VP Data Platforms and Insights at Autodesk
Q: Much of your professional career has been entrepreneurial. Have you always been drawn to that kind of work?
A: I’ve always loved building things, and as I got older the idea of building companies was very intriguing to me. I graduated college in 2008 when companies like Facebook were beginning to take off. There was definitely an allure in their successes, but I’ve always maintained that I wasn’t going to start a company for the sake of starting something, or just to be a CEO or an entrepreneur. I wanted to build something because the idea actually intrigued me. My first company was called Revvim. I wouldn’t call it a high-risk venture because I did it on the side while I had a full-time job, but looking back, I needed to do more research to find out if the opportunity was actually big enough to support a venture backed company. Revvim never got out of the lifestyle phase, and while it’s a success and still going for the gentleman I started it with, I learned my lesson about not doing enough due diligence up front.
Q: What inspired you to create your latest company, BuildingConnected?
A: My co-founder, Dustin DeVan, had the original idea. He and I both went to UC Davis together and we both studied aeronautical and mechanical engineering. He went into construction, and I went into tech. He saw a hole in the construction market and we discovered a way to bring modern technology to an old, inefficient industry. I love creating efficiency in every aspect of my life, and with BuildingConnected, I saw an opportunity to create efficiency on a global scale for this legacy industry.
Q: Did you consider it a risky venture?
A: I’m rather risk-adverse. I tend to take very calculated risks and don’t jump into things without having a plan or knowing how to see it through. Whenever I give people advice about taking risks, I ask them two questions: 1) Have you actually thought about what success looks like? and 2) Is this truly a risk? That’s the part a lot of people get tripped up on because often something holds them back. What they may see as a risk, others may not see the same way. When the idea of BuildingConnected came along, it was my wife who helped me reframe the risk for us personally and helped me see past my worry toward something we could both live with. I think the real sense of risk kicked in a few years after we started the company, when a lot more people depended on us. The wrong strategic decision could end up letting down tens of thousands of customers or hundreds of employees who would now have to find new ways of supporting their families. Those fears were tough ones to grapple with at times. And of course, there was also a risk around whether or not I would have enough time to truly balance my work life with how I wanted to raise my family.
Q: Building a successful new business takes passion, drive, and ambition. What inspires you the most?
A: The idea behind BuildingConnected drew me in at first, but much to my surprise, that inspiration changed over time. What really inspires me now is team building and relationship building. I think a lot about how to make the most of our team. Our employees are younger in their careers, and I wanted to make sure that what they did was going to set them up for success later. I love winning and I wanted to get a win under all of our belts.
Q: As you’ve continued to grow your business, who have your mentors been? Who has given you guidance and motivation?
A: Honestly the person I turned to more than anyone else was my wife, Caroline. We had board members and advisors for tactical advice, and I felt I had much of the technology part down. The more challenging aspect of the business was around interpersonal and relationship building. Caroline has a degree in marriage and family therapy, and turning to her was extremely helpful. We always called her our hidden co-founder. I did get an executive coach about four years in who was instrumental in reminding me to put work into the relationship with my co-founder. When you start a company with someone, you’re almost thrust into a marriage without really dating first. The coaching helped me to not be overly controlling of everything, and to understand which battles to fight and which ones to let go. Finally, my parents’ diligence, attention to detail, and hard work ethic has always had an influence on me. I am fortunate that they saw the value of a great education and supported me during my time at College Prep.
Q: BuildingConnected was recently acquired by
Autodesk. Was that always the goal? What does success look like to you?
A: Any time you start something like this, you’re always asked, “What does your exit strategy look like?” We always said that we were going to build this company to an IPO, but we were also going to entertain offers along the way. Autodesk was always on the list. We didn’t seek them out, but they were on the radar. Looking back on it, we didn’t set enough criteria for success. Was success about the financial outcome? Was it fame? To be liked by our employees? We didn’t discuss it enough and we should have. I think it’s important to remember to ask yourself if you find joy in your work every day. For me, what brought me a lot of joy and happiness was the team building, and fortunately that went hand in hand with financial success.
Q: What experiences from College Prep have stayed with you over the years?
A: My friendships from CPS are definitely still with me. My best friend, Shomrat Sarkar ’03, and I were in each other’s weddings. I have a monthly dinner with three classmates that we’ve been doing for the last 12 years now. I’ve been fortunate to remain connected to many classmates and celebrate them through major milestones of weddings, growing families, new homes, and professional endeavors. The class of 2003 is incredibly close-knit and there are people in my class who, even if I haven’t talked with them for months, would come through if I called them and needed help with something. The second thing that has stayed with me is that I actually really enjoy high-pressure situations and a demand for excellence. I look back often to my time at CPS as being around a concentration of intellectual talent. I see great benefits to bringing together a large group of people like that and in fact, I tried to use that same kind of principle when assembling our team at BuildingConnected.
Q: Do you have any specific memories of a College Prep teacher that stand out for you?
A: I had Jack Coakley in my senior year and one thing that stuck with me was his approach with students. He would always say, “I’m not just going to tell you everything. You’re going to learn it yourselves. You’re smarter than I am.” I didn’t understand at the time why he kept telling us that we were smarter than him. I didn’t realize until later in life the value in servant leadership that Coakley was preaching. He understood that the way to get the most out of us was to be humble, and to give us the confidence we needed to succeed. Honestly, I don’t remember anything else he taught me, but that one phrase has stuck with me forever and has served me extremely well.