Two former Naval Engineers are trying to turn construction management on its head. Stanford Graduate School of Business alumni Zachary Scheel and Drew DeWalt are behind Rhumbix, a company whose product optimizes construction management and labor payment as well as divining best practices out of user data.
The company’s platforms is centered on a phone app with different iterations depending on user – different levels of data are exposed to Project Managers, Foremen, and so on. Rhumbix leverages navigation and geolocation capabilities of smartphones to derive locations of construction workers, and anonymizes them to the construction crew level.
The company’s potential is fairly large, given the sheer number of construction projects ongoing globally at any given time. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Greylock just invested 5.1 Million Dollars in the company’s 6 Million Dollar Series A. This Series A investment comes on top of earlier investments from Darren Bechtel’s Brick and Mortar Ventures and Michael Paulus, who is now a partner at Andreessen Horowitz.
The bulk of the software is centered on using geolocation to accurately pay workers for the number of hours worked, which is easier said than done. As Scheel explained, construction worker salaries are amalgamated from a variety of different monetary pots, each of which has its own cost code. Hundreds of cost codes exist on a site, making this more and more challenging at scale. Rhumbix also tracks pay, benefits, and other compensation.
“Fundamentally, it’s cost-code accounting,” explained Scheel. “Traditionally, this has been done by foremen using clipboards, which isn’t very accurate.”
More importantly, Rhumbix provides a vital medium for interaction between Project Managers, many of whom are recent Civil Engineering graduates, and experienced veteran construction workers.
“Rhumbix asks them everyday how the project can make better decisions, ” said DeWalt, explaining that he and Scheel first learnt the importance of this interaction in the Navy working with veteran crew chiefs.
Scheel explained that the inspiration for the product came from their experiences with Blue Force Tracking, a tool used by the US Military to track friendly (blue) forces in a user’s proximity. Tracking friendly forces all over North Africa while stationed in Djbouti led him to think about the potential of a similar tool for tracking construction workers and optimizing their workflow.
“[We’re] creating something like the Palantir for construction,” said Scheel.
In addition to giving managers a better understanding of where construction crews are positioned, preventing colocation and double-parking, Rhumbix has the potential to greatly increase the efficiencies at which construction companies operate. The software reduces the amount of time crews spend idle waiting for instructions or tasks.
One of the larger challenges that Rhumbix had to overcome was building a product that construction workers were willing to use.
“The data you collect from them [workers] is so valuable,” said Scheel. “But you have to earn those rights.”
Building a product that workers were willing to use is a lynchpin achievement. If that doesn’t work, the rest of the stack has no data to feed on. One tool to encourage this is the way that Rhumbix anonymizes individual data and only exposes the findings at a ‘crew’ level, reducing reluctance to contribute.
The team backgrounds may have fed into this decision. Scheel managed construction at Naval Bases from Everett, WA to Djbouti, Africa. DeWalt’s experiences as a Nuclear Submarine Officer on the Attack Submarine USS Cheyenne likely provided insight into the dynamics of crew members and managers in high-pressure situations.
While it’s still early days from Rhumbix, the company is slowly racking up an impressive list of clients which includes Anvil Builders as well as some key subcontractors building the massive Salesforce tower.