What about ConTech Startups and BIM? Cooperation interview with Visoplan

In our video interviews, we want to show case studies of collaboration between companies and start-ups, and give start-ups a stage. But also companies should get a stage to talk about challenges, difficulties and innovation potentials. In the first episode of our cooperation interviews we talked about Ambivation together with our partner, the immobilienmanager with Boris Goldshteyn, the CEO of Visoplan. Christoph Baier, CEO of Ambivation asks questions about BIM, and their experiences in cooperation with established companies. Finally Boris Goldshteyn will give some tips and tricks for the optimal cooperation with startups.

Christoph: Boris, who are you and what are you doing at Visoplan?

Boris: PropTech is, if we are talking about startups now, more in the real estate management area. Our profession is planning and construction, so I would rather classify our start-up Visoplan and what we do as construction tech. There we are digitally on the road and develop software. Our customer base includes architects, specialist planners and the project development sector. Our goal, or rather what we do, is to ensure digital data twinning (see figure) by efficiently supporting the entire planning of new construction projects from the very beginning. In other words, we ensure that project controlling and collaboration is more efficient. During a construction project, a lot of data is created that can quickly be distributed or lost somewhere. We try to ensure that this is structured and data-based throughout the entire BIM process and create a central data platform for the specialist planners and project developers.

Christoph: Can you give us a concrete example of cooperation?

Boris: Over the last few months, we have focused strongly on BIM, which is a very new topic for many in the industry. Many project developers are trying to approach this topic, but also digitization in general. There are various starting points, whereby Building Information Modeling is a very technical topic. Nevertheless, it offers enormous added value for the non-technician, i.e. project developer, investor or asset manager. That’s why all our cooperation and development is based on working with established partners in the industry. We want to integrate their insights and inefficient processes to such an extent that the solution developed by Visoplan is both future-oriented and defines new processes and workflows. It should therefore offer new opportunities, but still attract long-established employees to match old and new processes. In order to do this efficiently, we have established companies from the industry that give us many insights. That means cooperation in general includes both development cooperation and other partnerships.

For example, we work with a large construction company in the Philippines, Filinvest. They have a high volume of new projects they are doing now, so BIM is a really big issue there. One of their problems was that a lot of things were not running efficiently and they were therefore looking for a solution. When we started, we said that there was a construction project that was in the development phase, i.e. early performance phase. There is a project team that is involved in the planning of this construction project and consists not only of Filinvest, but also of all the suppliers. We will then see how the Visoplan solution can be combined with the project. This means that the new BIM process will be tested with Visoplan. Then there are requirements for new functionalities that have to be fulfilled so that Visoplan can fit into their process chain. It is a give and take, so to speak. On the one hand, they can use their industry knowledge to show what the requirements and old processes look like. On the other hand, we can use our solutions to show what the new processes look like and how old functionalities could be implemented in new ways. This combination of old and new offers a high added value, because the whole team can try out the new functionalities right away, we see how they do it, and thus the cooperation merges.

Christoph: How does the company benefit from working with you and what added value does it create?

Boris: In the construction and real estate sector there are many software formats, you never know what you will get. Most of the time larger companies also work with larger software houses to simply integrate established solutions. However, it’s often the case that each company has its own thoughts, processes, workflows and data, and handles them differently than competitors. The problem is that for certain requirements or product features, working with such software houses is not at all efficient and not always good, because, for example, some things do not work as desired. On the other hand, collaboration with smaller startups can be very valuable. But then you need a central contact person who takes care of things and offers support during the journey. The customer’s requirements are explicitly included, because the customer base is of course not so large at a start-up, so that the customer’s wishes can be more clearly addressed. So when a corporate and a startup decide to work together, the added value is that a startup takes care of things in a personal way. This is seen as incredibly valuable because many specific wishes and requirements are ignored by larger software houses.

Christoph: Yes, that makes a huge difference, I see that in everyday practice.

Boris: We see that too. Especially in our feedback when we approach a new customer, be it a major customer like in the Philippines or a project that we are implementing here in Germany. I would argue that it is almost always the same credo. The cooperation is appreciated when you offer personal contacts and also personally take care of the functionalities. In this way, customers notice that their wishes can actually be found again, that they can help shape them and thus achieve a higher added value than if they buy a ready-made software. Of course, it is possible that the costs are sometimes unclear and that you have to make compromises. These can be such that, for example, certain functionalities are not yet available because they will only be developed in the next few months, so that you do not yet have the all-round solution that you get from large software houses. However, this also allows you to identify where existing functionalities may not fit into the process and need to be developed further, and where employees need to be adapted. Because this is always a major obstacle to convincing the old employees with new solutions. But if they are allowed to give feedback and this is reflected in the tool, employee satisfaction in the company is also higher. We hear this again and again as a decisive reason for working with us.

Christoph: In other words, in summary, working with startups in the early stages is not a customer relationship where I buy a finished product. Rather, it is more of an innovation partnership, where I also have joint influence on the development of the product and the company.

Boris: Correct. Because, you have to understand that you have to cut back on functionality. In construction projects, the complexity of the features is sometimes so high that a startup can’t fulfill them at the beginning. On the other hand, they meet certain criteria with regard to innovation topics, which can be more important for the partners, even in the long term. Because companies do not think as fast as start-ups. This means that for start-ups, developments are sometimes made faster than the company’s change processes.

Christoph: That is a great value proposition.

Boris: That’s what a start-up should be able to do, even if at the beginning it is a manageable number of customers who are willing to invest money. This investment can be paid back by the startup in a way that the knowledge and requirements of the company are implemented. Because the customer knows best what he needs. With this kind of cooperation we try not only to make what has been done before more beautiful, but also to make it better and more efficient. We couple this with innovative ways of thinking, software processes and patterns, and from this a synergy is created as a good solution.

Christoph: If we now look into the future, what will be moving you in the next few years and how will the topic of BIM develop?

Boris: I’m going to start with the topic of BIM because I’m always being asked about it, especially what the development in Germany and in the DACH regions looks like. It must be said that the Austrians and Swiss are way ahead of us in this respect. And also the Scandinavians, the English and partly also Asian countries, especially Singapore. Nevertheless, there is a positive development and in recent years and there is an increase in BIM projects, there are many more solutions or adjacent solutions. In the long term, I think that I am talking about a period of 5-10 years, and there is no way around it. Because when we talk about BIM, we have a high degree of digitalization, data persistence and data volume where you can make smart analyses. There is a lot of added value for operations, i.e. facility management etc., which means that construction projects will be data-driven in the future. In the long term, this will make the competition more intense, and more customers will go down this path. Even if this means that, given the current state of affairs, it will be necessary to make initial investments or work with low margins. Our goal is that at some point, it will work to the point where construction projects will eventually be submitted digitally and will be fully traceable using BIM buildings, orders, parts, components, deliveries and supply chains. We have there the connection of ERP systems, of cost management systems, which provide great added value when they can be created with the digital data model represented by BIM. Now it is the turn of some start-ups to develop established solutions and continue this process. Also in the area of infrastructure, which is the next big thing, where the BIM standard is not yet ready, but where it will be.

Christoph: That was the future of BIM, what is your situation?

Boris: I see the added value of BIM very high. But above all for us, we see the added value in the data that we want to gain from this process chain.

Christoph: Cooperation between companies and start-ups is not always easy. You have worked with many companies, what are the best practices or experiences you have gathered? What tips and tricks for collaboration can you give us?

Boris: I think the most important thing that companies appreciate is openness and loyalty. Openness also to say when you can’t achieve something. There are also start-ups that say they can offer and deliver everything, and then that’s not the case. Therefore it is important to say what is already possible and what is not yet possible. I think people understand when something is not yet finished, but there is potential for development. So this open communication is a very important thing, just like loyalty. This in terms of being honest, for example when you are already working with competitors from the same field. These two things are essential. If you act like this, take people with you and talk to them, then the cooperation is very fruitful and people are willing to continue the work accordingly. If the expectations correspond to reality and problems are openly communicated and addressed, then there is understanding and these can be created out of the world.

Christoph: So expectation management, I also see this as a very important topic. As you say, there are some start-ups that promise a bouquet of services and then can only offer one flower.

Boris: Correct. And it is very important to be on the same wavelength with the cooperation partner. This means that you have to be able to do business, but after business you also have to be able to relax. That encourages the cooperation even more.

Christoph: That’s how you achieve a successful cooperation.

Boris: That’s the way it should be, and I think the past shows that if you are a bit more open towards partners, then that’s the right way.

Christoph: Boris, now that you’ve talked about tips for startups, what about tips that we companies could give them for the collaboration with startups?

Boris: The companies have to give the start-ups a certain amount of trust. You invest money and time, and you don’t know what will happen. But every manager knows about investments, and this is one of them. In the beginning you should reduce expectations a little and give a little trust. But you can only do that if you are innovative and want to change something yourself. So, an innovative way of thinking in the company is important, you should bring it with you, and you should really want it. Not only the manager, but also the employees – there must be a certain interaction between the different levels. Because when you work together with a start-up, that is a change. If this will is there and is communicated by all levels, it is also important that the employees get time from their superiors to get to grips with the new software solutions and processes.

Christoph: If one of the viewers wants to get to know you at Visoplan, how do they reach you? At which events are you present, how can he reach you best?

Boris: We are in the office in Berlin, in Charlottenburg at Ernst-Reuter-Platz. Come by, you can see a lot here, also of the solution. You can also get to know the system and our work processes, we work completely transparent. Otherwise, write me an e-mail at Boris at visoplan.de, call me or visit our website, you will learn quite a lot there. Of course we also have social media channels. At LinkedIn I am easy to reach, I am looking forward to good contacts, new ideas and new input. We always accept feedback, because it is very important for us as a start-up. Come to us, also gladly by you. I like to share what we have and what Visoplan is all about. And not only me, but also my colleagues are willing to support everyone there accordingly.

This was the first episode of our video interviews about PropTech cooperation. More video interviews will follow shortly. Here you can find our partners in this cooperation interview, the immobilienmanager and the ConTech start-up Visoplan.

You might also be interested in our PropTech Startup Guide: https://ambivation.com/proptech-startup-guide/