Why Construction Needs a Figma-like Facelift (And Why We Invested in Planera)

By Michelle Moon & Ken Elefant on behalf of Sorenson Ventures


Source: TheRealDeal

Construction is the largest industry in the world economy, accounting for approximately 13% of the global GDP. Yet, productivity growth in the sector averaged just 1% over the past 20 years versus 2.8% for other industries. Our built environment is facing opportunities and challenges of an unprecedented scale: aging and deteriorating public infrastructure in most of the developed world, a chronic shortage of affordable housing (7.3 million in the U.S. alone), the dire need for climate change resilient infrastructure buildout, and explosive population and construction booms in parts of Asia and the Middle East. We cannot be successful in tackling these opportunities and challenges with just hammers and hoes. The $1.8 trillion construction industry in the U.S. ($15.5 trillion globally) is long overdue for a technological facelift.

Construction project management, in particular, needs an upgrade. For starters, most enterprises still plan and schedule construction projects using the Gantt chart, a project management tool that pre-dates the Great Depression.

Enter Planera, a visual scheduling and planning product that helps construction companies build, analyze, and optimize schedules designed for ease, collaboration and dollar impact in mind. Sorenson recently led Planera’s $5.4 million seed round to supplant legacy systems that inhibit collaboration and waste valuable time during the bidding process. Prestigious customers, such as Shimmick Construction and Webcor, are already singing high praises about the efficiency and stakeholder alignment that Planera enables.

Planera’s core value prop, making teamwork less work, is critical for an industry in which poor collaboration could mean losing business—or going out of business altogether. Planera reminds us of the disruption we previously saw with Figma and Miro.

Time for a rebuild

Construction is highly complex. It is multi-stakeholder in nature, cyclical, project-based, and heavily regulated. Repeatable productivity gains are far from a sure thing.

This inefficiency extends to the pre-construction phase, when project managers, contractors, schedulers and others design and strategize ahead of the bidding process. Pre-construction requires as much teamwork and synergy as on-site operations. However, legacy planning and scheduling solutions, like Oracle Primavera P6, lack frictionless real-time collaboration, a feature that is table stakes in today’s cloud-centric enterprise software stack in other industries.

Seamless collaboration during pre-construction is crucial given all of the players and moving parts. One miscommunication, one false step in planning or estimation, can crater an entire project. Bid too high on a project, and you’ll scare clients away. Bid too low, and you’ll win more jobs but lose money in the grand scheme. Yet, most “collaboration” takes place over email, and truth might be buried somewhere in the 26th message of a long email chain.

Aside from their collaborative pitfalls, legacy tools are also a pain to figure out. The complicated UX frustrates users across the pre-construction spectrum, leading to major project delays and erroneous estimations.

The construction tech renaissance is underway. Opportunity knocks.

Sounds like a Planera

AI-assisted design. Self-healing concrete. The hard hat? Hyperbolic as it may sound, Planera is well-poised to be one of construction’s most impactful innovations.

Think of Planera as a digital whiteboard on which collaborators can sketch out ideas, visualize workflows, and build optimal project schedules. The collaborative prowess of a Google Docs or Figma, powered by a best-in-class CPM engine. Planera includes all of the bells and whistles of its legacy predecessors as well, such as critical path, float management, and resource usage graphs.

Before Planera, generating a resource-loaded schedule for a project took weeks. Now it takes hours because people with knowledge of the job can build their own schedule without relying on scheduling experts. Estimating the price for a project is no longer a toss-up. Costs like labor and equipment are effortlessly accounted for, inconsistencies easier to catch. Bids are accurate, expeditious, and won’t spike blood pressure levels.

Planera’s adaptability and accessibility unlock myriad possibilities down the road, possibilities that its founding team—rife with leadership experience and domain expertise—is more than capable of realizing.

A strong foundation

Planera’s founding team is quite the starting five.

Running point is CEO Nitin Bhandari, a 3X entrepreneur and one of the most impressive, thoughtful product-builders we have ever worked with. Nitin brings more than two decades of experience to the role, and both of the companies he previously co-founded (Zenlabs, Skyfire) were successfully acquired. Joining Nitin are Erik Swenson, a fellow co-founder of Skyfire with 50+ US patents to his name, and Head of Customer Success Noor Lodhi, formerly an executive at NetApp.

Planera’s other two co-founders, Saif Lodhi and Wahid Tadros, bring unparalleled domain expertise as seasoned insiders of the construction industry. Both hold senior positions at a well-regarded West Coast heavy construction contractor, and Saif was the lead contractor for the $350M iconic Bay Bridge reconstruction project in San Francisco.

Planera’s end-users—mostly general contractors who feel misunderstood by new technology offerings—won’t take a chance on a product if the people behind it are clueless about the industry. Ample domain expertise and seven decades of combined software experience, plus a deep bullpen of early, enthusiastic customers, isn’t a bad way to break the ice.

Skyscraper potential

Source: SFGATE

Planera’s quest to bring the best of modern software tooling to construction planning and scheduling is exciting enough, but it could lead to facilitating other phases of the project lifecycle. On-site execution? Supply chain and procurement? Many other areas of construction would benefit from frictionless collaboration.

Another promising sign for Planera’s long-term prospects is the market. The construction management software market is expected to reach nearly $4 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 9.43%.

With a supremely differentiated product, a formidable team behind the controls, and weathervanes pointing in all the right directions, Planera is primed for the long haul. We are honored to be along for the ride as the company helps transform a challenging yet critical industry.