Founded in 2011, PlanGrid is the mobile construction app that is poised to revolutionize the way building projects of all sizes are planned, managed and executed.
Solving the 50-year-old productivity problem for construction (a rapidly growing international industry), PlanGrid has the potential to save construction professionals 10 to 15 hours a week. The key to its effectiveness is its ability to streamline and centralize the blueprint and project management process and make it available on every popular mobile platform.
While the app launched only five years ago, PlanGrid has already been used to complete some 450,000 building projects in 195 countries and currently plays host to over 40 million blueprints.
The software renders large images quickly on mobile devices, delivering almost instant high-resolution blueprints that can be pinched and zoomed. “It’s a very fast app and the beauty of the software is that whatever you do is automatically backed up to your account,” says PlanGrid co-founder and CEO, Tracy Young.
The company is currently focused on encouraging adoption amongst general contractors, who it sees as potential drivers of industrywide change. “Once they adopt, the others get on board,” says Young.
“PlanGrid is also making inroads with electricians and mechanical subcontractors for whom the technology holds particular appeal. These MEP systems physically take up a lot of room overhead, and coordination is challenging, so having all of the project information at their fingertips through PlanGrid allows them to make better decisions when problems come up,” she says.
PlanGrid was conceived in 2011 when Young was working at a Bay Area construction management firm as a construction engineer. After ordering an additional 15 blueprints for a project and having the bill come out to some $27,000, Young realized there must be a better, cheaper, faster way to digitally share and collaborate on blueprints which currently cost the construction industry around $4 billion each year. She tapped fellow construction engineer Ryan Sutton-Gee to help launch the business, which soon grew to include co-founders Kenny Stone and Ralph Gootee.
In 2012, PlanGrid was awarded $1.1 million in seed money from Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley-based business incubation and acceleration program that has helped launch some of the Valley’s most successful startups, including Airbnb and Dropbox. With strong and rapid industry adoption driving sales, PlanGrid received another $30 million in investment from top venture firm Sequoia Capital in 2015, validating Young’s vision and preparing the company for the next step.
Young says the technology-related productivity gains experienced by most other industries never really affected the construction market. “Not much has changed in the industry as technology has evolved,” she says. Construction managers have long been tethered to reams of paper and desktop computers, but with the advent of powerful mobile computing devices like iPads, the potential for mobility has exploded. “When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad it was an ah-ha moment because we realized this was something we could work with,” says Young.
Launching in 2011, PlanGrid was the first mobile construction field collaboration software on the market. Having worked in the construction industry, Young and the PlanGrid team were able to tailor the product to the specific needs of those in the field. “Foremen are incredibly impatient and if they have to wait for things to load they’ll just go back to paper, so we had to deliver a product that was lightning-fast and easy to use,” she says.
Inventing a solution
Young cites an example from her time as a construction engineer to illustrate the advantages of mobile blueprint collaboration software like PlanGrid. Working on a major hospital project in California, the construction team had to demolish and rebuild the facility’s operating rooms five times.
“The problem was not the inadequacy of people, it was the lack of instant access to pertinent project information,” she says. “If the hospital needed to make small changes, the drawing and permitting process couldn’t keep up. This affects people, budgets and profit margins and was a demoralizing and draining process.”
A recent study from the University of California Berkley found that as much as two percent of a typical project’s construction budget is spent on rework. In a $1 trillion domestic industry, this means as much as $1.2 to $7.5 billion is wasted every year.
By relying on digital versions of construction blueprints, PlanGrid is able to eliminate many of the cost and accuracy issues associated with hard copies of building plans. “The problem with blueprints is that small graphics firms are usually the ones producing them. A few changes might mean 50 sets of 1,000 pages of blueprints, and then they have to distribute them and try to be sure everyone’s working from the same version,” says Young. “Obviously version control becomes a problem.”
PlanGrid is now looking to get its software into the hands of some of the world’s largest developers who specialize in mega projects, such as billion dollar hospitals and campuses. “Mega projects represent 12 percent of all construction, but 77 percent of the overall industry value. Ninety eight percent of the projects will overrun their budget and have average schedule delays of 20 months,” she says.
The software was utilized by the construction team responsible for completing the San Francisco 49er’s new $1.3 billion football stadium, a project notable not only for its size but also for the litany of high-tech features being integrated into Silicon Valley’s first NFL stadium. “Stadium projects are notorious for being grossly over budget and never on time but largely because of PlanGrid, the project was done in record time —and on budget,” says Young.
David Diamond, co-founder of Florida-based DeAngelis Diamond Construction Inc., credits PlanGrid with helping to drive rapid growth at the company. The relatively small contractor landed on Engineering News-Record’s Top 400 Contractors one year after adopting the technology, and climbed all the way to 306 in the rankings by the next year. “This past year, we experienced really great revenue growth, where we went from 120 million to 225 million, almost doubling our size and PlanGrid was one of the great tools that helped us to accomplish that,” says Diamond.
“With drawings being changed and updated so quickly on projects, what Plangrid has helped us do (that we couldn’t do very well before) is to have confidence—knowing that everyone on the project is working from the most current set of drawings,” he says. “PlanGrid has developed an interface that works with any comfort level of technology. They built a mobile interface that is simple to use, without sacrificing functionality and features to get the job done.”
While others in the industry have been quick to launch imitations of PlanGrid’s popular software, they can’t match the level of expertise of the forerunner. “Even though just five years old, we are tried and true,” says Young. “What’s hard is helping clients understand that the competitors are not the same.”
The economic benefits of PlanGrid’s breakthrough technology are undeniable, but the less tangible benefits of the software also give Young a sense of pride. Recounting the story of a leader at her former employer who griped about never getting to see his son’s baseball games due to the hectic nature of life in the construction industry, Young hopes PlanGrid will mean more to its users than simple dollars and cents savings. “All this rework is expensive, sure, but it affects people and families too,” she says. “There are human health and quality of life factors involved here.”
With a product that has already seen enthusiastic adoption and generates substantial returns on investment, PlanGrid will continue to move into the mainstream and leave its mark on the industry as a whole.
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