It Had Better Work on an iPad | Paul Shahriari at Ecomedes

In part one of our conversation with Paul Shahriari, he told us about his company, Ecomedes, and its goal of offering a comprehensive sustainable product catalog for building developers.

In part two of our conversation, Paul tells us about the need for data presentation to be focused and strategic, the importance of truly understanding the granularity of the marketplace, and the key business advice he received from his daughter.

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Paul is an authority on green building and the application of technology in the real estate, design and construction industries. He specializes in the application and implementation of sustainability into the real estate, design, construction and manufacturing industries.

He works throughout organizations helping to establish visions, train teams, develop methodologies, create tools and enhance marketing and communications strategies. He enjoys working with key industry service providers such as architects, engineers, and construction managers to develop world-class service offerings for high-performance green building projects around the world.  

Paul founded three greentech companies: 

  • Ecomedes (2016): A software platform that simplifies economic, environmental and social ROI analysis of sustainable solutions.
  • ecoScorecard (2007): The first web-based environmental documentation software for manufacturers working in commercial and residential construction.
  • ecologic3 (2005): The first project based software platform that produced cost/benefit analysis for green building projects pursuing the US Green Building Council’s LEED rating system. 
  • He serves clients in the real estate, design, construction, manufacturing and software industries, who look to him to help them understand how trends in sustainability and technology affect their customers and their businesses. He has consulted on over $20B of real estate, design and construction projects around the world.

    DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

    Paul Shahriari 0:00
    People expect technology to work so perfectly right off the gate. And it’s really hard to pull off simplicity and and hide all the complexities if you’re trying to solve a hard problem.

    Alexander Ferguson 0:12
    In part one of our conversation with Paul Shahriari, he told us about his company, Ecomedes. And its goal of offering comprehensive, sustainable product catalog for building developers. In part two of a conversation, Paul tells us about the need for data presentation to be focused and strategic, the importance of truly understanding the granularity of the marketplace, and the key business advice he received from his daughter. All excited to continue our conversation now hearing really, how are how are you innovating? How are you overcoming challenges, because you probably faced a few over the past several years. So looking back from from kind of the beginning of your company, and I mentioned others will resonate with your story of beginning as a consultant, and then you continue to finding the problems and aggregating data turning into a technology solution. That’s an amazing journey. So what’s what’s one hurdle that you had to face in kind of that transition from consulting and traveling all over to now a technology product that you can offer? What’s a hurdle that you overcame, you could share with another tech leader?

    Paul Shahriari 1:23
    Yeah, I think was with the the work that has to get done to make a building green, there’s lots of different vantage points, I call the Knights around 80 of the owners perspective, the architect, the engineer, the contractor. And normally, when you want to build a technology, you want to build it for a single group, you know, define their problems, define their challenges, solve them feedback, loop it. But the reality is, is to pick a product, it’s not as simple as just saying, the owner likes this plumbing fixture, the owner wants his light fixture, there’s a lot of different other people have to say, well, it’s it meets the engineering requirements, it meets the code requirements, it meets my price requirements, it’s available, I can get 3000 fixtures in this campus. So I think one of the biggest challenges was like, What’s the date of that everyone needs? What is it centered around. So like, there’s, you know, when we first started, there was about 10 attributes in a product. And that kind of helped you figure out if all the products in the entire building of 2000 3000 greens were green, and that was awesome. We thought that was complicated. But really, that could be easily managed, right? But when we started getting into it, we’re like, oh, it’s about 100 product data points. Well, actually, we’re out to 1000. No, now we’re about 2500 independent attributes that help grade that entire assembly line, that gigantic salad bar of things that go into a building to green that up, it’s really kind of challenging to go look at the different workflows, so we had to do is go to like, one of the biggest drivers that everyone wants, they want an ROI, right? They want to return on investment, because they’re spending money to build a building, they want to immediately talk in the lingua franca of business, which is how much will it cost me? Well, Ally make it back. Next thing would be, are we saving energy and water Watson water became the next kind of big thing, which ironically ties the number one. So those things if they save lots of water, they save dollars and cents, right? And then then human health and plant and health were like the next, you know, three and four items that we wanted to look at. So that also became very, you know, user dependent, you know, what do they define as Planet health semi by say, just co2 and greenhouse gas emissions? Others would say no, like the degradation that circularity of materials. So as we kind of sat with user groups, and we got it out there, and people use the technology, what was amazing is a flood of information and data. So unlike a one through process of consulting, you can’t you only learn what you learn that day in front of clients face to face right with technology and say, well, well, how many people have searched by energy efficiency, how many people search for offices, I tried a real search for office, I’m trying to extend by energy efficiency, then looked at the top 10 monitors. So what’s nice is like we can follow the trail of what people want, and really make the platform better where they need it. And if it’s underutilized, then maybe we know that there might not be a huge push for that yet. Because you know, you can’t build out everything all at once. So it’s nice to watch technology. I think technology has helped us evolve the platform quicker with better design data loops,

    Alexander Ferguson 4:07
    being able to immediately see that who who is using what what are people searching by and then doing that as a feedback loop to continually iterate because that’s 2500 or more, that’s a lot of data points that have to manage, so honing in on what people actually using was. Sounds like a smart strategy, though. Going back to your point earlier, generally, you pick one, one, target client or person you can help but you’re actually looking at multiple, both the supplier and the buyer and other folks at managing that that workflow of really being that connector, as you mentioned earlier, eHarmony what kind of challenges of looking at it from multiple pieces of being that connector that you didn’t first realize when it came to like, oh crap, how are we going to deal with this that you were able to overcome?

    Paul Shahriari 4:53
    That’s a great point. So I think we always try to go back to his buyer supplier or the classic marketplace like what is the buyer looking for without The buyer, there’s no marketplace. But in construction, it’s like the buyer has a vision a developer, the owner of the building has a vision, they hire a project team, usually a Facility Manager, architect, engineer, contractor, consultant, to kind of do the work because most building owners don’t design and architect buildings. So they have to hire a group, that group has to interpret what the owner wants. So that’s another user class, but really, they get bracketed up with the buyer, because they work for the buyer. So hopefully, we kind of can persona them into, they’re the ones that drive the decision, the next layer would be okay, now you have the sub contractors, the contractors doing the work, then they go and lean on distributors who sell them the products, and ultimately, the product data all emanates from the manufacturer. So as long as we know who those other players are, and make the platform easy enough for everyone to use it, one of the biggest learning lessons we we had was that, you know, actually my daughters were telling me when I was getting this idea of Ecomedes off the ground, and like well, gonna build another software company that like, you know, just remember better work on iPad, better run with your finger, and it better not need any instructions. Like our generation doesn’t, doesn’t deal with soveral. I remember learning software, like big manuals, how you learn how to use Microsoft Excel, you went to classes. So what we were fortunate enough to do is early on, we said this is a website, you don’t have to install anything, there’s no workflow, and we’re going to try to make it as Amazon as soon as possible. So you have left navigation, yep, performance, others, we tried to make something very complex, as easy as humanly possible, and use a lot of great learnings that we learned about how they made ecommerce better. I mean, I remember when ecommerce sites weren’t like Amazon, they were horrible experiences like you didn’t want to do like even booking travel online was like you to enter in the date exactly the right format, then the end date in the right format. If you didn’t put a zero before February, you know, it crashed and it wouldn’t work. Now, it’s all gotten to where you click on the date on this calendar, you click on the end date, it assumes you’re going on vacation for all those days. And it says, Would you like airfare? Would you like hotels? Would you like rental cars where you’re going, like you type in the city, and now he knows, I assume you’re gonna need a rental car at that airport. But for that was not right. Like you had to look up airport code citing, um, I benefit from watching other industries use technology to make their workflows better, we try to use as much as that to be nimble and quick. And I think that the world is kind of getting the the other bar that is that people expect technology to work so perfectly right off the gate. And it’s really hard to pull off simplicity. And then and hide all the complexities if you’re trying to solve a hard problem. And I think that’s, that’s our big learning lesson. That’s what we’re learning about every day.

    Alexander Ferguson 7:32
    That’s a fantastic point, it’s hard to make something that is difficult to understand the simple and that’s something you’re constantly iterating. And it’s nice to know that you have we have these tech giants around us that have already kind of solved a lot of the user interfaces and stuff that we can take inspiration that are in other industries and apply it to the industry that you’re in. Now, in this transition that you started from just consulting and then collecting the data turning into a tech company. Did you get VC funding? Did you did you bootstrap it yourself? Like what was that process in order to develop all of this?

    Paul Shahriari 8:02
    Yeah, initially was just bootstrapping and MVP, and alpha, then we got some angel investors. And that was a great process. I never had raised outside capital before. So that was a fun process. And then, you know, like I said, in 2018, we said, hey, let’s go out and see even get some VC capital, we got great backing from from Tim Connors at pivot north. Along the way, we had some really great super angels, you know, an angel investor that, you know, spent many years in the VC land he had, he had come up and helped us as the our super angel, he introduced us to another good VC group as well. And then as it just grew, we and we got our round, closed out in January of last year. And that gave us the ability to bring on a bigger team, I got to shift over my focus on as the Chief Innovation Officer of Ecomedes, we brought on an amazing CEO, she’s kind of running the day to day, she’s got experience, not only growing businesses, but also having them acquired into the kind of Silicon Valley ecosystem got on a great CTO as well. So we have a good team, we’re all focused, we’re still small, we’re only six people, but we are, you know, very nimble and scrappy. And we’re really focused on learning what the customers want, evolving to what the customer needs are. And then this kind of time, because we are small, we have the advantage of being, you know, very, very nimble. You know, it’s, you know, some of those, you know, early, early day kind of evolving standards kind of help you kind of focus in this, you know, we can only do so much. So we always talked about what’s the most important, what helps our customer right now, looking at the data about how our customer sites are being used. You having this digital transformation going on in the real estate world is helpful. And a lot of VC capital had been flooding into, you know, prop tech, cre tech, whatever you want to call it, but like the buildings sector, the real estate sector was a laggard with a lot of technology innovation, and now that we have to do so much of this work digitally, it’s only going to create more pressure on us to get a lot better to do a lot of our work, you know, maybe not face to face.

    Alexander Ferguson 9:52
    I love the concept using nimble in this time. And really, if anything, you’re like, Okay, we got to stay focused, to make this happen for Going back a step though of that process of both kind of initially Getting Started bootstrapping and angel investing, and then get VC funding, any insight that you can share on that process of that you’re like, Man, I wish I had known this. It could have simplified it or made it easier.

    Paul Shahriari 10:16
    Yeah, it’s been a great process. I think I’ve learned a lot. I think it just like everything else in technology is evolving. You know, I know a lot of friends, you know, they said, Oh, you know, and as the economy kind of started going up, and up and up, every round was starting to get bigger. So seed rounds got a lot bigger than what you thought eight rounds became a lot bigger. Now, obviously, that’s all kind of constricting in the other direction writing. Another big thing that they’ve gone through, as they’ve evolved, you know, there’s they’re now platforms where you can kind of build a business plan, right, your pitch deck and all like, like, I got introduced to a technology called Live plan, which is a nice online thing and asked me a bunch of questions, who your customers hear this, and basically build you an entire beautifully presented business plan with, like a financial model a p&l like, and I think the entire industry of how do you get capital out there to this forward leaning ideas, has certainly evolved. In the last, you know, five years since I began this journey, all the other technology companies I built, were all self funded. And you know, they were good little widgets, you know, I think all good technology, honestly, you got to start with that widget that works. Get the right team members that like it, get a lot of customers that like it, and then it usually grows. But sometimes it’s kind of like, I’m gonna create a platform, it’s gonna revolutionize the world, like, I don’t think Amazon would work unless he’s like, I’m gonna make sure books work. And after books, maybe books and videos and CDs, right, and all that stuff evolved. And now it’s like, I can’t imagine not buying something on Amazon, I think we get a delivery, every three days of that teenager, my daughter went to UCF, we would just, it wasn’t like a care package anymore, you’re just like, these are all the things she needs. And he just set it on auto ship, like she’s gonna need detergent, she’s gonna need this. So I think that’s the interesting part about this journey is that the biggest thing is just be Be very mindful of the KPIs you’re working towards, so that you as a founder, as a founding team, you know, what you’re trying to solve, you know, who has that problem, you know, how many people have that problem, if you’re good at, you know, brought painting a big enough picture, that I think VCs are ready to fund it, I think, you know, most people would probably start unless you’ve done it before, you might start out with the angel rounds. And there’s a lot of, you know, Angel, you know, investing groups out there, now, they’re trying to rise up, you know, the other areas of the economy, I work a lot of young entrepreneurs that want my advice, because I’ve started eight different businesses in my career. And some of them are just in those early stages, where they’re just looking for a $10,000 investor, if 25,000 investor and those are like the fun days, because, you know, that’s kind of when those ideas he had just started to germinate and become real.

    Alexander Ferguson 12:39
    Mm hmm. I love that. That insight of both starting with one focus, maybe it’s your widget easy said, and whether it’s that fun day and iterating on upon it don’t get too big, too quickly, have great ideas as accomplish all these things, but staying

    Paul Shahriari 12:55
    focused, because real customers I think are very, very granular. Like, if it works for you know, whatever that idea is, and if it works in your local community, we’re gonna get hyperlocal with businesses, right, now we’re gonna get hyperlocal. Because that’s kind of where all the focus is, that’s where we need to kick start the real kick in the pants. You know, when you think about it, like, if it’s gonna scoot around, it’s gonna work and it’s gonna truly scale across the world, you better go to like, maybe a big city, maybe a medium city, and maybe a small city, because if it only works in big cities, and big cities are crowded, and there’s a lot of like, things that don’t let you just put a scooter on every street, then maybe figuring out like, well, we’ll a medium because eventually, if you try to create a big enough vision, you say, this is going to be an 80% of the cities in the country. And you’ve never talked to a small city or medium city, the vast majority, those customers, and the vast majority of growth will actually come from that last bit. So I always think about like a good band, you know, you start with your crew, you get 20 Really big fans, that turns into 200 fans, you know, sometimes you get on American Idol, you have a million fans that watch you on TV, but they’ll never buy your CD because you’re no longer on TV. And you can’t you know, you can’t pack the bar with with 1000 people wanting to listen to your song. So you got to kind of think about building up the old school mentality of a market segment and really growing your business so it can be ready to scale as opposed to artificially, maybe just scaling it with a bunch of money and hoopla. And then in the end, you know, something happens and like a market shift is happening right now. I think a lot of startups are going to struggle because they’re not needs, right, their wants. And I think we’re going through a market shift where a lot more needs are going to get focused on as opposed to the ones and it might, you know, reclassify, how businesses get put forward.

    Alexander Ferguson 14:30
    We’re in a time where maybe people are focusing on once or the service or product they have developed is not in much demand, however they may be. So it’s a time of innovating, of looking at things differently. How do you currently innovate? Where do you look for insights? Do you have any books that you’ve read lately, or audio books or podcasts that you really enjoy? To get insight?

    Paul Shahriari 14:54
    Yeah, I just actually started rereading the hard thing about hard things you know, Ben Horowitz is book, it’s a great you know, it’s I mean, it’s a, it’s a story about really, really tough times, I think that’s really a great book of inspiration for me. I think Reed Hoffman book Blitzscaling, I think that’s a really good book to kind of look at, you know, what do you do? I think, you know, there’s probably like the the micro version of Blitzscaling of say, okay, how can I very quickly pivot and evolve, and then grow within the confines of maybe less capital?

    Alexander Ferguson 15:23
    Looking forward? What kind of tech technology predictions would you predict that we will see in the near term and long term, so in the next year or two, and the next 10 years or so,

    Paul Shahriari 15:36
    I think there’s going to be probably another level of simplification, I think we might have gotten this point in our last cabin, crazy. Realizing that, like, some of the technology we rely on isn’t as foolproof, you know, whether it’s the Zoom lagging a little bit at the beginning of this call, or for security reasons where, you know, people can zoom bomb you or things like that, I think some of it just has to get more more simple, but actually more stable, like, really make it part of the utility of what we have as a society. I think, you know, right now, we have a lot of people that are at home, probably streaming a lot of Netflix. And there might be people in that same household on a similar pipe, and they’re trying to stream a zoom call. And that might be the reason why glitches in some areas, right, you know, so

    Alexander Ferguson 16:17
    I just stabilizing the digital age that we’re in right now. Yeah. And,

    Paul Shahriari 16:20
    like we need that we need like another utility company that really kind of says, Are we already truly connected, whether it’s maybe zoom calls for medical practitioners to share medical data? You know, there’s, there’s a lot of great tech, but I think we need to kind of figure out like, what does that core technology need to be so I think there’s gonna be a lot of that going on.

    Alexander Ferguson 16:37
    Thank you for your insights and sharing the the journey that you’ve been on policy has been an awesome conversation.

    Paul Shahriari 16:43
    Yeah, thank you for having me. I think it’s a great idea to kind of capture some of this knowledge and then share it out to people that want to learn quickly and innovate.

    Alexander Ferguson 16:51
    That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview, you can nominate them at UpTech Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.

    PART 1


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