It’s never too late for a sea change as an entrepreneur

Tony Wanless | July 29, 2014 7:00 AM ET | Financial Post 

For years, you’ve been a branding guy, a marketer who attracts customers to businesses through various techniques that can range from designing a simple logo to creating an entire branding strategy.

But now, you’re a software developer for, of all things, the pokey old construction industry. You have an office in a trendy downtown tech district, and you’re constantly planning how you can improve your app to better serve your target market.

Welcome to James Faulkner’s world.

Faulkner, whose company Faulkner Brand Inc., worked for several years in Vancouver and Victoria as a sole-proprietor marketing consultancy, is now the co-founder and president of Vancouver’s SiteMax Systems, which produces software that speeds up and modernizes project management by construction companies by allowing companies (and their clients) to obtain information about how projects are proceeding in real time.

Faulkner started the company with co-founder Doug Scott, president of Wales McLelland Construction, after they created an earlier version of SiteMax for Scott’s company. The software was designed to link construction sites with head offices so the many issues that occur on construction sites could be relayed to headquarters quickly.

Large in terms of numbers and financial output — a $168-billion industry that represents 13% of the Canadian economy and employs more than 1.26 million workers, primarily in medium-sized businesses — the construction industry is a complex arrangement of differing skills that is still relatively backward in its use of technology.
In terms of project management, it tends to operate the way it has for decades: At best, site supervisors produce paper reports on projects weekly or monthly. Any resulting problems usually go unnoticed until they are nearer to completion, which means going back and fixing them, often at great expense and time.

SiteMax, which streams information to head offices via cameras and wireless Internet connection, allows project managers and others concerned with the project, to monitor construction throughout the day and be able to correct problems quickly.

These are facts Faulkner had to learn after he met Scott and the two teamed up to create some kind of reporting system for Wales McLelland projects.

“I began Faulkner Brand in 2008 doing employer value propositions and often worked in the branding area, usually involving cultural analysis,” Faulkner recalls. “Doug was a branding client and he asked me to find a way to get daily reporting from his projects.

“It was a real adjustment for me,” he added. “Unlike branding and marketing, construction is an industry that’s very down-to-earth and linear thinking. Instead of creativity, these guys look for usefulness, reliability and strength. Not being in the industry before helped me because I was able to look at it in a different way.”

SiteMax now has seven clients — including Wales McLelland — and six staff who work out of an office in trendy Yaletown, a former warehouse district transformed into a tech and night-life centre.

The team added features to the original software and now produces a device — “basically a phone without a screen,” Faulkner says — that can be attached to a television in a client’s home office. Clients can view information transmitted by site superintendents via their own web application that contains a customized dashboard.

“It’s reporting up and down the chain — reporting without a [traditional] report in a way — that provides access to real-time information,” he explained. “It lets the owners or founders become more involved again instead of just thinking about the business end. This is a sea change from what was done before.”

In a sense, branding is constantly reinventing the wheel, while software is constantly improving and adding to a service. So helping construction company owners change long-held views has been mirrored by Faulkner’s own transition.

Somewhat astonished at his own journey, Faulkner points out that “this transition is from being stressed all the time as a branding guy working in a fickle area and looking at many things to an application creator with an extreme focus on one thing.

“I’m 42 and this is a reset for me. It’s risky but it’s exciting. Just today a big company called us about using our system. They found us on the Internet.”

To read the full article in the July 29, 2014 edition of the Financial Post, please click here