Oscar: I would like to welcome to our studio today Ron Antevy, CEO of E-Builder. On behalf of the Entrepreneur’s Organization of South Florida I’d like to congratulate you for earning your prestigious rank on the Inc. 5000 list as being one of the fastest growing privately held companies in the United States.
Ron: Thank you.
Oscar: Tell us a little bit about E-Builder.
Ron: We develop construction management software to help facility owners, large institutions, manage their construction projects. We work with many large facility owners such as hospitals and schools and governments and help them reduce the cost of their construction by giving them a tool to better manage their capital projects.
Oscar: What motivated you to launch this business?
Ron: My brother actually launched the company. Both he and I come from the construction industry and saw an opportunity. The construction industry is huge, and there’s a lot of opportunity to improve the processes and eliminate waste and create better project outcomes. We saw that need and created a software company to address that need.
Oscar: What is your ultimate vision for the company?
Ron: The construction industry in the last 50 years hasn’t seen an improvement in productivity compared to every other industry. Our vision for the company is to improve productivity for the construction industry. There’s trillions of dollars spent every year on construction, and what we like to do is with our software and our process, if we can just eke out a little bit of improvement, that’s billions of dollars. Those billions of dollars can be used for other things, better health care, better education, better roads, that kind of a thing.
Oscar: When the business was launched, was there a detailed business plan?
Ron: There was a plan. My brother got his master’s degree in construction management, and his master’s thesis ultimately became the business plan for the company. Now, that was back in the ’90’s, and the internet was just really starting to be talked about. This is a cloud-based software. We did have an initial plan, but, as you might imagine, we changed that plan over the years, and we had to make a few changes along the way to really get to where we are today.
Oscar: How were assumptions tested early on?
Ron: Spent a lot of time speaking with customers, prospective customer. I’m a big believer that you need to get outside of the office to talk to the people that pay the bills, the customers, and find out what’s going to sell, what makes sense. We did a lot of that early on.
Oscar: Do you remember your first customer?
Ron: Our first customer is the Washington Suburban Sanitary District, and they’re y still a customer today.
Oscar: How did you establish credibility early on?
Ron: Early on to establish credibility what we did is we’d go out and promote, talk about the internet and talk about the possibilities, get out as much as we could on the speaking circuit, go to conferences, and tried to promote ourselves as thought leaders, so that by the time we were in front of a prospect, they said, “Okay, I saw you speak,” or, “I’ve heard about your organization,” so that we did a lot of that early on.
Oscar: When the company was first launched, how was it financed?
Ron: It was bootstraps, credit cards, a lot of borrowing money from family, from my parents, and just trying to figure out how to make ends meet early on. Didn’t take a salary for quite some time early on, so we financed it that way.
The other interesting thing we did was to go to meetings where we would be paid to speak, and we would be paid our expenses for travel. We’d take that travel expense money and use it to finance the company and then put our travel on a credit card and did it that way, so credit card financing too.
Oscar: How about your growth? Were you able to finance your growth internally, or did you have to go outside for that?
Ron: We started the company in ’95. In 2000 we took an investment. What’s interesting about that is it almost bankrupted the company, believe it or not, taking some money. We were bootstrapped until then. Suddenly we came into some money, and we started to spend a little bit more, and it really didn’t have a good effect on the company, but beyond that we are self-funded, and we grew on our own accord. We went through the dot.com kind of growth phase and followed by the dot bomb in 2001. Then we had a good growth spurt after that.
Oscar: In your opinion, can a company outgrow its management, its management team’s abilities?
Ron: Absolutely. We’re about a $30,000,000 company today, and we’ve evolved over time, and our team has had to evolve. Running a $1,000,000 business, a $10,000,000 business, a $30,000,000 business, a $50,000,000 business, it’s a different skill-set and requires some different team strengths.
Oscar: Is it easier to lead a smaller company or a larger company?
Ron: I’m a detail guy. I want everything to be just right, and in a small company I could do that. I could be involved. I could talk to every customer. I could make sure everything’s just the way I want it, but you don’t have the resources when you’re a small company, so smaller, you can do things more your way, but you have less resources. Bigger company, you have many more resources, but you have to rely on your team, and you have to recognize that your role isn’t to actually do those things anymore. It’s to get the right people in the seats to do the things that need to be done.
Oscar: What is the most unusual or creative sales tactic that you’ve ever deployed?
Ron: About ten years ago, we recognized that we’re really looking for a needle in a haystack. We’re trying to find a person in a multi-billion-dollar organization that’s really the buyer of our software, so we make tons and tons of phone calls, and we try everything in the book to get in front of that person, because half of our battle is to get in front of our prospect. We make in an average month with our team 20- or 25,000 phone calls to find that person, if you will, within these companies, and that’s what’s propelled our whole business forward is that process.
Oscar: Okay. You’re dialing for dollars. You’re making 20-, 25,000 calls a month. You finally identify the person. You connect. You make a presentation. Do you ever say, “No, I’m not going to do business with you?”
Ron: We say that all the time, funny enough. The last thing we want to do, and we say it all the time to our customers and our prospects, “We’re not going to do business with you if we can’t really help you,” because, like many industries, it’s a small industry. People talk to one another. We’re all about improving outcomes, and if we can’t improve the outcomes for someone that we’re talking to, we’re going to tell them that up front. We have customers that said, “You tried to disown us during the sales process. You kept pushing us away, and it’s like you didn’t want to go out with us kind of a thing.” We do that as part of our process, and we find that it works well, so that we can find the right customer.
Oscar: What is the toughest decision you ever had to make in the last several years?
Ron: We made a decision about ten years ago that we’re only going to sell to hospitals and a certain kind of hospital, and we’re not going to sell to any of these other groups. Internally that was a very tough decision for people to understand, because, especially in sales, but everyone in the company said, “We’re going to go out of business. There’s not enough hospitals out there for us to sell our software.”
That decision in hindsight began us on a growth curve where we started to grow 30, 40%. Now we’ve expanded our market since then, but that was a very, very tough decision that we made at the time, not knowing if it was going to work out.
Oscar: I’d like to make an investment of $1,000,000 in your company. How would you deploy those funds?
Ron: Well, in our model we have many, many of these very large facility owners that manage their products, and today we have $150,000,000,000 of active construction projects in our system. If I took a million dollars, what I would invest it in is figuring out how to monetize or make use of that data. There’s very powerful information about hospital construction, school construction, very detailed information, and you could benchmark, you could use that to do some sort of prescriptive design and figure out how we should build the next facility based on all this great information that we have. I’d probably use that money to almost build another business within E-Builder.
Oscar: If you had the ability of going back, all the way back to day one of your company up till current. You could reverse any decision that you made. What would you change?
Ron: Well, the journey has been fun. I’m happy with how it all went, but there are decisions that it took me ten years to figure out the right way to go, so I’d probably go back in time and do some of the things I did right earlier on. They’re all around sales and marketing.
What I think a lot of entrepreneurs, especially in technology, we get focused on the technology. We get focused on the problem that we’re trying to solve, and we don’t learn or study enough of the sales and marketing process, and really it’s the sales and marketing process that propelled our growth as a company that got us onto the Inc. list.
I would go back in time and focus very much on those sales and marketing decisions that I sort of neglected early on. That’s probably what I would do.
Oscar: Now you’re looking into a crystal ball, and I’d like for you to tell me, over the next five years, how will the business climate change and how will it affect your business?
Ron: I think in the next five years more and more facility owners are going to want to have tighter control over their construction projects. Our average customer, as an example, spends $50,000,000 every year on construction, and the funds are becoming tighter and tighter. I think that’s a trend that’s happening, so they need a way to manage that better. I see great opportunity. As I look forward, I see more and more what we call serial owners, serial builders, having a need for the software that we provide.
Oscar: What one word describes you as an entrepreneur?
Oscar: Do you think entrepreneurs are born or made?
Ron: I think they’re made. I think your upbringing, what you’ve seen growing up might impact your entrepreneurial abilities, but I don’t think you’re born. I think you’re made.
Oscar: How do you define success?
Ron: Well, earlier in my career, I defined success with specific milestones, “I want to hit this much revenue, this much profit, have this many employees.” It was things like that. Today the way I define success is seeing people in my organization that have grown tremendously and knowing that I helped be part of that process to me is the definition of success. Also, helping others, whether it’s charitable or mentoring others, seeing other people that are starting businesses that come for mentorship or advice. That to me is how I define success, having the opportunity to do that.
Oscar: Where do you go to when you’re looking for advice or guidance or you want to brainstorm an idea or you want to problem-solve something, where do you go?
Ron: I have a couple of folks that have mentored me. I think that’s very, very important, to have a mentor or two. I’m also part of Vistage, which is a peer group, and I lean heavily on other CEO peers for advice as well. I read a lot and try to keep up on what’s happening out there and try to learn as much as I can.
Oscar: What was the last book that you read?
Ron: The last book that I read was The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive by Patrick Lencioni, and he has a number of books. I’ve read that book multiple times, but I read that recently.
Oscar: Tell me something super fun or super cool that you did either personally or professionally.
Ron: To help pay my way through college, I became a DJ, and earned my living doing that. I got into music, really love music, and what that all culminated into is I made about, I made three records, sang on the records, produced the records. One of them got a little bit of airplay, radio play, down here in South Florida, so that was kind of fun.
Oscar: What style of music?
Ron: It was dance, club kind of music in the 80’s.
Oscar: What would you say the boldest decision, the boldest move you ever did in your professional life?
Ron: I think the decision to narrow our focus and only go after these few targets was a very bold decision at the time. The decision to join my brother John and for us to work together and build this company was a bold decision. Prior to that I had a great job, had a steady paycheck. I was on my way up the corporate ladder. I had security, and I sort of threw all that away and said, “I’m going to go for it.”
Oscar: If I say two words, “Trust” and “Respect,” what does that mean to you?
Ron: Trust and loyalty within my company is critical, and with respect, having respect for each person within the company, customers, having respect for one another. Both important words to me.
Oscar: Final question, tomorrow morning you wake up. Magically your company is gone. What’s the next company you’re going to get involved in?
Ron: I love the concept of subscription-based software for business, and there are so many opportunities out there. I think I’d find another cloud-based business, get involved. I think the data that I mentioned within our own space, but in general I think there’s massive opportunity today to do things with data that didn’t exist before, and I would pick one of those areas and probably start another business around that.
Oscar: It has been an absolute pleasure having you in our studio today. Thank you so much. Again, congratulations on being one of the fastest-growing companies in the United States.
Ron: My pleasure.