so many different companies working well together. So, given that operating structure, we saw real opportunity in using the Internet to facilitate a collaborative approach to key activities and communications for those varied stakeholders. We knew we could bring huge improvements by enabling everyone on a project to perform payment-related tasks in a common online workspace, accessed via a web browser.
BW: And you felt that could have a real impact on construction management?
ALLIN: Yes. We saw that most of the players in the industry still relied on paper processes and had yet to really embrace the potential of technology. So, our vision in those first five years was to improve productivity, enhance efficiency, and increase collaboration, all with online technology. With that vision driving us, we developed our Construction Payment Management (CPM) solution, which was the industry’s first online invoicing and payment management system. That solution, by the way, has become the de facto industry standard for invoicing and payment in North America.
BW: Today, Textura claims 60% of the largest 100 general contractors listed by ENR as customers. Was there any one of those firms who seemed to open the door to the rest?
ALLIN: Winning the business of PCL Construction was a breakthrough. We had already won a number of clients in the mid to bottom half of that top 100 ranking, but they were our first Top 10 client. Everyone we talked to saw the merit in our value proposition, but prior to PCL, the biggest firms would ask, ‘Well, who else are you already working with that’s our size?’ So, once we had PCL fully implemented, it was easier for us to win other large general contractors.
BW: Almost all of those larger firms have international arms, too. So, is that an area that Textura is targeting, too?
ALLIN: We’ve always had a global vision, and we are working on building out an international presence. In 2012, we launched Textura Australasia to market our solutions to construction companies in Australia and New Zealand. And this past summer, we launched Textura Europe and opened an office in London. I expect that five years from now, we will be global.
BW: What other types of changes do you foresee for the industry?
ALLIN: Ten years from now, we think construction will actually be a heavier user of technology than most industries. In the last three years, we have bought or built solutions that cover activities across the project lifecycle. And now we’re in the process of integrating all of that into a single platform that will allow us to exchange information between applications to make additional processes even more efficient. And it is enticing now to see how virtually anything can be delivered over smartphones and tablets. That’s how technology will be used from here forward. So, we will ‘mobilizing’ all of our solutions.
BW: It seems Textura has a broader mission now than when it was founded. Is that true?
ALLIN: Now that we have been at this 10 years, I would say the biggest thing that we have learned is that there is a much larger opportunity here for us than we had originally thought. We’re a tech company, of course, but we see other fundamental issues in construction now that we think we may be able to help address. In addition, our solutions enable the collection of a lot of data from general contractors, subcontractors, owner/developers, etc. By utilizing our network and applying that data on our platform, we think we can create solutions in this industry that will revolutionize how construction companies think about data and how they run their business. And we’re working on those solutions right now…
BW: So stay tuned?
ALLIN: Yes. Stay tuned.
Editor’s note: After this interview, Textura joined with Turner Construction to launch another new solution, the Early Payment Program. Both firms predict that the product, itself, will transform how subcontractors are paid across the industry. Read more about EPP here.
Even Textura’s 63,000-sq-ft headquarters in Deerfield IL is designed for collaboration. Below, its very flexible cafe.