Over the holidays, I realized it was exactly 5 years ago that myself and my co-founder Carl Veillette launched BIM One. We now have almost 50 employees across 3 locations, we’re a leader in the Canadian marketplace, and we’re also selling our technical product BIM Track globally. It’s been a busy time!
After 5 years of hard work, lows and highs (both on personal and professional levels), good and bad decisions, I’d like to share with you the factors I feel are critical to the success of any startup.
Contrary to the majority of our blog posts that are primarily for BIM specialists, this post will be dedicated to entrepreneurs that are looking to start their own company, regardless of industry. This post is separated into 4 themes that, in my opinion, form the cornerstones of a successful enterprise: team & execution, timing & idea, business model, and finally, financing.
Team & execution
The team and its’ execution of the vision are the most important success factors for any start-up. I’ve always believed as an entrepreneur that surrounding yourself with the best in the business is the key to professional success and is an essential element for the healthy growth of a company. Just because you are the leader, does not mean you know everything; let alone can you be the best in everything! You must be able to assess your own strengths and weaknesses critically and create your team to balance out your traits. I believe that any CEO must remain humble and recognize that without their team, they would be unable to accomplish their vision.
Two years ago I attended a conference in San Francisco (the SaaSTr Annual Event) and a speaker mentioned:
“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”
Author of the book "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable"
This quote is very accurate. Although very important, finances, strategy and technology are only the result of the work of a team. The more the team is engaged and passionate about the organization, the better it will be able to perform.
With the team being the ultimate competitive advantage, hiring and retaining staff is critical process for growth and success. In addition to creating a positive business culture that people thrive in, the hiring process needs to become more formal when the company exceeds 10 to 15 employees. The first three years at BIM One were simple and very informal. For hiring, I looked at my network (professional or friends), I met people, I spoke with them about the vision of the company, and I hired them! Managers and myself still have to spend a lot of time in recruitment. Hiring (good hires) and staff retention becomes to some degree your main concern as a leader, because it will dictate the success of your business. You must make it a priority.
Idea and timing
The idea behind your business and the timing to the market are critical success factors. Carl and I started BIM One in 2014 offering services related to BIM technologies and processes. The idea was strong and the timing? Perfect. In Quebec, before we started BIM One, we were talking marginally about BIM and only about certain projects such as the Quebec amphitheater. A few months after starting BIM One Inc., the Quebec City International Airport contacted us to take over the main BIM management for its expansion project. A few weeks later, we won the first public call for tenders for the management of the BIM project of the Université de Montréal. The timing to start the business was excellent. The idea of offering value-added BIM services with small tools (add-ins) developed internally to make processes more efficient worked very well. The combination of "Idea and Timing" was there, so it was up to us to seize the opportunity and build our business.
When I look back on how BIM Track evolved, I see the same convergence of the idea and the timing. BIM was becoming legislated in countries like the UK, contractors were increasingly demanding that project management be done via a BIM process, and general contractors and professionals were seeing the real benefits of designing via digital models. The idea of managing communications around 3D models and thus facilitating better collaboration between professionals, came at the right time in the industry. That's why BIM Track has become a world leader in coordination communications.
But beyond the idea and timing, everything comes down to the ability to build a dedicated and passionate team to execute the vision. As the Japanese proverb says:
"Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare."
The business model is the very heart of your business’ prosperity. You have to constantly question it to see if it is still optimal and meets the needs of the market. You must be actively listening, especially in the world of technology, because everything changes so quickly.
The first version of BIM One's business model took shape in the fall of 2013. At the time, I had called Carl to share with him an opportunity I saw on the market, namely to offer add-ins (tools) for BIM software, as well as services related to the implementation of BIM in business and BIM project management. I had outlined the idea in one of my master's degree courses in business administration at Laval University. Carl was on board immediately and we iterated for 4 months with 4 other MBA students to find a business model with high growth and potential. In December 2013, I presented the business model to my teacher who awarded us 99% (I never understood why we did not get 100%!). That's when Carl and I started our company on December 23rd, 2013.
The starting point of BIM One was then the three passions common to Carl and I, that is to say; technologies, construction and innovation.
This starting point allowed us to develop a comprehensive business plan. However, we finally realize that a 50-page business plan is too rigid since we had to iterate continuously. So we showed our model on the canvas of Alexander Osterwalder and iterated repeatedly to find the right model that met the market needs.
Today, BIM One is operated in two distinct divisions, one where we offer a multitude of services related to BIM, CIM and VDC, as well as a division focused on the development of new technologies where our flagship product is BIM Track. . We are still using Alexander Osterwalder's framework to exploit the various opportunities available to our business and to ensure that we have a model that stands the test of time.
Financing or funding may be a bit of a taboo topic for some of you, but you will need to be able to talk about it if you want to start a business and grow it. You will have to buy equipment, you will have to hire staff and pay payroll every 2 weeks, you will have to invest in your technology, and you will have to invest in your sales and marketing. In short you will need money and there is no miracle: money does not fall from the sky!
Everything clearly starts with investments by the founders, but the biggest investment is time ... a lot of time! Then depending on the speed of your growth and your personal financial means, you will need money and you will have to go see your loved ones and ask them to advance you money ("Love Money"). I was fortunate to have parents who were able to help financially in the early years. I also have an uncle who came to help for a few months. All entrepreneurs have problems with their cash flow, more frequently in the early years. It's difficult, but trust yourself, trust your idea, trust your vision and do not be afraid to ask for help from your entourage. Most of the time, the people around you will be happy to help you.
At some point, you will need to get a larger amount of money to accomplish your vision. At this time, there are several options available to you. Depending on your situation, it may be appropriate to sell a small stake in your company to a seasoned investor who can also advise you on the growth of the business in addition to helping you financially. It is important to choose the right person who will bring real added value to the business.
Fortunately, we had André Couture who already advised us for more than 6 months. André started and helped dozens of startups in his career, including one that had a business model similar to ours, Creaform. We needed a certain amount in order to finish the version 1.0 of BIM Track and André did not hesitate to invest in the company.
Seeing the growth in sales of BIM Track following its launch in April 2016, we had two choices:
- Continue to grow from the funds generated.
- Raise a first round of major investments ("Series A") in order to accelerate the development and marketing of the product.
Creating your own recipe for success
The elements above are far from scientific. I believe that all entrepreneurs must find their own recipe for success. However, it is undeniable that some elements will come back for all entrepreneurs and you must think about them from the very beginning: Team & Execution, Idea & Timing, Business Model and Financing.
A few thank yous
I would like to take a moment to thank all those who have contributed directly or indirectly to the success of BIM One over the last 5 years! Without you, it would have been impossible to be so successful. Thank you!
I thank all the employees of BIM One who give their heart and soul, with passion, day after day, all our customers who trust us year after year, our business coach André Couture for his wise advice and financial support, my wife and our children for their moral support and especially their understanding (living with an entrepreneur is not always easy!), my parents for their moral and financial support, WSP Global for their financial investment and judicious strategic advice, our various financial partners: Desjardins, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), the National Research Council Canada (NRC), Canada Economic Development, the Ministry of Economy and Innovation, Investissement Québec, Futurpreneur, the Chamber of Commerce and Quebec Industry, the Lévis Chamber of Commerce, and all those I might have forgotten in this list.
Thank you for contributing to the success of BIM One! Now, let's make the next 5 years even more successful!