Episode 31 | 

September 14, 2023

Optimizing the Pre-Construction Process

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In This Episode

In this episode of The Construction Revolution Podcast, we sit down with Jon Sibley, the Founder and CEO of TrueBuilt. Jon has an MBA from USC Marshall and was a NCAA and Team USA athlete. In 2022, Jon and his co-founder, Julian Prokay, set out to revolutionize the pre-construction process for general contractors, subcontractors, and developers. 

The TrueBuilt end-to-end software uses AI and machine learning to centralize and streamline pre-con, ultimately minimizing risk and increasing efficiency. Tune in to learn more about the TrueBuilt platform and to learn how you can leverage this technology to prepare and deliver successful projects. 

Host Image


Steven Rossi-Zalmons

Marketing & Events Lead, Giatec Scientific Inc.

Guest Image


Jon Sibley

Founder and CEO, TrueBuilt

Podcast Transcript

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Hello there, and welcome to The Construction Revolution Podcast. My name is Steven Rossi, and here on the show we explore the latest trends, technologies, people, and organizations that are revolutionizing or disrupting the construction industry and are changing what the industry will look like tomorrow. Today on the show I’m speaking with Jon Sibley, the founder and CEO of TrueBuilt. Jon is a former Team USA and NCAA athlete. He also holds an MBA from USC Marshall. Jon and his co-founder, Julian Prokay, saw an opportunity to revolutionize pre-construction by bringing an end-to-end software solution to the market. This vision led them to create TrueBuilt, a technology company that is redefining pre-construction for general contractors, subcontractors, and developers. By using AI powered solutions, companies can minimize risk while increasing profitability. Tune in to learn more about the story of TrueBuilt and how the TrueBuilt software is transforming pre-construction.

Hi, Jon. Welcome to the show. Thanks for joining me today.

Jon Sibley:

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

How are you doing? How has your day been so far?

Jon Sibley:

Oh, it’s been great. I’m in Southern California. It’s a beautiful day out. Live right by the beach, so can’t complain. We’re really busy here at TrueBuilt right now. We’re hiring and interviewing quite a few people and having that type of productivity, and it’s very exciting for us in the next phase of growth we’re entering.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Yeah, that’s great. So, yeah, let’s dive right into it. Can you tell me a little bit about the story behind TrueBuilt?

Jon Sibley:

Yeah. So to just set the stage for a second, TrueBuilt’s creating the first end-to-end modern pre-construction platform. When we think about the pre-construction software landscape, it’s quite fragmented. Some of our customers, before they came onto TrueBuilt, were often using eight to 10 different softwares, platforms, service providers to complete the pre-construction workflow. So our end vision is to be that end-to-end pre-con platform. Now, when I think back to last year when my co-founder and CTO Julian Prokay and I first got together, we were really looking at the last two years, the pricing volatility when it came to materials, the supply chain issues when it came to equipment, and we realized that pre-construction has never been tougher or more crucial than in the last few years.

So that got us thinking about, “All right, what software can we create that will really optimize that process?” As we started talking to advisors and early customers, we came to realize that no one had created that end-to-end workflow. So the first six months we spent building the product. We released our MVP, our initial product, in end of January of this year. Since then, we’ve been able to do sales across the country. Excited to announce that we just closed our seed funding as well, led by [inaudible 00:03:25] Capital, which is a vertical SaaS VC, Fifth Wall, which is a top if not the top prop tech VC, and then we were able to include one of our customers as well, which is a pretty validating and fulfilling thing for me as well, just because they had shown that faith in that end vision.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah. Congratulations on that first round of funding. I know that’s definitely a big step and quick too, especially from just launching your MVP a few months ago. That must be very validating for you.

Jon Sibley:

Yeah, validating for the vision. Now, we’re just so excited to grow the team. I was going to mention this at the end too, but we’re hiring for all types of roles right now, sales, customer success. We’re hiring for, actually, a pre-con manager and estimator to bring in house to really up-level our knowledge and software engineers, of course, as well.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

That’s awesome. So can you tell me a bit more about the key features of the platform, and you mentioned how it is the first end-to-end solution, so how different stakeholders on projects, so builders, subcontractors, developers, can use those different benefits?

Jon Sibley:

Yeah. So the idea behind all the features and tools that we built is, number one, pre-construction should be a competitive advantage for savvy general contractors and subcontractors. The better that we can estimate a job, the more we can plan it out earlier on, the less changeovers and risk we’re going to have on site. Pre-construction is also the point where those different stakeholders start aligning and start getting visibility into what everyone else will be doing for the project. One of our customers, their very first project on TrueBuilt, they’re a general contractor out in Dallas, they sent out the bid packages to 30 different trades for the subs, and it invited 200 subs into the platform. That was that first realization that you can have so many stakeholders on the TrueBuilt platform and really starting to get aligned there.

But our design philosophy has been how do we build the most robust yet flexible tools? Everyone in the industry will tell you everyone does pre-construction a bit differently, and that’s a common thread we’ve seen. In my opinion, the personal conclusion I’ve come to is I really believe that the software world as a whole has failed pre-construction individuals and professionals. What these pre-con folks are left with is this kind of patchwork approach of putting different softwares together, coming back to Excel because Excel is the most flexible tool in the world, to really complete the entire pre-con process. We think that’s not acceptable in 2023. So, one, we’re trying to build the entire workflow, pre-construction workflow, on the TrueBuilt platform, starting with takeoff, then getting into estimation, bid management, subcontractor management, all the way up to procurement. We have some expansion ideas beyond that as well. But I think, first and foremost, we need to do an amazing job at pre-construction and make sure everyone’s taken care of there.

So besides being on-prem and cloud-based, which is what we consider the basis for being a modern software, TrueBuilt’s really trying to leverage the latest in NLP and machine learning to really speed up the workflow. Obviously, AI is a super buzzword right now. Everyone’s getting into ChatGPT. I actually was at a natural language processing firm right after college in the Bay Area and was there until the company got acquired in 2018. Back then, NLP could organize unstructured data and organize language data and maybe do a tiny bit of contextualization, but it couldn’t truly analyze and understand that language data. Now, we’re at a point where it’s generating that data. So it’s been pretty cool to see how that’s developed, going from organizing to actually generating it itself. But, yeah, I think one take-home for your listeners is AI is super buzzy right now. I would encourage people to start testing out getting involved.

On the TrueBuilt platform, we have the TrueBuilt Assistant, and this assistant is supposed to be with you the entire pre-construction workflow. We are creating something right now that can read and analyze a blueprint, hopefully within a certain degree of accuracy, but it’s not like ChatGPT where getting 80% of the way there is a good start and then you can go finish it. It’s a blueprint, or it’s a spec book. It needs to be 100% right 100% of the time. So we’re doing a ton of testing on that front, and we’re really making sure that we nail that because when it comes to building, we have to be exact. Again, the entire thesis of this, can we produce a more accurate estimate? Because that’s going to impact the profitability of the project for all those different stakeholders.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Yeah. Absolutely, yeah. That’s a great point. In construction, obviously, developing software, whether you’re using AI or not, it needs to obviously be super accurate all of the time no matter what is being put in because, yeah, the implications of those projects are obviously massive. Something I found interesting is that, right now in pre-construction, software does exist, obviously, but it’s segmented and siloed and there’s nothing, really, that people can use to bring it all together. But can you explain how TrueBuilt differs from some of those existing pre-con softwares?

Jon Sibley:

Yeah. So I think, on the very front end, you do have some legacy providers that are still being used for their on-prem solution. One of our customers, I think they’re 1.2 billion dollars a year, very big firm, and they’re plugging in a flash drive into an old Dell computer and passing that computer around to complete takeoff. It’s a very robust tool that they use, but it’s on-prem and you can’t collaborate. You don’t get the advantages of modern software. Again, we really think that’s wrong.

Then, on the other side, not being that full stack solution where you see all of your pre-con processes as an estimator in one place, that just opens up so much more room for error. Everything keeps coming back to an Excel sheet that people can access, and, sure, if you’re Microsoft, you can do a little bit of collaboration, but there’s a lot of possibility for error when you start getting into that. So I think, first and foremost, it’s becoming cloud-based and then providing that end-to-end solution. We’re not fully there with the end-to-end solution, but that is the vision of what we’re building.

The third piece of what we’re differentiating on is this AI tool, and we have a few through our AI assistant right now. Again, that’s something we’re being very, very careful on training to make sure we exactly nail it. But you can comb through, use the AI tool to ask it to look through your historical structured data cost estimates from similar projects. You can go through the spec book for that particular project and really start having this conversation with the assistant, start automating parts of the workflow. Going back to what we were saying earlier about AI being so popular to discuss right now, there is a decent amount fear about it. People are like, “Oh, is this going to replace my job,” that kind of thing. We’ve really taken that into account when we think about how we’re building our AI assistant.

We really see this as, instead of being artificial intelligence, it’s almost augmented intelligence. It’s boosting and augmenting your workflow. It’s not going to replace your workflow. You as a construction estimator and pre-construction manager, you have all that experience, all that expertise. Allow us through our AI system to take away the annoying parts of the job, the very automatable, for us, part of the job, and you can come in with your expertise and put your lens on it. Striking that balance is very, very difficult, but it is a challenge that our team enjoys. I think, as we get more of our people piloting the TrueBuilt AI assistant, we’ll start to learn, “This is where we should really automate things, and this is where that true knowledge expert has to still remain in control.”

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I think that’s a great point across not only pre-construction but all aspects of construction. When we’re starting to introduce AI tools, I think your point is right on, when the expertise and the knowledge that everyone in the industry has is really important to keep and the AI is there to help you use that to the best of its possibilities based on all the data that it can analyze. So diving into AI and the machine learning and NLP a little deeper, you’ve touched on what it does right now in the TrueBuilt software, but can you explain the future applications that you see and what you guys are working on now and also long-term what you envision TrueBuilt being able to do with those new technologies?

Jon Sibley:

Yeah. Long-term, I think there is opportunity to really automate a lot of this process. I can’t share too much of what we’re doing on the blueprint side right now, but I think the actual act of takeoff, there’s a huge opportunity to use computer vision to automate a lot of that. Estimation is so complicated and so custom to that actual project that I think there will be, certainly, a period where you can automate some of that, but I think that that’s where that human knowledge and expertise comes in because someone’s done this same type of job for 20 years and knows more than what the machine is going to know.

That said, I think you can create tools to boost that and help that estimator more quickly search their historical data, search their historical spec books, and really extract that data out very, very quickly and have that be plugged back into the estimate or be able to leverage that information and add that to a takeoff. I think, again, having that all in one place is something that hasn’t quite been done before, and then you add this lever of AI, and this thing becomes supercharged.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Yeah, definitely. So, yeah, you mentioned earlier and we also… I saw on your social media that you launched your first MVP earlier this year and had those first set of customers using TrueBuilt. How did you and your team feel when that happened?

Jon Sibley:

Yeah. So I’ll tell you the whole story. We went out to Arizona to onboard our very first customer. At that point, pre-sales had signed a few customers, and I’d been working with these firms for a while to get their input on what they needed. I’m on site. I’m in this boardroom at this very beautiful building that this general contractor, so it was a design build firm, sits in, and we can’t get them logged in. So we spent about 30 minutes trying just to get them logged into the first one. Here, I’m sweating bullets and have my CTO and engineers on the phone, and finally we figured it out for them. After that, onboarding has been very smooth for everyone else. We definitely took some key learnings there. It’s been an amazing experience to work with our current customers and talk to prospective ones as well.

I think something our entire team is really united behind is when you talk to these builders, you really encounter this sense of pride, whether it’s someone like my dad, who was a Trench Plate subcontractor. One of our advisors is the CEO of a two billion dollar business. There’s an immense sense of pride of looking at that construction site or building this complete and said like, “I built that. I had a hand in building that.” That sense of pride is something we try to bring into building TrueBuilt now and we really think we’re serving such an integral part of American society, and we think pre-construction has been this under-looked secret competitive advantage that these builders should be able to take advantage of. That’s really driving and motivating our team to continue to put the best product out there.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that’s great. So, with those, after you got everybody logged in, can you share a standout application from one of those initial customers you’ve had?

Jon Sibley:

Yeah. So I think one of the ones that stands out in the early days, the very, very early days, is a firm on the TrueBuilt platform who was using us to build a K-12 school, they sent out a bunch of bid packages, got replies back in some cases; in some cases, they didn’t. On the ones they didn’t, they had to use the TrueBuilt directory to find new subcontractors and trade partners that they hadn’t worked before. Until then, our directory really hadn’t been tested. But they were actually able to get in touch with new ones and in a very quick way find out, “Okay, we’re going to work with these ones now.” It’s a bit easier to show, but the TrueBuilt platform does a very good job of automatically bid leveling and making suggestions on what subcontractor to work with. I think, in this case, it was very helpful for a new user, a new customer on the TrueBuilt platform to see that and see a bit more automation than what they’re used to when it comes to bid leveling.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Absolutely, yeah. I could see how much convenience that must add and time savings as well. That’s great. So when we were looking into your background, I know you played some high level water polo in college and a good bit after that. I’m wondering how you went from being a top performing athlete to starting a tech construction company and if any of those skills or experiences have helped you.

Jon Sibley:

Yeah. Yeah, easy answer is, yes, they’ve definitely helped me. So I played water polo at UC Berkeley. Cal has one of the top programs for water polo. I also got to play for the USA team. I didn’t go to the Olympics but went to World Cup and World Final. That experience of being in this highly disciplined environment working together with a team towards a common goal, holding ourselves to championship standards, that’s exactly how I wanted to have TrueBuilt and how we are at TrueBuilt.

I think early on… We have, I guess, seven people right now, and we’re growing very fast after this funding. That culture is something that we need to keep. I’d say that’s the biggest learning that I’ve had from water polo, is how do you get a group of individuals from different backgrounds, maybe with slightly different goals, slightly different priorities in life and inside the pool… How do we get everyone together working on the same page, functioning together, and headed towards that common championship together? That’s something that’s challenging but also, for me, is very fulfilling and something that I just personally really like to do. I see starting and building my own company alongside Julian, my co-founder, as kind of the ultimate iteration of achieving that championship.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Yeah. Absolutely, yeah. That’s a great approach. Team sports definitely can teach everyone a lot, and especially if at such a high level, I could see how that would translate well. So one last question before we wrap up is we’ve touched on AI and machine learning and stuff, but I’m wondering, other than those things, if there’s any sort of innovative and revolutionary technology you’ve seen in the construction industry that you’re excited about?

Jon Sibley:

I’m very fascinated by all the innovation that’s coming out with 3D printing, especially on a much larger scale. I saw a demo at a conference last summer of a company – I think it might have been based in Singapore. It was just pouring concrete and essentially doing 3D printing with concrete but from these giant, giant cranes. Just the possibilities of that are crazy. Then us being aligned with Fifth Wall as well, obviously, they have a big push into climate tech, and I think there’s a huge opportunity for innovation when it comes to climate. Real estate is a huge, huge part of what affects the climate. I think we’ll see a lot more companies be very successful in that industry in the next 10 years.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Awesome. So, yeah, just to wrap up, if people want to learn more about TrueBuilt and get started using the software, where should they go, and what does that process look like?

Jon Sibley:

Yep. You can go to truebuiltsoftware.com. We don’t have any funky startup spelling. It’s spelled exactly it sounds. You can request a demo there. We have a pretty cool demo process that I think is a bit different from others. It’s not going to ask you to schedule a meeting with us in two weeks. Someone will give you a demo right there on the spot. Other than that, you can reach me at jon@truebuiltsoftware.com Yeah, like I said, we’re hiring. We’re speaking with advisors. We’re looking for construction firms that might have an interest in our AI tool or a modern pre-con tool. It’s been less than a year of TrueBuilt, but I have yet to turn down a conversation, so happy to take anyone on and have these discussions with you personally.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Yeah, awesome. Yeah, thank you so much. Thanks for joining the show today, and thanks for your time. I’m excited to see where TrueBuilt’s going to go.

Jon Sibley:

I appreciate it. Pleasure was mine.

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