August 6, 2003
When Jonathan Antevy decided to merge his two passions -- technology and construction -- into a business, the union seemed as unlikely as trying to read e-mail with a bulldozer. But the resulting software company, e-Builder Inc. which develops Web-based programs that allow key players on a construction project to communicate with each other and manage their jobs online, is designed to make builders feel as comfortable on the Internet as they do at a building site.
The Fort Lauderdale-based company, launched in 1995, is a rare success story in the world of application service providers. Profitable since 1998, e-Builder has 1,000 customers and almost 20,000 users on its network and is nearing $10 million in annual revenues. Projects using e-Builder range from Office Depot retail stores to the Staples Center Arena in Los Angeles.
Chief Executive Antevy, whose brother Ron is president of the 25-employee company, thinks the family's construction industry background is a big reason it has survived the boom, bust and hype of the rough-and-tumble tech arena. Most employees have building industry ties as well.
"We realized along the way that success in this business is not just technology, or keeping up with every new feature the competition offers," Antevy said. "It's how well you understand the customer's business. We spend a lot of time on implementation: how we set up our programs and train the users. "
Antevy, 31, is no stranger to a hard hat. Not only does he have degrees in architecture and construction management, he spent a lot of youthful summers working on building sites for his uncle's construction company, and he worked as a construction planner right out of college. That's how he learned firsthand of the inefficiencies inherent in the business.
Property owners, architects, contractors, consultants and lawyers are often spread out across the country, yet must be in constant contact to approve reports, review bids, look at plans and drawings, OK costs and sign off on a constant flow of revisions. Faxes and overnight packages fly back and forth and meetings are called on the spur of the moment. It all takes extra time in a business in which delays cost money.
When Antevy discovered the Internet in a college computer lab in the early '90s, he quickly realized the potential for the industry to which he had devoted so much of his life.
"On the Web, everybody on a project could connect at one location," he said. "If there is any industry in the world that needs this technology, it's construction. There's a ton of back-and-forth in this business."
Yet even with his strong ties to the world of blueprints and bulldozers, Antevy found his pioneering concept was a hard sell to win over builders who were as set in their ways as a concrete pylon.
"The technology is the easy part," he says now. "Changing management's mindset is the hardest thing."
In the early days, Antevy hit the road for as many as 250 to 300 days a year to educate the industry: He made presentations at hundreds of conferences and association meetings, in addition to making sales calls and doing interviews with trade publications.
Although the company's founders steered clear of venture capitalists during the dot-com boom, The McGraw-Hill Cos., which owns Construction.com and a number of construction industry publications and FMI, Tampa-based construction industry management consultants, bought minority equity stakes in the company in 2000.
Although it may cost from $10,000 to $20,000 to use e-Builder for a typical project, Antevy promotes the technology as a way to cut costs.
"The main area of savings comes from the shortened project time because everybody can communicate so much more rapidly," he said, adding the technology knocks weeks and even months off building projects. There is also increased accountability -- the program tracks who does what and when -- which reduces errors and omissions.
"E-builder has a standard form for everything, and you can fill out the form and send it back and forth as fast as you can e-mail," said John Junkin, a Miami architect with PJB Associates who used the program for the first time on a recent Miami-Dade County public schools job and said he is anxious to use it again.
"The Web acts like a file drawer that all participants have access to at the same time," he noted. "It makes everybody accountable, there is no more saying 'I never got that, or 'I just received it.'"
The Antevys feel some of their company's longevity comes from their willingness to grow slowly but steadily, despite the dot-com hype.
"We learned long ago this business is a marathon, not a sprint," Jon Antevy said.
Christine Winter can be reached at cwinter@sun-sentinel .com or 954-356-4664.
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