Interview With Fieldwire Co-founder & CEO Yves Frinault

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Fieldwire is a mobile and web-based field management platform designed to facilitate better collaboration on construction projects. In addition to plan viewing and task scheduling, the app provides the ability to track, record and report on the progress of construction projects as well as any issues that arise.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with the San Francisco-based startup’s co-founder and CEO Yves Frinault. We talked about the genesis behind Fieldwire, insight into how the platform works and their field first approach to project collaboration as well as the future of mobile technology in the construction industry.

Kendall Jones, Construction Data: Fieldwire is a web-based and mobile platform for construction collaboration and project management, can you tell me a little bit about how it works?

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Fieldwire CEO Yves Frinault

Yves, Frinault, Fieldwire: Fieldwire is a construction management platform with a huge focus on execution in the field. Our philosophy is simple: “Good foremen = good projects”. So the app focuses on providing as much leverage as possible to the foremen so that they can focus on adding more value to the job. We make anything that you see a foreman doing twenty times a day super efficient through mobile technology.

Q: You’ve got a background in construction, what was the inspiration for starting Fieldwire?

A: While I was attending Stanford’s construction management program, I grew increasingly frustrated that most of the technology that was being developed focused on pre-construction (mostly design and planning) and that very little attention was given to the realization of that plan or design. Having spent time working on-site before attending Stanford, I knew that good execution mattered just as much as having a good plan or a good design.

In hindsight, the available technology at the time (2007) was woefully inadequate. The first iPhone wasn’t out yet. Today they’re everywhere – over 60% of the journeymen on-site have smartphones now and it’s allowing us to do things that you could only dream of 4 or 5 years ago.

Q: Collaborative project management software is fast becoming a crowded field with companies like Viewpoint, Procore and Aconex just to name a few. What is Fieldwire doing to set itself apart from the competition?

A: We divide the product verticals into 3 main areas:

  1. Design
  2. Project Management
  3. Field Management

The first two verticals have been served extremely well over the last 10 years by some of the companies you mentioned, as well as by larger companies, like Autodesk or Oracle. So why have they all failed to serve the field vertical?

The main reason is that the field operates fundamentally on a different time frame than the other two. While a project manager cares to plan things months or years in advance, the field can only afford to plan for days or weeks ahead of time. The jobsite is a far less controlled environment than the office and therefore, the people, the problems and the time horizons are fundamentally different. It requires a different class of product.

What sets Fieldwire apart is that is focuses specifically on solving the problems encountered in field vertical and on delivering operational performance to the foremen, superintendents and engineers running it.

Q: How big is your client base?

A: We have 35,000 projects across over 1,000 companies. Most of our clients are either large general contractors, like Shimizu or Jacobs, or specialty subcontractors. While most of our business is in English-speaking countries, we have localized Fieldwire in many languages and now have projects in over 100 countries.

Q: What’s the adoption of Fieldwire been like? Are your clients mostly small, local general contractors or are they more of the larger firms that doing projects nationwide?

A: Our clients are a pretty diverse group, large and small teams, like I said in the previous question. We tend to add the most value to projects dealing with scale issues. Typically, a tech-savvy PM or superintendent will find Fieldwire and try it out on their project, perhaps reach out to us for guidance, and once they see the tremendous applications it can have for their job, they act as the evangelist from within their company and introduce it across their team.

There has been a consistent pattern over the last few years of inadequate tech being pushed down to the jobsite. Fieldwire follows very much an opposite pattern. By the time we start talking to the management team at a big GC, we often have 2 or 3 projects already running with them which makes scaling the tool super efficient.

Q: What kind of projects are customers using Fieldwire to manage?

A: We focus primarily on commercial construction. Basically any project above $5 million in size, which is where the scale of the project starts having a significant negative impact on the overall labor efficiency. Our largest projects are in the $500 million dollar range.

Q: What’s the cost to use Fieldwire? Is it scalable in terms of cost should a customer need to add or decrease the number of users?

A: Fieldwire is free for small teams (15 people or less on a project) with unlimited tasks and sheets. While you don’t get some advanced features like reporting, it’s a great tier for people to experiment with the app to see if it’s a good fit.

On a typical project, we will get everyone from the foremen and up on the platform (think your supers, engineers & PMs). Depending on the type of project, the number of licenses you will need is about 30% of your total headcount. The cost of a license is between $20 and $30 per user, per month.

When companies purchase larger license volumes (over 200 seats) they enter the enterprise tier with multi-year contracts and negotiated volume pricing.

Q: What are some of the advantages of using Fieldwire?

A: Plan viewing and version, task management, issue tracking and team collaboration are our core functions. Fieldwire is designed to streamline your field activities and share all relevant data across your team, so that the right information is in the right hands at all time.

You can snap progress photos, markup sheets, create punch lists and distribute duties all in real-time. Our notification system ensures you know about progress updates as they happen, not at the end of the day or during lengthy meetings. We want to reduce the amount of time you waste waiting around preparing to work, and just help you get to work.

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Q: What features and functionalities have you added based off of feedback from clients?

A: More robust, customizable reporting options for our premium accounts, increased plan set organization with collapsible folders, manpower and cost tracking for each project task and checklists for inspections and punch lists.

Creating a tool like Fieldwire is not something you can do in a vacuum. We work very closely with our users. It’s our way of making sure that we’re delivering what they want and improving Fieldwire all the time. Some of our biggest upcoming features were suggested by our user base.

Q: What new features are you currently working on? Any plans for BIM compatibility in the future?

A: At the moment there is a big integration with Primavera that we are working on with Oracle. There is also a flurry a small improvements like measurement tools for floor plans, improved access levels and reports that will make the tool that much easier to use in the day to day.

Regarding BIM, our core focus is still on 2D plans because it works very well with floor based commercial projects. It doesn’t mean that we can’t integrate with 3D data or connect directly to a model.

Q: You’ve developed an API for third-party developers and clients to develop integrations of their own. What type of software tools are they integrating Fieldwire with?

A: Making the API available is mostly a way to allow our larger clients to integrate their existing technology with Fieldwire and further streamline the product for them. Everything that you can do by hand in Fieldwire can be automated through the API. Some clients are creating projects automatically, inviting subs, just about anything they can think of (and code).

When integrations make sense for the vast majority of our users, we will usually do it ourselves. For example, the automatic version control between Box or Dropbox and Fieldwire.

Q: The construction industry is experiencing a growing worker shortage. In what ways can Fieldwire help companies do more with less in terms of staying on budget and schedule?

A: It’s an excellent question. Construction is about $8 trillion dollars worldwide today and it will be closer to $15 trillion dollars in 10 years. For the next decade, the scarcity of talent worldwide is going to be a much bigger problem than finding the next job (how things have changed since 2008).

Every good construction company already spends a lot of time hiring, training and retaining good talent. But when you look at most big projects, direct wrench time only represents about 30% of a journeyman’s day. What this means is that even if you have great talent, optimizing your labor utilization is critical to operate a profitable business.

Fieldwire is not going to teach the craftsmen to do their job better, but it will help them optimize the 70% of their day that isn’t spent building. What you do with that saved time will determine your productivity. You can either save money and drive up the quality, or send the guys home earlier.

Q: The construction industry is notoriously slow to adopt new technology, do you see that trend changing?

A: I don’t think so. What’s interesting and unique in the case of mobile technology is that the adoption is coming from outside the industry. We are riding that wave of adoption more than causing it. For that reason alone, the mobile adoption cycle is going to be much faster than what the industry is used to. So make sure you have a plan to pick the right mobile tools.

Q: Fieldwire couldn’t have existed less than a decade ago because the mobile technology didn’t exist. Looking ahead to the next decade, what kind of technology do you think will be driving the construction industry? 

A: Mobile technology for the field is the equivalent of the personal computer for office workers. It’s providing a ton of leverage, and these days it’s entirely affordable, widespread and easy to use. I think it will represent the main productivity gain for the next decade.

Hopes are high for augmented reality and drones at the moment. It’s easy to visualize some use cases, but it will take another 5 to 10 years before those technologies reach full potential. Smart mobile devices were around for many years before companies like Apple figured out the right formula and adoption exploded.

Q: Any plans to expand internationally? If so, what are the biggest challenges you perceive Fieldwire will have to overcome?

A: We found ourselves very quickly in the hands of workers beyond U.S. borders. Canada, the UK and Australia have become strong homes for Fieldwire. We have already localized the app for Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, Korean and Japanese markets, and are looking to continue expanding our language repertoire in the coming year. Distribution varies from one country to the next, but as I mentioned earlier, we are already in 100 countries as of now. Bottom-up adoption in the driving force in the U.S., but that might not be the case in China.

Q: I’ve had a chance to check out Fieldwire and in addition to having an intuitive UI, one of the most impressive things I noticed was how fast the app worked and how fast the drawings and plans loaded. Was it designed that way in order to be accessible even when working on sites where mobile internet connections might be slower?

A: Absolutely. What’s specific about our industry is that the scale of projects can be enormous and that most of the workforce operates in poor connectivity conditions. There is a ton of engineering that goes into making the experience seamless for the user. It’s easy to make something that “looks” like Fieldwire. It’s very hard to make something that scales past hundreds of team members, thousands of plans and tens of thousands of tasks the way that we can.

We want all project data to be in your hands in one place and plan viewing is an essential aspect of everyone’s day-to-day. Being able to access your plans and tasks offline was important too, because the internet often isn’t present on-site. Any markups or task updates you make will sync and be shared with your team once you reconnect to the internet, and all of this is automatic, so users don’t need to remember to do it themselves.

Q: You recently raised $5.5 million in financing on top of an additional $1.1 million in funding from earlier this year. What does that amount of backing mean for Fieldwire?

A: It’s a tremendous opportunity for us. It means growing the team and continuing to drive our product forward. We’re committed to expanding our reach and we’ll be able to do so quickly because we’re careful to choose the right people to welcome into our family. We’ll be able to maintain the same excellent quality while bolstering our team with hungry, talented people who can help us develop even more. Continuing to build a great tool so that our users can continue building great things is our chief priority and our recent backing has ensured we can make that happen.

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