5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS, with Ron Antevy and Mitch Russo

Do you know your business could be much bigger than it currently is, but aren’t sure how to get there? I can help!

What problem is your product going to solve for your prospective customer? We often hear about products that are in search of a solution and this will not lead to success. You should be able to clearly articulate the problem you are solving.

Ron Antevy teamed with his brother Jon in 1998 to lead e-Builder. Under his leadership, the company has consistently grown over 30% per year — profitably and without debt. Prior to e-Builder, Ron held various senior management positions in the construction and environmental services industries, including regional Director of Operations for Waste Management, where he managed 19 facilities with 200 employees and annual revenues in excess of $150 million. Ron is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Engineering, with a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. He is member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a registered Professional Engineer in the state of Florida. He is also a member of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering — University of Florida Advisory Board and the Nova Southeastern University Ambassadors Board.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My brother Jon and I always wanted to get into the construction industry (our family’s business) so I studied Civil Engineering and Jon studied Architecture. Jon was getting his Master’s in Construction Management in 1994 and decided the focus of his Master’s thesis would be how to use this “new thing” called the Internet to improve the construction process. His Master’s thesis became e-Builder’s business plan. That’s how we got started.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Construction is a lot like manufacturing . . . except every construction project is a one-off that is built by a unique group of companies that come together for that one purpose. The lack of repetition both of the project and the team working together leads to huge inefficiencies and lack of productivity. In fact, studies have shown that construction is the least productive and most wasteful industry in America. With the advent of the Internet, we saw the opportunity to very quickly and easily connect all of stakeholders on a project so that they could communicate and collaborate. We also saw the opportunity to place all of the project information in one place, so that everyone would be accessing a “single version of the truth.” As we shared this idea with leaders in the industry — even ones that were technologically challenged — they all immediately “got it” and we knew we had something.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

We started a SaaS company before people even knew what that was (we started six years before SalesForce was founded). We sold to an industry that was historically very slow to adopt technology. And we bootstrapped the company — with no outside funding in the first five years. As a result, we faced some very hard times. There were many times when we could barely make payroll. We didn’t draw salaries as owners/founders for over a year. It was very hard to explain what we were selling when many of our prospects didn’t understand the internet and didn’t even have a corporate website. And then in 2000 we went through the dot-bomb when all of the Internet companies fell out of favor.

At that point, we did consider giving up, especially when some of my trusted mentors hinted that I should consider other options. Two things gave us the drive to keep going:

First, we had a handful of successful clients and when we saw how they used our product and how much they relied on it, it gave us hope.

Second, we were determined — part of our success is simply because we refused to give up.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Things are going great today. We continued to grow the company and cracked the code on sales and marketing which led to accelerated growth starting in the mid-2000’s. For over a decade we were able to grow the business at 25% or more per year.

We built the leading construction management platform in our industry with over $50 Million in annual recurring revenue and sold the company to Trimble, Inc. in 2018 for $500 Million.

Today I continue to run the business as CEO of e-Builder, a division of Trimble.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

We certainly made our share of mistakes and looking back, many can be viewed as funny. Many of our mistakes were the result of assuming things without clarifying or verifying them. One example is when we had the opportunity to meet with a large prospect in our industry in a chance encounter. I asked if they use a product today and they named our competitor’s product. I proceeded to tell the prospect many of the similarities between the competitor product and e-Builder and I shared some of our additional features. We never got an opportunity to do anything with that prospect, but I learned later that they HATED the competitors product. When I described how we were similar, it only hurt our chances to continue a dialogue with them. I learned to always ask questions and don’t assume. Now whenever a prospect tells us they use a product, we train our sales team to ask, “how is it working for you?” Depending on their answer, we will ask more clarifying questions before we make any statements.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We have deep domain experience. Many of us have real world construction experience so we understand and can therefore build solutions that work well for our market. We also started as a SaaS company and have operated that way for 25 years. The “service” component of a SaaS is much different than that of a typical software publisher and we perfected this portion of the business long before anyone else in our industry.

As far back as 2001 we built tools to monitor our clients’ usage and adoption. When we saw a lack of adoption, we would proactively engage the client and work with their users to address the issues and ensure their success. Today this is commonly referred to as customer success management and there is specific software for this purpose — we were doing this before anyone else.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

First, celebrate the successes, and not just the big ones. You hire a great employee. You land a new customer. You are mentioned in an industry publication. You should take the time to celebrate these successes and remind yourself that you are making progress and doing well.

Second you need to properly set your own expectation that this is a marathon and not a sprint and you have to embrace the journey. We often joke that ours is the 25 year overnight success story. Success will take longer and be harder than you think so set the right expectations for yourself and you will be less likely to be disappointed.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are many people that so generously gave of their time and expertise and without them I would not be where I am today. It is hard to narrow it to a particular person, but I will try.

I have been part of a CEO peer group for 17 years called Vistage and in the mid 2000’s Peter Schutz came and spoke to our group. Peter was the CEO of Porsche in the mid 1980’s and is credited with turning around the company (at the time, Porsche was struggling and was potentially going to go bankrupt).

Peter’s message to me and guidance on that day profoundly changed my focus as a leader and changed the trajectory of our company. I connected with him over the years and he helped me think about leadership and growth in a way that made a huge difference in our business.

He passed away a couple of years ago, but I still utilize many of his lessons and I share what I learned from him when I mentor and train new leaders.

Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

We have over 125,000 users. The main step to build the community was to develop a sales and marketing engine.

Someone told me many years ago, “products don’t sell. Sales sells.”

We build a demand generation machine with lots of content that we make available to educate our market. We have a sales development team that reaches out proactively to our market thousands of times each month to begin a structured sales process. We also invest a lot of time communicating with and supporting our existing clients and users.

When you build a strong “fan base” amongst your core user group, your community will expand through word of mouth from the core group.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

We monetize our community of users with annual subscriber fees to access and utilize our platform. This has worked well for our industry and our business. We have considered monetizing the vast amount of detailed construction data that we collect on our platform (e.g., we have detailed cost and scope data on over $300 Billion in active construction projects in North America).

However, this data is owned by our clients and would require a change in our agreements before we can monetize it. We may consider that in the future.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five (5) most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.

Here are the 5 things in my opinion and note, this is from my own experience developing B2B software. This would be different in B2C:

1. What problem is your product going to solve for your prospective customer? We often hear about products that are in search of a solution and this will not lead to success. You should be able to clearly articulate the problem you are solving.

2. If you successfully solve that problem, how much is it worth to your prospective customers? We were able to build capabilities in our product to manage construction cost. We asked our customers and prospects what it was worth to them — and everyone told us that we would save them at least 1% of the construction cost. Our annual subscription costs a fraction of the savings — so we knew we could sell it.

3. Is your proposed solution unique in the market? If you build a “me too product” how will you outsell your competition? Often it is by lowering your price and as a startup if your only differentiation is lower price, you will not be successful.

4. Have you built a financial model? You should think through the cost to build, operate, implement and support your product. And you need to think about how you will take your product to market and what that will cost. I have looked at and been asked to invest in many companies where the idea is great, but the founders haven’t thought through what it will take to launch the product in the market. No matter how great your idea is, you will fail if you run out of time or money to get your product off the ground.

5. Have you done your research and interviewed target prospects? I once attended a product management class by Pragmatic Marketing where they would constantly preach, “your opinion although interesting is irrelevant.” In other words, unless you are a buyer or user of the product your opinion is irrelevant. In order to validate your idea, business model, unique differentiator, and go to market strategy, you have to spend time in your market asking questions and listening carefully.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would set up a way for more business leaders to pay it forward and help young entrepreneurs be successful. As entrepreneurs succeed and grow, they create tons of jobs and opportunity which has the ability to do the most good for the most people.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/ronantevy/

Twitter — @rantevy

Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/ebuilder/

Thank you for all of these great insights!

5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS, with Ron Antevy and Mitch Russo was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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