YC alum PlanGrid gets an update to make construction more cloud friendly

By Michael Carney , written on November 29, 2012

From The News Desk

Software may in fact be eating the world, as VC Marc Andreessen puts it, but there are some industries that have remained particularly resistant to its charms. Few places is this more true than in the world of real estate and construction, where professionals have demonstrated an unhealthy loyalty to paper. One startup in particular is trying to change this by offering a solution so compelling that even the most old school customers can't say no.

Today Y Combinator alum PlanGrid updated its construction project collaboration platform to version 2.2, adding several new potentially game-changing features. Since its May launch, the startup has allowed construction industry professionals to view, share, annotate, and sync blueprints and other project documents on the iPad and iPhone, with seamless cloud backup across all devices. Today’s update adds project update timelines with instant and daily email notifications of all changes, automatic cloud sync for each user’s personal notes, and the ability to add photos to master documents, as well as general performance enhancements.

“Blueprints are living documents that change daily or even hourly,” says co-founder Ryan Sutton-Gee. “Making sure everyone is up to date on revisions is critical to reducing costly mistakes and keeping the project on time and on budget.”

PlanGrid has been known to save its users hours each week by improving communication between the office and the field, and reducing errors. The app can also mean thousands of dollars saved on printing costs. Traditional “analog” building projects see printing costs of approximately $3,500 for every $1 million of building costs, says Sutton-Gee. By moving this process entirely to the cloud, users see real savings as well as an increase in efficiency.

As powerful as PlanGrid has been to date, however, the early versions admittedly had some significant limitations. Namely, certain annotations and photos were only saved to a user’s individual version of a document, whereas now they can be saved to the master document enabling better progress tracking, quicker response times, and overall more effective collaboration across an organization.

The app is offered on a freemium basis, with storage for up to 50 document sheets offered for free, while plans for up to 550 sheets runs $19.99 per user per month, and those for up to 5,000 sheets $49.99 per user per month. For the largest projects, unlimited access, storage, support, and training are also available by special request.

One of the biggest obstacles the company has faced is the hardware costs associated with adopting iPads. Many in the industry could never imagine using a premium tablet in the field amid all the dust and debri, says Sutton-gee, but they quickly come around to the idea after seeing a demo of his company’s product and the effect it can have on their operations. Surprisingly, he says that there have been incredibly few instances of damage to the devices. To lessen the onboarding and to commemorate the launch of version 2.2, for a limited time the company will be offering a free iPad Mini with every new two-year subscription.

Not content to rest on its success with iOS, An Android app is currently under development, Sutton-Gee tells me, both because the company believes the platform will win ultimately the tablet price wars, and because expanding into Asia and Latin America will require support for both Google’s and Apple’s platforms.

PlanGrid raised $1.1 million in seed financing in May from Navitas Capital, 500 Startups, cloud storage provider Box, Tinyco founder and CEO Suleman Ali, Loopt founder Sam Altman, Gmail creator Paul Bucheit, head of Google’s Webspam team Matt Cutts, Director of Stanford University’s Construction Engineering department Ray Levitt, and Y Combinator.

Modern business demands modern tools. The real estate and construction industries have been largely ignored by the innovations of Silicon Valley, through a combination of their own obstinance and the Valley’s limited awareness of their challenges. Sutton-Gee and another of his three co-founders bring construction management and architecture experience to the table to drive the product vision for PlanGrid. Their product is now in the hands of hundreds of the world’s largest and most innovative builders, including Whiting-Turner, Boldt, DPR Construction, and Webcor Builders. With today's update, it might be sooner than we'd think that every pickup truck, bulldozer, and crane is equipped with a connected tablet.