Crozet’s Co-construct Hits INC’s Hot Company List
Donny Wyatt had some dissatisfaction with how his house in Crozet was built back in 2004. It was highly fortunate. He’s a guy who understands spreadsheets and he had run one on the project. Inspired by his experience, Wyatt founded Co-construct LLC, a software company that manages communications in new home construction. Now his spreadsheet is growing so fast he’s having to run to keep up with it.
Co-construct LLC was named the 515th fastest growing company in America by INC Magazine this year, missing the coveted top 500 hot companies by just a sliver. As far as he knows, and as far back as the memory of the Gazette goes, his company is the first based in Crozet to make the prestigious list of promising new companies.
A U.Va. graduate in commerce, Wyatt also earned an M.S. in information technology at Virginia. At the time, he had a job in sales and information technology with a Northern Virginia company.
“We were escaping NoVa,” Wyatt said about the origins of the company. “We didn’t want to raise our family there. We wanted to come back to Charlottesville. My company went ‘virtual’ so I could live anywhere.” So the decision to move to Crozet came about.
“By the time we moved in we were exhausted,’ he recalled. “We’re in a custom-built duplex, so we got to pick things. That changes the nature of the project and increases the relationship with the builder.” In what’s called production construction, the builder gives the buyer a limited menu of choices. “We got to see what it’s like when you’re building a million-dollar house.
“A couple of months after we moved in, my wife, Louise, commented, ‘I never ever want to build again.’ I had started talking to friends about it and we all had some story. Some were a lot worse.”
“I had made a spreadsheet to track decisions while we were building. I had all these tabs. My builder asked for a copy because it had everything he needed to finish on it. That was the early form of the software.
“The heart of the software is called the selection sheet, which includes every custom choice. A lot of communication issues are outgrowths of communication issues within the builder’s team. Fixing that clears up 80 percent of the client problems. You catch things ahead of time rather than go for finger-pointing afterward. The software organizes it and gets it out in the open. That solves a lot of stuff. Building a house is emotional and husbands and wives are disagreeing over choices, too.
“I took a lot of builders to lunch to see if what I saw as an issue really was an issue for them. You could see their expressions change when I said, ‘What if we had this program?’”
Wyatt ran into his builder, a little awkwardly, at a trade show where Wyatt had set up a booth for Co-construct. “He came up and said, ‘Was it really so bad?’” No. It wasn’t really so bad. But it did give him the idea for Co-construct. His contractor subsequently quit the business. “He saw the crash coming and got out,” explained Wyatt.
“The summer of ’05 was our first project with a builder using the system. In three hours they found their first miscommunication over countertops. It was fixed before they ordered it.
“Co-construct is the single version of the truth. It’s what really is going in the house. It’s clear and it’s simple and the builder and the client both understand.
“There was a ton of stuff to fix [after the pilot],” said Wyatt. “I programmed like crazy. Back then, all the lines rang to me.”
The company has had 912 percent growth over the last three years. Co-construct is now being used by 1,400 contractors in 13 countries (largely English-speaking ones).
“We’re still growing the system today,” said Wyatt. “We have a patent pending on how the communications system works and we’ll be hiring two people a month for the next year. We’ll be needing 3,000 to 4,000 square feet of office space. We have 16 employees now and we’ll be around 35 by September of 2015. Our thing is finding the right folks. There’s competition for the best IT folks. We’re offering relocation expenses now because we’re importing people to the area.”
Another company with a similar program launched three months after Co-construct did. They are still competitors.
“Co-construct is the highest-rated software [for builders] but we are second in market share. We’re in the process of fixing that. We’re investing in marketing. That wasn’t my strong point. Our growing pains are in building the team and the organization. I’ve learned a lot along the way. I never want us to become a corporate blob. We want people to enjoy us as a business and no just product.When we look for employees we look for personality, too.”
Co-contruct is a Web-based subscription service. A subscription starts at $99 month for one project and $199 per month for up to five projects. “All of their stuff is on our servers,” Wyatt said. “We have three layers of back up. We hope to get to the point where a builder has to have Co-construct. Now only two to 10 percent of builders are using a software system.
“There are two main drivers to why builders like it. Some sell more because the clients like it. So a builder might go from landing one out of five prospects to landing four out of five because the software builds confidence in the builder. Second is efficiency because of the number of projects they are managing simultaneously.
It’s like Facebook, not like traditional email—everything that has ever been said about the sink, for example, is right there.
Co-construct has six major modules and three in preparation.
Modules in development include one for financial management, one for estimating that will help builders figure out their costs, and another on bidding that will help them manage subcontractors.
“I’ve read the INC. Magazine list for years,” said Wyatt. “Then I applied to be on it. They vetted us for the 500 list. Certified public accountants have to sign off on all your numbers. The list builds some name recognition for recruiting purposes. Our bottleneck is getting the right people we need to do the things we are doing next.”
“My favorite comment is, ‘I don’t know how I ran my business without it.’ That comes up a fair amount.”
He can probably expect to hear it more often.