In this interview with Marcus vandeVliet, he shares how he leveraged his business insight to solve a critical market need. Hear how he used an application Platform as a Service to rapidly bring a new solution to market and what advice he’d share with other entrepreneurs.
I’ve been a full-time consultant for 14 years, focused on the landscape, construction and green industries. My company, MV Enterprises, provides consultancy and public speaking services. I’ve also expanded into the world of software. Specifically, I’ve identified a need for new software to help business owners better understand and analyze their performance and profitability.
2. What’s your vision for supporting your market?
While there are many off-the-shelf tools to manage various components within the construction and landscape market, the solutions are often fragmented or meant for a very high-end (small) section of the market.
With a vast majority of industry players making less than $1M in revenue, these programs are not practical. I saw a market need, which I confirmed through my clients. Small construction companies needed a reasonably priced solution that covered the full scope of their operations and enabled better insight into their profitability.
Every business wants growth and profits. But the reality is for small business owners, they can’t easily access the right information to gauge their performance. Most owners price their work based on the market and their competitors, without recognizing their own direct costs, overhead, or break-even point. Without understanding the true cost of the work that they provide, it’s impossible to measure and optimize profitability.
For example, it may take sixty hours to build one patio. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen that way. Job costing allows a business owner to compare the bid price to the actual price based on what happened on site, and then learn how to improve in the future. Through this insight, a business owner can become more profitable, improving the production side of the business.
The primary purpose of our program is to have a central place for business owners and key employees to access everything they need to do their job. This includes customer management, pricing, job costing, and reporting tools. By aggregating these functions a business owner can save time and improve the accuracy of their performance measurements.
Ultimately, it’s about getting a better understanding of your own business outcomes and slowly making changes based on your performance (not an industry average of performance).
3. How did you bring your idea to market?
I recognized an opportunity that was not being filled by any existing off-the-shelf software, had the domain expertise, but needed help bringing my idea to market. I partnered with a software development company to build a new program that would meet the needs of the industry.
There was a tremendous amount of effort and time spent to plan, including interviewing members within the market, designing flow charts, and researching features. But once we started to build, I had little control over the program, including the prioritization of features.
After six years’ of work on the program, the development team was only half way through the requirements. And a number of things were built into the program or taken out of the program which I disagreed with. It was a very difficult decision, but I had to walk away from the project.
4. After your initial false start, how did you move forward?
I wanted to get back to the main priorities of the program and find a new way to bring my idea to market. An acquaintance introduced me to Mike Kumpf, Principal at Brook Trout Partners. Through his partnership with Mendix, he introduced me to the advantages of the Mendix application Platform-as-a-Service to enable rapid application development for new solutions. I wanted to build my program faster than what I experienced in my first attempt and Mike’s experience seemed like the way to do it.
5. How did you and Brook Trout Partners divide the workload?
I understand the industry, the inner workings of many systems and necessary calculations, and the value I want my new program to provide. But there is no way I could’ve built Construction Metrix (CM) on my own. Utilizing a platform like Mendix and a partner with rapid development experience was essential. I am an industry expert, not a software expert.
That being said, I have taken a Mendix training course to learn how to use the platform. I understand how to build a user interface and connect data through related entities. But developing a complex program requires the involvement of someone with a deep understanding of technical components.
6. What is the Construction Metrix program?
Mike and I partnered to create the Construction Metrix program, built on the Mendix platform. In a fraction of the time, with just one, part-time developer, we’ve created a more feature rich program, including functions that were not possible through traditional development means.
Construction Metrix is an end-to-end solution for business owners. It currently includes CRM, bidding and estimating, job costing and scheduling. We are developing inventory, human resources and equipment management capabilities. The program makes it easy to calculate costs for every project, report on those projects, and ultimately, get deeper insight into business profitability.
A beta of the program is available and we currently have 20 companies on board. Not only did Mendix make it faster to build the program, but it’s now very easy to iterate. We get a lot of feedback from the users and can make changes within one day.
7. What feedback or program benefits have you heard so far?
Feedback has been positive so far. Our customers see how quickly we add new features and make adjustments. Ultimately, it’s our ability to respond to problems quickly that has made the greatest impact to our customers.
Ultimately, our value comes from the business owners’ increase in confidence. With more accurate assessments and greater insight into job practices, business owners can better understand their costs, determine their own break-even points, and give their sales representatives the confidence to justify more customized cost estimates. Additionally, greater insight into the full sales cycle enables leaders to hold their teams accountable throughout the construction management process.
8. What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
I think there are other frustrated people out there like me; people with great ideas who need technical assistance to bring those ideas to life. Having been through this process twice now, once with a traditional form of development and once with an agile, rapid development approach – I can confidently say that Mendix allows for a much faster development cycle.
With Mendix, we are a team of two: one with business insight and one with technical understanding. Mendix provides a common ground for discussion and development, through its visual models. We’re much faster now as well, making changes on the fly and redeploying as needed.
I was able to realize my vision for a new program faster than I ever thought possible. I hope that other entrepreneurs read my story and are inspired to try it out for themselves.