Start-Ups.Co really enjoyed interviewing the brilliant entrepreneur; Ms. ‘Lucie Perrier’; Marketing Director of the New York-based start-up “SmartUse”.
Below, is the full interview that we have conducted :
1. What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
SmartUse is a mobile application to handle construction projects on IPad and PC tablets. It can also be used on regular Windows desktops.
It is a very professional application designed to manage plans, markups and punch lists, and aiming to optimize workflows. Information is synchronized across all devices so users can collaborate wherever they are. SmartUse is currently the fastest solution available for construction professionals to open and annotate PDF documents on the job site.
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
SmartUse was founded in 2011. Today, more than twenty developers work full time on building SmartUse every day. We also have a team of marketing and sales covering North America and Western Europe. And overall, we can proudly say that SmartUse is downloaded and used on five continents, even if the US stays our first market.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
To answer the requests of all our customers, we have decided to offer two different pricing models. At first, SmartUse was sold as a “SAAS” (Software as a Service). Today, we also offer perpetual licenses.
Users create their account and download SmartUse app on their device. They can download the app and log in on as many different devices as they want, the subscription is per user, so per credentials.
They upload their files that we store in the Cloud, or they easily link their own Cloud database to SmartUse (we support OneDrive, Box, DropBox, Aconex, Webdav and more).
Subscription includes unlimited storage, unlimited number of sheets and projects, and unlimited number of free reviewers.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
Our team met at work. The first developers of SmartUse were working at the same place, in the same big company. When Dominic Sévigny, the current President of SmartUse, started his own business, several of his teammates followed him. At first, the business was selling services, and one of their customers was a big construction firm. Working closely with this firm, eventually an idea was born…
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
What is unique about SmartUse is that we make all devices communicate together. It doesn’t matter if you are using Windows computers at the office andIPads on the job sites, they can all communicate. Of course, we have very high-level features which are specific to SmartUse. And we also have a pricing model which is different from our main competitors. Lots of users prefer to buy perpetual licenses than to pay-per-month. We offer both.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
Our growth is regular for the past two years. At first, there were just developers. Few of them. Today our team includes people specialized in Sales, Marketing, Administration, Customer Relationships, etc. That completely changes the dynamic. I have been there since almost the beginning and I remember doing everything at the same time: Marketing, Sales, Events, Administration, Logistic, etc… Today everybody can focus on his or her real job.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
They are several apps and software which are made to manage, annotate and share PDF documents, and some of them are even specifically made for the construction industry. But we noticed that they always forget something. Either they are full of amazing features, but they forget to be intuitive and easy to use on mobile devices, like BlueBeam for example, or they are very nice apps, but they forget essential features. I also have to say that one of our main competitors, and the most dangerous probably, is… paper. One of our main challenges is change management…
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
As I said before, one of our main challenges is change management. And deadlines. I explain… We work with very big construction and engineering firms. Two years ago, the first one which fully believed in SmartUse thought we wouldn’t be able to support them, because it was not a question of money, but a question of deadlines. When they would ask for a new feature, and they would need it for the next day, no matter the price, we would have to deliver it. Eventually, they gave us a chance. And guess what, we delivered. Always. And it is because we did that we are where we are today.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Our customers work in a high-pressure environment. Mistakes are very, very expensive. They can’t be disappointed by a too, they will give it a chance, not two. But they work a lot, if a tool really helps them, that will really change their lives. And they are really open to new solutions. Also, they are fully aware that technology will change a lot their day-to-day work in the next years.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
We are going to succeed because we are determined and we have a great product which really helps people. We sell something which has a very good return on investment and we can easily prove it. Our current users couldn’t stop using it now, and they talk about it to people they are working with. As long as customers are satisfied with SmartUse, we will continue to expand, and very quickly. And to keep them satisfied, we offer a very good support and keep listening to them to make SmartUse a better and better tool.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
The AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) industry is very, very large. Today, I can’t tell if we would be able to expand to other markets, but we definitely have a very long way to do before thinking about it. However, with our current knowledge of the AEC industry, we could definitely think about other apps and products which would help this industry.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
We got the idea while working with a big construction firm. They weren’t using any software, only paper. After weeks working closely with them on another topic, we started asking questions about their workflow with plans. It was a real surprise for us to see that they were only working with paper. What a loss of money and time. It was obvious then that there was something to bring here.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
That it always looks much simpler than it is. Each time that we think we fully understand the issues and processes, we realize we didn’t really. Every day we learn from this industry, where people are particularly educated and smart. We have to be very humble, we have to listen and we have to think as they think. We have to offer them solutions, not problems. We couldn’t have succeeded without the collaboration of people from this industry which believed in the product and helped us developing it in the right direction.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Our biggest problem will definitely be the number of users… Which is a happy problem. Since we launched ourIPad app, we face a lot of new customers, which is great of course, but we have to organize our technical support team. We will need much more trained people to answer all the new customers’ questions and needs. But we are not scared.We know it, so we are ready.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
Most of all, increase productivity, which means save time. Users can work efficiently on tablets,that means work efficiently on the job site. They can instantly share information, take pictures from the field, record audio notes, etc. They can access full set of drawings wherever they are. Of course, SmartUse is also made to save paper, and it does. Therefore it also saves a lot of money.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
We present SmartUse in specialized trade shows in the United States, Canada and Western Europe. SmartUse is a great product, so people talk about it. We have bloggers talking about it. People share videos they made of it during trade shows. Users sometimes discover SmartUse directly on app stores. SmartUse app has very good ratings, so several websites rating apps present it.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Our main current users are people from the construction industry and working between the job site and the office. Most of them are in the US and Canada. Owners, contractors and engineers are our main target customers. Architects too. But SmartUse can be used by anyone who is working with PDF documents.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
Most of our new customers are people who work with somebody using SmartUse. a subcontractor for example. One of the main objectives of SmartUse is to ease collaboration between project’s stakeholders, so if one of them is working with SmartUse, there are some very good chances that it will spread.
To get more potential users trying SmartUse, we offer a 30-day free trial with full features for everybody. So each of them can then decide if it is a good tool for them or if they don’t need it.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
This is easily verifiable as today people rate and give comments on apps they use. Usually, users say that SmartUse eases their day-to-day work and that they significantly reduced their printouts and that it is a very professional tool. They say that it makes them more efficient and it helps their documents organization. They also often compare it to other similar tools they used to work with, saying that SmartUse is much more complete, faster and also cheaper.
20. How are you going to scale?
We plan to set up a marketing campaign to grow quicker. We will launch it in the next weeks. But we stay convinced that our best marketing tools are in our product: customer service, support, efficient help center, platform for feedback, etc. We talk to smart and busy people, as long as SmartUse is useful to them, we can rely on them to spread to word, and they are our best ambassadors.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
That changes every day, because we work very closely with our customers. They all have access to a platform where they can share their comments and ideas. So we take any feedback in consideration, and when users keep asking for the same feature, well we just do it. Today, our main project is the Android app, as soon as it will be available, which is very soon, that will be something else. We make new updates almost every month, SmartUse development has never been so fast. It is already a great and efficient tool, so imagine what it will be in six months…
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
We already internationalized. Great thing with apps is that they are made to be international… Anyone can download SmartUse, anywhere, any device. To give a better technical support to customers, we plan to expand our network of distributors. As we also sell hardware (large-screen A0 touch tables), we also need distributors for that. We already work with distributors in Western Europe, but we need others in strategic locations.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
We think we can spread all over the world. SmartUse is intuitive ,people know how to use it in no time. They already have the devices, so in one click they can download an app which will change their day-to-day lives at work. Market is huge, and competition is weak. We think we can easily reach 150,000 users before 2015 in the US. Our expectations are bigger for the whole world…
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We are always looking to hire high-level developers. Interested applicants should contact us at email@example.com
Working on SmartUse app is a great challenge and you will definitely enjoy our team and work spirit!
We offer positions in the US and Canada. We have offices in New York, Montreal, Atlanta and San Francisco.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
We are in business for more than two years now, and SmartUse is now self-sustainable, thanks to people who believed in this amazing project and supported it with funding. As always in business, we stay open for partnership opportunities to grow faster and faster. We stay available by phone at 1 (888) 819-0829 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
It is a long, difficult but so amazing way. What I can I tell, is that patience pays off, as well as hard work. And you need partners, at each step of your development.