Paul Messner, cofounder and CEO, Estimator360, www.estimator360.com, and principal owner and president, Messner Builders, recently sat down with Constructech to discuss what needs to change in regards to estimating in the construction industry and how new technology can help.
Constructech: Tell us a little bit about your history in the construction industry.
Messner: I started in the construction industry when I was 12-years-old working with my uncle doing some shingling. I really enjoyed it, so right out of high school I went to work for a local contractor. After working with him over a period of years, I started my own construction company. I have about 30 years of experience and we do mainly residential and some light commercial work.
Constructech: With your experience in the construction industry, what were you really seeing specifically in regards to estimating that needed to be changed?
Messner: When I started out, a lot of the construction companies in our area didn’t give solid estimates or quotes. Everything was more like a guesstimate. I would hear over and over from people, the bid price would never match the final bill.
We were the new kids on the block and one of the things that set us apart was guaranteed pricing. The price that was listed in the final proposal was the price we stuck with, and we honored that. That’s how we were able to grow our business, and gain marketshare against the competition. I started having my crew members write down their time each day. We were doing it manually. I would track the time that it took us and I would go back and look at the estimate. How did I estimate this? Where was I over? Where was I under? I kept adjusting my ratios and the productivity to match, and came to a place where it would be consistent. When I gave somebody a price, I was very confident that we would make money without overcharging the client. My clients can count on the price that they are getting.
The client is no different than I am. If I’m going to make a decision to spend a large sum of money I have to make some plans for it. Most of us don’t have endless pockets. If they’re going to go borrow the money, the last thing I want the client to do is go back to the bank and say, “’Oh, by the way, we need another $10,000 or $20,000.”’ The construction process can be a daunting one in the first place without adding the stress of unplanned changes that were not included in the initial budget. We seek to create a comfortable environment for our clients.
The other thing that drove me to develop this solution is my belief that the estimating software should help you build relationships and eliminate the unpleasant surprises your clients can experience in the construction industry. In the past, to be able to accomplish that, you were either using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets or Word documents. It was workable, but considering all of the time that went into getting all of this data, combining it and not forgetting something made it an inefficient system.
My goal behind all of the pre-built items/assemblies that are in Estimator360 is when you buy our system, you can start running your company right away. You don’t have to spend years building all of this data. The majority of what you need is already built for you. You also have the ability to add your own items/assemblies to add to the data already included in Estimator360.
Constructech: Let’s just kind of build on that last point there. Can you tell us a little bit about the product, Estimator360, and how it’s different from some of the others in the market?
Messner: First of all, it doesn’t require digital takeoff to use our software. The majority of the calculations are done for you by simply entering in the basic measurements of the areas where the work will be performed. Basically it completely eliminates the need for digital takeoff.
Our solution is prebuilt. Not with costbook databases where you’re using modifiers to adjust national prices. You do not buy your materials with national modifiers. Our solution remembers your company’s crew labor productivity for each labor item so you will not lose money on labor. It also remembers all of your materials, services, and trade partners’ costs that are entered into the system. As you use Estimator360 it will automatically build your own personal company database that no industry costbook will ever be able to match. There are no additional yearly fees that are typically associated with industry costbooks.
The software is designed to automatically populate a schedule that you can manipulate when you’re done with the estimate. It creates accurate proposals, contracts, and change orders, so the project documentation is always current and driven off of the estimated costs so nothing will be forgotten. No need to purchase a separate time clock application to track crew hours, as we built time logging into the application.
Constructech: For builders out there, for homebuilders out there, you have experience in this area, for someone who’s really looking to get started on a system like this, what advice would you offer to them as they’re trying to learn how to leverage the technology?
Messner: The software should do the work for you. Too much of what’s in the current industry is forcing you to have to spend a lot of time to make it work. It should require minimal setup time.
Estimator360 does not require hours and hours of training to help you run your company. If you’re buying software and you have to spend thousands of dollars for training, it may not be that easy to use. Before Estimator360, the software I was using for 10 years required tons of training. I was the only one in my company that could use it. To everyone else, it was like a foreign language. The only way you could understand it was to dive in head first and stay there.
My advice is that when you’re looking for software, it should give you the opportunity to spend time on things that you enjoy instead of having your business run you. Life is short, and time with family and friends is very important.
Constructech: What’s coming next? As you look at the construction technology market, the construction estimating technology market, what do you really see as being a big need and what do you think the future will really hold?
Messner: An ecosystem that allows construction companies to seamlessly communicate with their suppliers and clients, a system in which the communication link is never broken. This is a key to any construction project.