The Power of a Photographic Memory: Our Investment in Construction Tech Leader OpenSpace
Today, we are excited to announce our investment in OpenSpace, the leading provider of automated 360° photo documentation and analysis for construction sites. They are in good company, joining construction tech leaders Fieldwire and HOVER as members of the Menlo portfolio.
Construction is a trillion-dollar industry, a lot of which is still managed by clipboard. Early pioneers like Procore and PlanGrid drove the industry forward, but with ongoing innovation in technology, there is still so much to do.
Today, the industry is challenged by labor shortages.1 As skilled workers age out of the workforce,2 tech natives are increasingly embracing the promise of technology to drive efficiency gains, cost-savings, and safety. Powerful technologies including machine vision, AI, robotics, and cloud computing, can layer on top of existing 3D-modeling tools to deliver advancements that can transform this massive category where a 1% efficiency gain can mean millions of dollars in savings, and finishing a project weeks earlier.
Visualizing Job Sites: The Power of a Photographic Memory
OpenSpace excited us because they were able to wrap deep technology in a simple package that delivers what we think of as a “photographic memory” of job sites, allowing for the same remote collaboration that other sectors have enjoyed for years. Since launching from stealth in 2018, OpenSpace has captured over a billion square feet of job site imagery. Builders walk a site with a small 360° camera attached to their hard hats.
As they walk, they capture a record of the progress and positions of pieces (i.e., pipes, beams, etc.) in both space and time. OpenSpace automatically uploads the images, stitches them, and maps them back to the general contractor’s (“GC”) floor plan drawings, or if they have one, their 3D BIM (“Building Information Model”). Within 15 minutes, customers can do a visual walkthrough. Users can zoom in or click on a specific part of a job site to check the status of the site at any point in time. OpenSpace recently made the process even better with the launch of ClearSight, a new suite of analytics tools, which includes AI-powered features like Object Search and Progress Tracking.
The Value of a System of Record
OpenSpace’s record of a job site over time becomes a centralized system of record that allows each stakeholder (contractor, owner, capital partner, financing source, insurer, etc.) to travel back in time to see what exactly happened on a site and when. This ability to “time travel” back is vital for GCs and owners, who are frequently hit with dreaded “change orders” in which a subcontractor or GC claims additional work at added costs. Customers can avoid potential lawsuits, as the platform makes it easy to pinpoint specific tasks to determine when they were completed and how. For example, a customer can rewind the clock and peer behind a long-finished wall to identify the waterproofing materials installed eight years ago. As we look to the future, we are excited by the very real potential for OpenSpace to become a more integral piece of the day to day workflows of a job site.
Anybody who follows our investments knows that we love to invest in a system of record, a la Benchling, Carta, Fieldwire, Hover, and Zylo, to name a few. But OpenSpace actually demonstrates the three qualities we refer to as “the Trifecta” for Menlo’s SaaS investments:
- Stands alone to automate busted, manual workflows.
- Becomes a visual system of record and facilitates the data plane.
- Attracts multiple constituents (or counterparties) to drive network effects within an ecosystem.
Leadership as a Competitive Edge
The company is led by Jeevan Kalanithi, a serial entrepreneur whose prior role as president of drone company 3D Robotics prepared him for this opportunity. Drones represented a novel way to capture building sites in progress. But issues with battery life, navigating a fraught environment, and the hurdles associated with introducing a new workflow made drone-based capture a challenge to deploy quickly and widely. OpenSpace answered the need with the “Occam’s Razor” solution: Slap a 360° camera on top of a hard hat, keep doing your job, and let the PhDs do the rest. Co-founding CTO Philip DeCamp, who spent 15 years at MIT, came armed with a Master’s and a Ph.D. in computer vision and data visualization. OpenSpace’s Chief Scientist Michael Fleischman spent 5+ years earning his Ph.D. at the MIT Media Lab and was co-founder and CTO of Bluefin Labs (acquired by Twitter in 2013). He spent the next several years as an advisor to the CTO at Twitter. Now, the three friends from MIT have brought their talents together to solve an important problem for a huge industry.
With a world-class team building a world-class product, OpenSpace is off to a strong start. We’re excited to partner with them on their journey. We believe that a truly “photographic memory” can transform the construction industry. Over time, OpenSpace’s combination of capture tools, AI algorithms, and a deep understanding of its users will only improve the already exceptional product.
- From 2007 to 2011, during which the Great Recession of 2008–09 took place, the construction industry lost approximately 2 million workers. Many of these workers haven’t returned, and companies are finding it difficult to attract new talent (Giatec Scientific Inc.) As of April 2019, there were 434,000 vacant construction jobs. (Forbes).
- Only 1.8 percent of the industry’s workers are between 16 and 19 years old, while fewer than 9.4 percent are younger than 25. (USA News). Labor is the biggest cost in construction.