By joining two investment funds, Seedcamp and 500Startups, Buildcon became the second investment in Serbia to succeed in doing that. A decisive role was played by the understanding shown by the people leading these accelerators for the opportunities that the construction industry offers as a solution that this start-up develops. In this interview for CorD, Ilija Dragišić, partner and COO at Buildcon, talks about how, with his classmates and colleagues, he took part in developing the idea of a new tool for improving the management of construction projects.
What is at the essence of Buildcon’s applications and what kinds of solutions does it offer?
Buildcon is a web and mobile application for managing, monitoring and implementing construction site tasks. It enables instant connection between an office and construction site, providing insight into the progress of works and consumption of resources. Using Buildcon eases communication for engineers, as well as monitoring positions, good organisation of documentation in one place and easy availability at any time, via the internet. All this results in easier compiling of reports for a given period chosen by engineers: simply by dragging and dropping photos and adding comments, they can very quickly end up with a finished report, ready for printing or sending via email.
How did you come up with the idea to create an application intended for the construction industry, given that the team members come from various branches of industry?
The idea came from Janko Stojanović, Buildcon director, based on his personal experience and work in the field. This enabled him to realise that certain construction project processes could be improved. His parents are both civil engineers who worked on a number of major projects both in the country and abroad, while his younger brother is studying civil engineering. It could be said that Janko’s daily existence since childhood has been immersed in the theme of construction.
Igor Milanović, Janko Stojanović and I are classmates from school, from the 12th Gymnasium High Schools, and for the last five years I have been a partner with Igor in DIMIS, a company for the creation and improvement of brands. During meetings and conversations about how we can cooperate, we came up with the idea of creating Buildcon. Đorđe Filipović, our fourth partner and CTO, is owner of program development company 30 Hills. He joined us at the stage when it was necessary for that which we had imagined to come to life and gain its own functionality.
How would you explain the key advantages of Buildcon in comparison to Oracle Primavera and Microsoft Project?
Our idea is for Buildcon to be an extended arm for these programs and no kind of substitute. As such, we cannot talk about advantages with respect to them, because they are practically two extremely high quality solutions for shaping project dynamics and it would be tough for anybody to threaten them at some future period. What we do is to import project dynamics into our application from these two programs and we are thus a tool that relies on them and becomes an extended arm on the ground that enables proper documentation and monitoring of resources, in order for such data to be returned at a dynamic whereby engineers then have a clear overview of the progress of their project. They can already see progress through Buildcon, but when the data is sent back they have a better overview of the status of works and that allows them to make the right decisions on time.
By joining the two investment funds – Seedcamp and 500Startups – you became the second investment in Serbia to succeed at this. How did this process unfold?
Prior to the Seedcamp and 500Startups accelerators, we participated in several start-up competitions, both in Serbia and abroad, each time improving our presentation. We established contact for 500Startups from San Francisco at the Belgrade Venture Forum, where the mentor of this accelerator, Mr Ed Speigel, who also happens to be a civil engineer, listened to our presentation and immediately understood the essence of our applications and the problems it solves, and we agreed very quickly on the terms of investments. As for the Seedcamp accelerator from London, they called at the same time as we began discussions with San Francisco. We applied for their investment via the website f6s.com, scheduling a Skype interview at which we explained the idea and the phase in which we find ourselves, and at which we agreed to launch cooperation.
In addition to the financial aspect, how much can these funds help you develop your product and expand your operations on the international market?
It should be understood that these are not classical investment funds but rather accelerators, and these are exactly the type of investors who invest in the early stage, when a business itself is underdeveloped and its survival is uncertain. That requires a lot of courage, but the principle according to which they work is such that, in addition to cash investments, they organize daily intensive training programmes and work tramadol online pharmacy overnight with mentors over a period of three to four months, thereby reducing the risk for their investment. For example, 500Startups has mentors who have worked, or currently work, for the biggest technology companies and most successful start-ups in the world, and that happens every day during the duration of the programme. Listening to advice from the Director of Marketing at Google or Apple’s sales director is a priceless value that these accelerators provide, and therefore being at the centre of the action is the key to the development of products and operations on the international market.
Domestic construction companies are more than ready to use modern solutions in their operations, and they recognise that as a competitive advantage. We have Buildcon can help them significantly in that respect
You have more than 50 users and clients from different continents. Which would you highlight as being the biggest feather in your cap?
For now those are mainly medium-sized companies seeking solutions that will improve their operations. I could not mention any famous name, but we are in the process of reaching agreement on cooperation with several large domestic companies. Our assumption that companies that do not represent large systems will more easily accept our solution, and be willing to work with us to improve the app and share their user experience, proved to be correct. I think this is a good and safe way for our product to come to fruition fully and add value to our clients.
What about domestic investors? To what extent are local investors considering investing in start-ups as possible profitable ventures?
Domestic investors exist and certainly invest in start-ups. People who have had contact with the IT sector are more likely to opt for this type of investment, although of course not all start-up companies are IT-orientated. Both domestic and foreign funds monitor the start-up scene in Serbia and seek companies in which they could invest. If an individual investor has no contact with start-ups, they can always invest their money in these funds, which further allocate funds and select the best opportunities for investment. I would hereby like to encourage investors to invest in domestic companies, because they really have fantastic ideas that have global potential.
How important is the IT sector and the creation of start-ups as the bearer of innovation and the creation of added value, i.e., the country’s GDP? What do statistics in Serbia show?
I think it’s very important, because the vast majority of IT companies in Serbia are export-orientated, which has a direct impact on increasing the country’s GDP. I also think that the highest average salary in Serbia is in the IT sector and in this way and living standards are raised. What is important for any country is the knowledge that its people possess; it’s incredibly important to constantly learn and invest in education, because knowledge is what separates the successful from the unsuccessful, and enables the application of intelligent solutions that contribute to the advancement and development of business and, ultimately, society as a whole.
Our idea is for Buildcon to be an extended arm of Oracle Primavera and Microsoft Project that enables proper organisation of documentation and monitoring of resources, which helps engineers develop a clear overview of the progress of their project on a construction site
How much has yours and Igor’s work at a branding agency contributed to your success?
Working at a branding agency is somehow the perfect position for familiarising yourself with various types of businesses and the challenges they face and possible solutions. That’s because in order to create a particular brand you must be well acquainted with the essence of every job. So, that business side helped us a lot when it came to applying some of the solutions when launching the new company. The development of the Buildcon brand itself went through our process of creating brand identity, from brand research, brand positioning and coming up with a name, to creating a visual identity and applying it to business documents, promotional materials and digital media.
I think that this approach helped us make gains on seriousness when it came to presenting our ideas, and that it was a bonus point that contributed to us more easily establishing communication with investors, on the one hand, and users, on the other. It is always good to opt for a disciplined approach and communication with the market, rather than leaving the formation of the brand to chance, if you can influence something and by so doing reduce the risk.
What is the response of companies in our country, given the situation in the construction industry? Do they recognise the benefits of your software?
Our companies are, for now, at an advantage in comparison to foreigners, at least as far as Buildcon users are concerned. This is a result of our decision to initially focus our promotional activities on the region. In discussion with Serbian companies, we concluded that they are more than ready to use modern solutions in their operations, and they recognise that as a competitive advantage, and it is crucial to be as competitive as possible in a situation where the real estate market is stagnating. Buildcon can be just the solution that will improve the process of communicating and monitoring activities on the ground, and ultimately save time and money. And in that way companies are able to optimise their prices and adapt them to market conditions.
Are you planning new projects and will they be directed towards the same industry?
For the next two years we will be focused fully on the development and improvement of our products. We have a plan whereby functionalities are next in line for us to implement in Buildcon. Likewise, on the other side we listen to and gauge any feedback from our users and want Buildcon to progress in the direction of easing the work of engineers on construction sites. The idea is for Buildcon to become a standard and powerful tool that really contributes to improving construction projects at the global level.
Considering previous experiences to date, what advice would you give to young people who are trying to offer their own ideas to the market through start-ups?
As I noted, what makes the difference between successful and not so is knowledge; the more young people educate themselves in the direction they need to develop their own businesses, the easier it will be for them to understand what they need to do in order to be successful. Today knowledge is readily available, with practically everything located on the internet and, provided you have access, you can educate yourself on your own initiative. Most of the challenges you need to face when launching a company have described solutions, and that’s all available online. The advantage of learning via the internet is that it happens in real time and you can instantly share your experience and receive feedback about what functioned and what didn’t. On the other hand, while you learn from books you should consider that someone had to write that book, then it had to be edited and checked, printed and distributed, which takes time until it reaches your hands, and it is possible that a better solution has been found and is under discussion right now. I would conclude that investing time in knowledge and learning via the internet can provide an advantage for young people to make a successful company.