FinTech meets Construction: an Interview with Ron Goldshmidt, Briq Cofounder
Where does the Briq story begin?
My co-founder Bassem and I met around our college days in Toronto and have been best friends ever since. I was actually the best man at his wedding. Both of our families are also quite deep into construction. My dad is an engineer, my brother is a developer and Bassem’s family background is the same. So both of our families come from deep in the construction and engineering space. Out of college, Bassem went into construction software and I went to Wall Street, but we have had an ongoing discussion for the last 20 years about this industry. When people meet us today, they think Briq is a fairly new company; it's actually been 20 years in the making.
What have you seen in Finance that is applicable to the Construction industry?
Finance is probably one of the leading industries in terms of technology adoption. A lot of the concepts we see in the technology and data landscapes were first introduced in Finance. I remember showing up on the trading floor in the 1990s and using a Reuters 3000 chat terminal, which pre-dated me and pre-dated the internet days, but it was some of the original chat and ops systems that let banks from different parts of the world interact with each other. We also saw the invention of the Bloomberg Terminal and Straight Through Processing, which aimed to understand transaction flow and helped to process them more quickly. Many of these tools were first introduced in Finance many years ago and later on adopted by other industries.
What is it about Finance that made it an early adopter of technology?
I think it happened because the industry had a common language. Part of my role as Head of the Emerging Markets Local Markets businesses was to examine the data when deciding whether or not certain securities or financial instruments would be viable in certain countries. Could we build pipelines to all the data sets around that instrument or around a new country, or around a new market, and make a data-driven decision based on that? We were able to use tools like Bloomberg and Reuters and other technical applications that essentially brought data to the table and allowed us to make clearer more informed decisions. Then we layered algorithms and quantitative formulas on top of them to make the pipelines powerful in making real time decisions.
How can those experiences from Wall Street be applied to construction?
It really comes down to decision tech. A lot of the decisions being made in construction today are done in the trailer. That’s not a bad thing, and in fact we don't want to take them out of the trailer. Instead, we just want to put better data in the hands of those making these crucial decisions. In order to do that, we must address data normalization and the mounting unstructured data that is so hard to corral. This is data that comes in many different forms, from paper or PDFs or emails. By normalizing it, you allow it to speak in a common language with other parts of the decision-making process, and once you have all that information in front of you then you can then make informed data-driven decisions. The Financial industry was largely able to speak a common language because the assets under management were the numbers themselves. Construction is a bit different in that it there is a gap between the physical and the digital. In Finance, data driven decisions have a common denominator of numbers. In construction, that's not always the case. Quite frankly, the tools to handle all of the unstructured data created on a daily basis were not available until the last couple of years. The technology we are at the forefront of– AI and ML and deep learning of data sets– is a technology that just didn’t exist at this scale and until very recently.
Briq is part of a larger industry in construction technology. What does the state of the construction technology landscape look like today?
I think construction tech is definitely one of the hottest segments for the investment community. A lot of that excitement comes from the interest in improving productivity and automating the workflows in construction. I think from an investment perspective, the problems that we have for one of the world’s largest industries is very unique. I think outside investors understand that. What I think is lacking is the deep industry domain expertise. There's not as many experienced hands in construction with that hands-on knowledge that have been in the construction trenches and understand all the processes involved including the decision making, the data gathering process, and the processes that have been around for so long. The investment community has been slow to respond to construction and more hesitant because it's just a new space with fewer, I would say, industry domain experts on hand to kind of drive and understand that process. From an investment perspective I think there's a lot of enthusiasm for this segment and everybody knows that there's going to be a massive amount of new technologies introduced, it's just a matter of time and I am confident that Briq is at the forefront of that introducing these kinds of solutions that can bring these kinds of measurable efficiencies and improvements to the industry.
What is the biggest challenge that construction technology faces, in general?
The biggest challenge I think is just a matter of awareness of what is possible now. I’ve seen changes in market awareness even since launching the company in early 2018. People are a lot more aware of the latest tools that are out there, including with what Briq is bringing to the construction industry. There's still a little bit of hesitation, which is to be understood. In general, I think the industry is ready for these kinds of solutions. In fact, we invest a lot into education about the kind of tools we are using. We also want to enable the success of those customers we already have and give them the ability to take part in those conversations. In general, the industry is eager to learn and participate more and that's a great state to be in.
Where do you see Briq twelve months from now?
We are going to continue building an amazing and repeatable engine for construction companies to self-improve and learn from the industry’s own data and processes. I'm most excited about bringing these data-driven tools to a really smart industry that is bogged down by legacy processes and systems. What I think is happening, is that due to the limited resources allocated to technology in construction, is that a lot of people we meet and talk to are sort of bogged down by all these manual processes and an incredible deluge of different systems and flows that they are trying to make sense of in real time all the way from the C-Suite to the trailer and the field. What we're trying to do is to make that easier for them and enable them to bring all the data to the table on which they can make empirical decisions rather than just trying to chase a bunch of data silos and different data formats. This is freeing our customers to focus on the highest ROI decisions and create institutional learning and memory. In this context, we are still in the first inning of this 9 inning game and I can not wait to see the kind of improvements and real time to value we continue to bring our clients.