Bricks And Bytes Podcast

#003- Maksim Markevich – Transcript

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Maksim Markevich

People often believe that the construction industry is very conservative, stubborn, and slow to adopt new practices. However, I don’t think that’s the case. The industry is complex, which can make change challenging. We must acknowledge that the construction sector has many complexities, such as delivering a building in London or Manchester with numerous considerations like differing contexts, logistics, construction, site planning, obtaining permits, and architectural design. It’s an incredibly difficult process. Comparing buildings to cars, as some have done in the past, is entirely inaccurate. 

Welcome to the Bricks and Bytes podcast. I’m Owen Dury, and together with my co-host Martin P. Karch, we’ll be interviewing people involved in transforming the construction and property industries through the latest and most innovative technologies. Today’s guest is Maxim Markovich, Chief Technological Officer at Creo. Creo is revolutionising the way projects are quantified through their 2D takeoff software while generating modular building designs that help implement modern methods of construction for a project. If you’d like to stay up-to-date with all the latest Bricks and Bytes episodes, please subscribe to us on anchor.fm/bricksandbytes. For now, we hope you enjoy our conversation with Maxim. 

Maxim’s journey has been quite remarkable; he started as a structural engineer, like Martin, and now serves as the CTO of Creo.How did it go? It is quite a crazy journey. In fact, I currently wear many hats, and I wouldn’t call myself a CTO outright. One day, I might be working on business development, marketing, and sales, while on another day, I might be focusing on advertising, working with clients, and even providing customer support. So, it’s challenging to label myself as a CTO, but that’s just how it is. From my perspective, the journey has been enjoyable, and in some ways, it was relatively easy, as it was driven by a sense of purpose. 

When I was a structural engineer, I worked on designing various water pump stations, power stations, and other industrial facilities. I spent weeks positioning reinforcement rebars in concrete structures. At some point, I began to think, “Why don’t we automate this process?” To me, it seemed very repetitive and the same process was being carried out time and time again. That’s when I started learning the C-Sharp programming language and began creating plugins for AutoCAD and then Revit. The people around me, including other structural engineers, began using my plugins. Eventually, I realised that I enjoyed coding these plugins more than my actual job. 

At that stage, I had already become a software developer, albeit a rather untrained one. I hadn’t read any books on programming languages because I was always focused on solving problems. I wouldn’t say I was naturally smart; instead, I was problem-focused. When faced with a problem, like needing to complete a task faster, I would do whatever it took to achieve that. I wasn’t concerned about how efficiently my PC’s memory was being used; I just needed to place those bars in the concrete, and I didn’t care about anything else.Naturally, this approach led to some mistakes at the beginning. Eventually, I realised that I needed to improve performance and consider memory usage, among other things. That’s how I progressed to become a CAD manager and later a manager. My role involved setting up software like Autodesk Revit for architects and structural engineers to work together. I created plugins for them to use, and that’s what I did. 

In addition to that, I also did some consulting work. People would invite me to speak about using Revit, automation, and other related topics. It was then that I met our current investor and CEO, who offered me the chance to become a product manager or product developer in their team. I saw it as a great opportunity and accepted the offer, which led me to where I am today. 

Regarding selling the plugins, some companies used them. However, since I developed them within the companies I worked for, I couldn’t sell the plugins directly. 

Essentially, I created those plugins for other people and within companies, so they paid me for their development, which meant I couldn’t sell them directly. However, they are still being used, which I find amusing. 

Regarding your question about whether I ever thought my life would lead me somewhere other than designing structures, it’s a great question. Looking back, it does make sense how things unfolded, and I can connect the dots. Funnily enough, I had a clear idea of what I wanted even back then. I remember telling my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, that I wanted to bring people together to work on projects for the industry, focusing on automation. I always sought industry insights, aiming to encapsulate them in the form of products, plugins, or workflows. So, in a way, I always had a vision of doing something beyond just designing structures. 

It’s true that I had a clear vision for my future, and maybe you’re right about how I can now see things from that perspective. Indeed, many people start somewhere, thinking that the path they choose in university will be their life’s course, but that’s not always the case. 

There was a moment when I needed to make a choice between becoming a BIM consultant, which was very popular and attractive at the time, or gathering a team for product development and moving forward with my vision. I chose the latter because that’s what I truly wanted to do. So, in a way, I always had a vision and followed it. 

As for the origins of that vision, I wouldn’t say I did a lot of computer programming when I was younger. However, I believe the vision took shape when I was at university, particularly when it came to automation. While doing laboratory work and other tasks, I always wanted to make things automated. 

For instance, when working with classmates on the same laboratory tasks, we would sit together and brainstorm how to automate the process to make it faster and better for everyone involved. So, in a way, it was a passion for automation that drove me. 

However, this should not be mistaken for laziness. There’s a saying that you should hire a software engineer because they’ll find the quickest way to do something, implying that they might be lazy. While I have certainly automated tasks that I only used once, which may seem purposeless, I did it out of love and passion for automation, even if I never used it again. 

Yes, you could say that it’s about finding the quickest path from A to B to get things done, rather than working hard on every step, which can be boring and may not make much sense. I agree with that perspective. 

People who are curious and driven want to accomplish as much as possible, so it’s natural to find the shortest way to complete smaller tasks, allowing them to do more in the end. That’s how I see it as well. 

As for getting into AI, that’s partially what Creo is about. Creo initially started as a large research and development team, which was an enjoyable time because we didn’t have to worry about the market or customers. We could focus solely on our research and development work. 

We had the funding and resources, so we hired the brightest minds in Belarus and worked on some fascinating projects. It was like having team meetings where we would decide to tackle a problem, such as one related to formwork. We would then reach out to companies involved in producing and delivering formwork, understanding their challenges and determining the issues we needed to address. Once we had the requirements in place, we would set about solving the problem. It was an amazing time, almost like a paradise. 

However, as we were spending a lot of money on research and development, there came a point when we realised we needed to start selling something. That’s when I began to distinguish between life before and after this moment. It may have seemed a bit dull, as we now had to focus on selling our products. Nevertheless, we were aware of the significance of the construction industry, being one of the most important sectors worldwide. 

As we repeatedly acknowledged, the construction industry is one of the most crucial sectors globally. We understood the importance of integrating technology to cater to the rapidly growing world population in the most sustainable way possible. Our primary focus was on pre-construction – ensuring the best design and planning. 

Initially, we pursued two main directions. We developed a portfolio of products for quantification and cost estimation, as well as for building configuration and building concept automation. These two separate approaches led to the creation of our BIM Takeoff and 2D Takeoff products, which focused on quantification and cost estimation. We also developed Creo Modular and PV Farm Configurator, alongside numerous bespoke customisations made for our clients. 

If I were to describe Creo to someone unfamiliar with the company, I would first address each of our products separately. In general, Creo is a platform that offers unique and disruptive solutions for the construction industry, focusing on the pre-construction phase. 

However, when discussing specific products like our 2D Takeoff or BIM Takeoff software, it is essential to mention that they were created for quantity surveyors and cost estimators. These tools address the significant gap that exists between architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, and cost estimators. This gap arises because a lot of information is lost when transitioning from the initial design, whether it is a BIM model or a 2D model, to the quantification and cost estimation stages. 

When we built BIM Takeoff, our aim was to help cost estimators quickly gain insights from the model and obtain accurate quantities. Although advanced users of Revit can create all the schedules they need and extract all the data, cost estimators are generally not users of Revit. So we wanted to build a platform where they could quickly access reliable data from the model. The same idea applies to 2D Takeoff. 

When you have drawings and need to quantify elements for ordering materials like reinforced concrete, tiling, or screeding, you need to measure things, extract data, and determine the volumes of materials required to build the structure. This is where we help quantity surveyors and cost estimators with our quantification and cost estimation tools. 

As for Creo Modular, we designed this tool specifically for architects to enhance feasibility studies. The aim is to quickly design building models on a particular parcel of land, taking into account various considerations like planning, site context, and building context. Our goal is not only to help architects do this quickly but also to ensure that the process is efficient and accurate. 

The point is to consider a lot of options. That’s the most important thing. We started with Creo Plan, then we downgraded to BIM Takeoff, and then we downgraded to 2D Takeoff. Yeah, because something I find personally is that none of the projects I’m involved with, which are mostly residential, use BIM and we’re using 2D. So you obviously saw the demand there, right? 

Yes, that’s precisely why I told you that initially we were doing like pure research and development. We wanted to do something big. We built Creo Plan, a product that could swallow a BIM model, classify the model, get quantities, apply activities from the database, produce a Gantt chart for scheduling, and other things. But when we started to sell it, we realized that not many people needed it. There are plenty of other project stakeholders like cost estimators, planners, and bid managers who work in different software, like Excel spreadsheets. They get some data, but they don’t really need Creo Plan. 

So, we ended up selling Creo Plan to quite a few general contractors who were ready to change the process. But the rest of the world wasn’t ready, and they probably will be ready in the next 5-10 years. This is why we decided to focus on Creo Plan with those contractors but not sell it to others, because we already saw that it was a big problem to sell it. We even removed it from our website. 

We then created BIM Takeoff from a small piece of Creo Plan and made it a standalone product. We started to sell it and it was better. We had clients and we’re still getting clients, but we see that the market still relies on 2D drawings. They either don’t have models, or if they do, the models are of very poor quality. You still need to go and measure things. If you have a very conceptual model, you’ll even struggle to get an area schedule from it. There’s no way for you to do so. So you’ll get a plan and measure it. 

We made the 2D Takeoff software, which is the simplest software we’ve made in this direction, and it actually turned out to be the most popular one. We launched it in May, and we already have more than 200 clients. It’s growing very well, even though the market is competitive. 

But again, there is still a need in there, guys. So you mentioned that the industry is still mostly doing drawings in 2D. How would you see the industry going in the next few years or in the near future based on your experience? I think we definitely will end up using more models. The biggest question is when. We see more and more people using models, more and more people actually using BIM, and more and more people benefiting from BIM, but it’s not growing quickly. I think it will take another 5-10 years, unfortunately. 

As for our clients, most of them are from the United Kingdom and the United States. From my experience with Eastern European construction and construction in the UK, I can say that the UK is much more complex. It doesn’t mean that it’s much better, but it’s just more complex in terms of detailing. 

And so many things to consider to just make things right. Do you find it that this is an obstacle in terms of automation point of view, or is it not? That’s a good question. First of all, I think the UK approach is quite smart and I like it. Although it’s quite conservative and we all agree that UK companies are slow adopters, let’s put it that way. But you know, guys, it’s like you can imagine a chart. It’s a very good question, and I really think that technology isn’t the only thing. It’s not just enough to have a perfect technology; you also need to have the right intent from the market to go somewhere, to improve the process, the pipeline, the procurement route, etc. These things should be done together. Otherwise, you will need a super sophisticated and smart intelligent automation, which you will make for the next five years. You need to balance the process from one side and use technology from another side. It’s kind of a trade-off where you can get the most benefits out of that. 

I watched something, Maxim, you’ve done, and I think it was to do with your 2D takeoff software or something like that, specifically with AI. You said people, based on feedback from the market or your discovery from the market, don’t like out-of-the-box solutions, which was really interesting to me because they get lost. 

That’s the main insight from the past years. I would say it this way: if you have a bus stop A and a bus stop B, no one really wants to go straight from A to B. People want to go from A to M, then cross the road from M to, I don’t know, B, then from B to C, then from C to X. That’s how they work. And actually, if we’re talking especially about feasibility studies or about in and out, we would like it to be in and out, but it’s never about this. It’s always about taking things step by step and communication. I would even say that the biggest insight from our standpoint is that, especially when talking about the feasibility phase, it’s 80% about communication and 20% about doing the actual job. 

Yeah, I agree. So when you produce a model, let’s say, when you have all the data, it’s just a matter of producing a model even manually in Revit. The problem is gathering that data. You’re talking to people, you ask questions, you get answers, you write emails, you get responses. And piece by piece, you’re gathering all the information and then producing your model. If you had all the data from the beginning, you would do it much quicker, right? 

What do you think that is? Look, I know that there’s an approach where people think that construction is very conservative, stubborn, and has very slow adoption. But actually, I don’t think so. I think it’s about complexity. 

I mean, we can argue a lot, but we should agree that construction is a very complex industry. You can imagine, you need to deliver a building somewhere in London or Manchester or wherever. It has so many considerations like different kinds of logistics, construction, site planning, permissions, and other things. Architecture is really difficult as well. In the past years, people compared a building to a car, which is completely wrong. You can build a car and sell it everywhere. Basically, the difference between a car in Europe and in Korea or China is minor. However, the same building, even in similar places in London, which are 100 feet apart from each other, can be quite different. 

I also find that the insurance market is very important because obviously, if someone wants to build something, they need to get insurance for the building. If you don’t get insurance, there’s no point in building it because no one is going to buy it from you. The people in insurance have very stringent requirements, and they don’t like innovative solutions. They want to play it safe. So that’s probably one of the reasons why there is slow adoption of innovative solutions in the construction industry. 

Exactly. And also, you know, when someone wants to build a building, it’s usually a developer or client, right? So first of all, the developer goes and calculates the residual land value to determine whether it’s financially efficient or not. The developer cannot get these RLV calculations properly if architects will not develop some preliminary designs. It’s all about collaboration, communication, and working together. The construction industry is very complex, and this is the biggest issue. 

But at the same time, it’s okay. It’s not a terrible industry. It’s cool, it’s just different, right? I think people struggle to understand that. Even people who are heavily involved in the industry struggle to see it. 

Yeah, this is the problem. I actually recently wrote a blog about one-sided points of view in the AEC industry. That’s about it. Even people who are industry architects, they see only their world. And they think like everybody’s stupid, while they’re smart and doing their job. Why don’t others go and do their jobs? But actually, everybody does their job. The problem is that when everybody sees only their point of view, it’s where we think the industry is inefficient. 

It’s bad. It’s slow. It’s blah, blah, blah. It costs a lot. Yeah. There is an issue with ego in construction. People study so many years to become architects, engineers, and it takes a significant portion of their lives, and then they’re fighting for their ego, basically, to be right. You think so? 

But man, look, as a structural engineer, you need to sign off on a drawing. I mean, you need to sign off on a drawing, and you are responsible for it. Like in Russia, how they tested engineers in the past, let’s say if you design a bridge, you need to stand below it. Yeah, exactly. It’s a perfect skin in the game. And I think today’s structural engineers don’t want to rush with signing off drawings simply because they’re responsible. 

I was talking more about architects in this case, but… Poor guys. Yeah, one strategy engineers do these days is just over-engineer it so no one’s ever coming after them on their insurance. That’s not true. That’s not true when you use us. 

Yeah, I was also thinking the same about architects until I talked to hundreds of architects. And when I actually understood what they do and what they’re fighting for, I don’t hate them anymore. I’m okay with them. I understood them. 

 

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