PlanGrid Builds A New Market For The iPad: The Construction Industry

Mark this up as one more crucial chapter in the much-thumbed book called “The Consumerization of IT”: a new app has launched from a Y Combinator-backed startup that offers builders the ability to store, manage and view blueprints on and iPad tablet.

The unique selling point for PlanGrid, as the app is called, is that it promises to present building blueprints in a far more efficient way than they have been presented before.

But on a more general level, PlanGrid is a sign of how the iOS platform is maturing and attracting a new wave of developers who target specific enterprise verticals with solutions tailored to their business needs.

Ryan Sutton-Gee, one of the four co-founders and now CEO of Loupe, the company that makes the app, comes from a construction background himself and says the costs and frustrations of dealing with paper-based plans are what drove him to want to rethink how things were done.

The fact that his immediate world — he is based in Silicon Valley and is a Stanford grad — is so focused on Apple and apps made it a no-brainer that this would somehow figure in the solution.

And the other three co-founders fit neatly into what this app is bringing to the table: expertise in construction; visual design skills and cloud computing prowess. Tracy Young, the COO, also had worked in construction; while Ralph Gootee, the CTO, came from animation studio Pixar; and Kenny Stone, VP of engineering, had worked as a trading programmer. (It’s Stone who is now responsible for all the cloud-based storage and delivery of users’ documents.)

How it works. PlanGrid is a cloud-based service that delivers blueprints as PDFs directly on the tablet; then people working in the field can use these instead of paper-based versions. When a modification needs to be made, that can be directly noted on the plan, in the app. That is subsequently updated into a new version. PlanGrid’s technology makes the rendering and scrolling of those blueprints significantly faster, too.

PlanGrid claims that because it is easy to send out and use updated blueprints, this can help reduce the need for rework and other fixes. Typically, 6% of rework is due to outdated blueprints, and in turn around 15% of construction costs are due to rework, which means 1% of total construction costs are due to the blueprint problem. Those are significant figures, considering that an average margin that a builder could expect to make is only between two percent and four percent.

PlanGrid also claims that at its most basic level this app could eliminate the heavy printing costs associated with those building projects: typically for every $1,000,000 in building costs, there are $3,500 of printing costs.

And in contrast to many consumer-focused startups, this one has a pricing model from the word go: users can choose from a low-page-count free version, or pay $19.99 or $49.99 per month for either 550 or 5,000 sheets.

Unlike some enterprise verticals, construction is not one that has a natural need for all employees to own laptops, smartphones and tablets. “Whereas people in some businesses spend 10 hours in front of a computer, someone in the construction industry would spend one hour,” Sutton-Gee said.

That sounds like it would pose a challenge for the business — why buy an app if you don’t even have the device to use it? But Sutton-Gee claims that in fact what the app has done in its early days of sales is drive more purchases of the iPad by those in the construction industry — just so that they could use PlanGrid. “We’re a big enough solution to the problem they are facing that they’re buying those tablets to use the app,” he says.

Looking ahead, Sutton-Gee says that the company has a lot more ideas for how to expand its construction services — for example linking up the whole chain from architectural designs, to the technical drawings and the final blueprints that are used to actually construct a building. That, he says, could be a massive help when a company is trying to figure out where a building project has leaked money, gone over budget or fallen down altogether.

You can download the app here.