April 28, 2023

#016 – Elie Alchaer- Transcript

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#016 - Elie Alchaer- Transcript
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Show Notes

 

Eli Alchaer

As I mentioned earlier, there you have your simple automated if-then logic, which is AI, and your machine learning systems. You have these agents, these, whether they’re self-learning or supervised learning agents. And for me, an ideal solution is kind of a supervised learning agent for machine learning, where you’re giving it some rules and you’re watching it, you’re giving it some rules and you’re telling it within those rules. These are the things that could change. And the more data you feed it, the more it understands these different scenarios, maybe different soil types, the violence. From Lebanon through the Middle East to San Francisco. 

Please join us for this exciting conversation with Eli Alchar. Eli talks with us about his research work, transition into construction tech and his current role in Slight Technologies. You are listening to Bricks and Bytes podcast, where we take you on a journey in construction, technology and business. 

All right, let’s get this episode started. Okay, Eli, yeah. So thanks for coming on today. We’re excited to have you and tell us about your bit more about your journey so far in the construction industry. So could you tell us a little bit about your background and what we’re specifically interested in hearing today is about how someone like you in a very traditional construction role background managed to transition into a technologically-based role. 

Sure, thank you. So yeah, I’m Eli. I’m from Lebanon. I grew up in the Middle East. I moved at a younger age, and that’s where I kind of got my introduction to construction. Even before starting to work in it, it was a nice experience to see all those towers get built, and it was something that I always wanted to get involved with. So it was a very easy transition when I started working for a GC there, and I did that for three or four years. 

A GC? A GC, yeah, a general contractor. Okay. Yeah, it was a great time. I learned a lot. I think anybody coming into the construction industry should look at it. Start at the general contractor, learn how to be like a contractor, a subcontractor, but learn how to build things first and, you know, spend as much time in the field as you can at the early stage in your career. 

That helped me a lot, and you know the different moves I made later in my life, and we’ll get into some of the research work later, but I did some work on the side which opened up an opportunity for me in kind of to move out to California, get a master’s and continue my career here, which I decided to do. And yeah, about four or five months ago, I succeeded in my transition to the construction technology industry, something that I was working hard for the last maybe three, four years on. And it feels good to start this new chapter. 

So have you always wanted to work in California, in the US? Or what was the thought process behind it? 

Yeah, it was not really something I considered or thought about. I always thought I would stay in the region. I thought maybe UAE or maybe Saudi Arabia, there was a lot of construction work happening there. The thought process was I got an opportunity to do a master’s here and not pay. And it was just an easy decision. It was also the professor that brought me out here. I was interested in working on his research and helping him out. And it was a change for me that I thought I needed to do to explore different avenues of the industry. Now looking back, I probably didn’t need to do it. I probably could have done this change, you know, back home. But certainly helped, you know, moving to a new place, moving somewhere where there’s a lot more construction technology companies and ideas being built. 

Sure. And we’ll get on to your research paper in a little bit, but, and maybe it’s part of this question as well, but how did you go from your role? Were you a project manager, or what was your role back in Lebanon? 

No, I was a project engineer. I kind of started off as a field engineer and then spent most of my time in the field and then kind of slowly transitioned to a project engineer and did a bit of scheduling and planning. 

I actually have a very similar story because I started back in Poland and I was working for a general contractor also, Skanska, and I’ve always wanted to design or build skyscrapers in Dubai and these areas. And I got a random, I got a job in the UK and I went there and I’ve been there for the last five years. 

And now you want to move to the US? 

Well, occasionally. I feel like you really can’t plan it like how your career goes. You kind of just have to have an open mind and there’s a bit of hard work, persistence, and I think there’s also a bit of like having an open mind on different roles in different regions. 

Well, you can be very British like me and just stay in the same place for your whole life. It’s not about the same. Yeah, you can also learn languages behind your desk, no problem. 

Cool. So how did you, yeah, enter the technology world? 

Sure, sure. So we’ll get into the research later, but I was doing research on the side for the past eight years. About three years ago, I started thinking, like, okay, I have these research ideas, I have a few publications, but it’s just theories. It’s just a research paper that was published. We did a couple of conferences, but I didn’t really feel like, like, okay, the idea’s out there and then that’s it. And I wanted to really use some of the research work that I did and build something practical out of it. And, like, that everybody could use a tool, not just a theory that people could build into a tool. 

That’s when I started, I had a very, very large idea in my mind. When I say large idea, I mean, I had many ideas in my mind. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to build. And I started doing some research, looking online, looking at what’s been built, what’s being built, what technology exists that can be used, and slowly and slowly those ideas started minimising into what eventually became, I call it the virtual assistant or digital assistant. 

A while ago, I kind of took off with that project thinking, okay, this is the product. I feel like I found a good solution for the problems that I’m trying to solve. And there were problems that I was experiencing in my day-to-day. And that was the beauty of it is that throughout this whole time I was working, I was doing construction projects. 

So I had use cases in front of me every single day [2]. And if I had a different idea, I could just, you know, if something was maybe more design-related, I could go talk to the architects or engineers that I work with, or the subcontractors, et cetera. And I think that’s, that’s the, you know, being in the industry and wanting to build something for the industry is you can constantly test these different ideas with the people around you. Yeah. 

And so where did the, obviously your ideas heavily influenced on your experience that you had previously and some of the research that you’ve done as a result of that. So tell us more about the idea and the research. 

So I’ll start on the research and develop on today. The research actually started back in the UAE. Back when I was working in the field, I was, I was very frustrated with how performance was being measured. I thought it was very subjective. I saw some engineers that were superstars that were not getting the recognition that they deserved and some that were maybe let’s say not as good that were getting a lot more recognition because they know how to say the right things to the right people, which I’m sure the three of us have seen a lot. 

It was something that didn’t sit well with me and I kept asking around and actually, you know, my father back then he worked for that same company and I went straight to him and like, “Hey, why is this the way it is and why is there no different approach?” And my father, he was very, he would always keep up with research and he sent me maybe 30 research papers talking about productivity metrics, how to measure it. And his argument to me was, look at all these references, none of them actually make sense or are a practical solution because the equation of input over output, which everyone uses for productivity doesn’t really account for the human factor. You know, like at the end of the day, we’re humans, there’s, there’s issues that we go through. 

We take sick days, we have external delays. We get better as we repeat the same task over and over again and none of that is really accounted for [3]. You see some normalisation happening for the data after the measurement, but I never felt that data point for performance existed. So unfortunately, a few months after that, my dad did pass away and it was a bit of a dark time for me. I actually kept remembering that argument because I was still working. So just thinking of that argument, I thought, you know what? to build or propose an idea. 

And I spent the next two years coming up with different equations, trying different formats. We trialled a bunch of different equations. And at the end, I found a quadratic equation, which is mainly what I did is I took the input over output and I expanded it to account for different factors, to account for those human factors that we were talking about. And we found something that worked. 

And one of the success stories for me from the trial period, and one of the success stories to show that this has potential, was a surveyor, who had a bit of a lisp. So, you know, people would kind of overlook that person’s performance. And I knew that I worked very closely with that person. And I knew that he was very good at his job. And I knew that he knew what he was doing. And he scored 128% because of the efficiency of productivity that came out from this equation wasn’t percent for. And he had the highest score, he actually got a promotion after the trial, because running the team through that equation, we were able to show that, “Hey, there’s somebody that’s doing a lot of work that’s not getting the reward from.” 

And the research idea is not meant as “this is the right approach,” but I kind of wrote it as “let’s think differently. Let’s account for us being humans rather than just input over output.” So is this research or is this test available somewhere so people can take it? Yeah. Okay. It’s on ASCE. It’s called the, I can show the link if that’s easier, but you can search your name on ASCE and you’ll find it. We’ll put it in the show notes. But yeah, my hopes are that somebody takes this and actually keeps developing it further to maybe they find a different approach or maybe find a more practical approach for measuring productivity. 

But obviously, that’s not what I’m building with the virtual assistant. And how I led to the virtual assistant was I started measuring productivity and realising that I started seeing gaps, you know, and I took this measurement as, okay, let’s see why are there gaps? Why is performance being inhibited? It was collaboration. People working together and collaboration, like the lack of collaboration, was also the root cause of it was a lack of information and data. 

So someone would make a decision, someone would send an email without really understanding the full consequences. And then you have this long back and forth to try to explain the consequences. Very easy example is an owner requests a rough order of magnitude for changing the flooring. They might do that without really realising that material has been bought, equipment has been rented already for this. So all these factors, all these costs are costs that somebody’s going to have to pay. And having that cost data and understanding that, okay, this is the implication of me making this request. Should I keep making it? Am I comfortable with this consequence or not? I think it’s a valuable solution. 

So yeah, and so slowly the measuring productivity and looking at how people worked and what inhibited people kind of got me to start thinking more and more about the gaps, the gaps in aligning expectations, communications and communication. And that’s how I led to the virtual assistant. 

And so you were applying something you had real-world knowledge from and in-depth and extensive research. And then you mentioned that the technology side that you had the idea that you had and was working on was not actually related to the technology or building. At first, no, it was not. 

At first, it was a different tool. And it’s evolved after joining Slate, and I saw a different perspective of what was possible. I think at first, I was kind of limiting my thought of what could be built, and then joining a team at Slate and realising the other potentials, and of course, I was the one person working on this tool alone versus joining a company where there’s a lot of different resources and experts in their own specialties. 

So you were building something similar to what the company that you work for now, Slate, just by pure coincidence, you came across each other. Yeah, I mean, it’s a story that I really like to talk about because I applied to so many jobs before Slate, thinking this might be it. But then when I saw the role at Slate, I saw what they were working on; it just clicked in my mind, like, this is it. 

And I think that’s one of the things I want to talk about for people looking to make this transition is please do, you know, be patient. Yeah, like, be patient with making the move because looking back at any of the other jobs, I didn’t get them, but if I did get them and moved on or took those jobs, I probably would not have been as happy or as fulfilled because I would still have this passion project at the back of my mind that I’m working on. 

So I think the best way to make a transition is to pick something that you’re passionate about, that you want to build and learn through that. I think learning technology, especially when you’re not in college, it’s not as easy because you have to spend a lot of your free time, and you have a full-time job to do. But I think having that idea that you want to work on that concept, and it could be a very large idea, it could be a bunch of ideas, it could be things that you’re interested in, could be hardware or software, and then using that interest to educate yourself. Okay, what language is required to build this type of software? Let me take some online free courses, educate myself, go through a coding school to learn that skill set, and then everything you’re learning, you’re kind of in your mind, you’re contextualising it to your idea. 

And that’s what helped me keep the interest for three years of spending my free time, spending weekends, locked at home, studying. 

Strong commitment. Yeah, I’d really like what you said, because it’s based on my experience, it always worked this way that you have to have something in the back of your head, if you enjoy it, thinking about it, doing research about it, and you have to grab the opportunity that comes in and hopefully what you have in the back of your head will connect with the opportunity that is given to you. It’s really important to turn down the shiny things around that are coming into you but stick with the plan that is giving you joy and fulfilment which is in the back of your head. 

Yeah, that’s tricky. I believe, obviously, I’m not like super successful yet, but I believe that the key is really to stick with it and kind of execute slowly; things take time, but they will pay off. Yeah, there’s a lot to do with dopamine, I think, because I was listening to a good podcast on dopamine earlier. Anyway, but yeah, just to add to that as well, I cannot stress that someone who has been teaching myself to program at a very basic level, having an actual project and real-world application can enhance your quality of learning and education like ten-fold, because there would be days where you’re trying to do something and you’re doing it and you have no motivation to get it done because you can’t see the end product or what you’re working to. 

So your motivation is low, and your chance of actually completing it and learning out of that are also very low. So finding a project is a key thing, I think. Absolutely. So, if you can elaborate a little bit on Slate, what is the purpose of it? I’ve been going through the website. It’s a very interesting website, actually. And what you guys say in there is that Slate gives the digital assistant to every role, I assume in construction, to offer to overcome challenges. 

And another one that I like is because Slate gives situational context for decisions. So if you could elaborate a little bit more about this. 

There’s an analogy we like to use a lot at Slate. It’s that we’re kind of building the Waze app for the construction industry. So when you’re on the Waze app, you know the time you’re going to get there. You can see how much traffic there is. If there’s more traffic, it might send you on a different path. If you’re willing to pay at all, it might send you on a different path. So that’s kind of how Slate is working, where the project managers, the field engineers, the superintendents are still doing their roles, but Slate is bringing the data in from the different systems that exist today, mashing it together and analysing to find where there’s potential gaps or risk areas and flagging those to the users, saying, hey, you might have this RFI that is actually linked to this activity that might require a design change and a change order. 

We know it’s at the bottom of the list, but we believe this should be prioritised. And sometimes it’s a bit more automated and more redundant tasks, for example, checking for weather. Nobody likes to check the weather forecast every single day and check if there are activities that are impacted by that weather forecast. So Slate is doing that. It’s one of the small examples that we’re checking for users is, you know, never mind checking the weather forecast. If there’s high winds, we’ll tell you with enough time to come up with an alternate plan to inform your teams of the alternate plans. Let’s say a simple one is high winds, for example. I like to use the example of high winds because nobody really checks for a storm; if you hear something is happening, you’ll check for it. But there’s many times when we can’t move this stuff because the crane can’t move, or the cradle can’t move because of high winds. So we’ll flag that to you way in advance with enough time for you to think, OK, if we can’t do this, what else can we do? Or can we just avoid the crew downtime, or can we just, you know, avoid paying the crew to show up on site and do nothing at the very least? Yeah, the idea is that the situational contextual data you’re receiving is at the right time to act. You’re not getting it on the day of the install, and you have to run and figure out what to do. 

So, in what sort of tools does Slate use to kind of predict things or to steer things in a different direction? Is it any form of machine learning or predefined questions? How does it work? There is a machine learning system at the heart of it, but let me take just a step back. 

We do have a scheduler in Slate, so we can import your schedule. We can also interact with it in Slate or we can keep interacting with it without whatever software you’re using. You’re able to import all your forms, RFIs, submittals. So we’ve built a system where you’re able to import your ERP system, your material master, equipment master. So we built a system where you can import all this data, but also interact with it if you choose to interact with it in Slate. And at the heart of it, there is a machine learning system, but there’s also simple AI rules. So it’s kind of, I know one of the later questions is talking about my idea of artificial intelligence and what works for the construction industry. If you don’t mind, I’ll talk about it now. Go for it, yeah. 

There could be simple AI rules, like an if-then statement. And then there’s your more complex machine learning system that’s creating what-if scenarios, looking at different factors and making its own analysis. And I think the right solution is not one or the other. It’s actually the mix. And the reason it’s the mix is, you know, you also want to, you know, you don’t want to have a crazy runtime all the time. And there are some activities that don’t require that much intelligence. So I think finding that right mix with what does the machine learning system need to analyse and build and what can it do? And as well, and having that, you know, complement, which is the rule sets. The way I see the right solution is, as I said, a mix of the two, the more complex and the more simple AI solutions. 

Your target, like who’s your target customer to start with? And what is the key reason they would buy Slate software? I think, well, right now we’re targeting for the Slate project management tool, we’re targeting GCs, subcontractors, mainly contractors. 

And obviously, you know, contractors that are building larger projects where there is a lot of data, are large teams where things could get lost more easily. And quite honestly, people don’t have the time to do every single thing that needs to be done. The reason they’re the target audience is because they will benefit the most from the solution. But this does not mean that the solution cannot benefit architects, engineers, owners. So although the GCs are the main users of this, the GC, you know, a project engineer might receive a notification through Slate that they would just send directly to the architect and say, hey, here’s an RFI that, for example, RFI example, here’s an RFI that should be prioritised and here’s why. I see, yeah. 

So the idea is we’re giving them the data and then they could take the data. They might not be making the decision, but they’ll be able to quickly inform the decision when someone’s asking for it. And obviously the hope is that, you know, this extends to the owner’s side, to the architects, to the engineers, and it becomes a platform where they can collaborate together for improving project performance. 

So basically my understanding of Slate is that mainly for general contractors, also people who can benefit are engineers, architects. What I’m curious about is products like that shouldn’t be directed only, for example, to architects and help them within their practice to solve all of their issues in terms of communication for engineers, separate one, because all of these disciplines are slightly different and probably they have different needs. So what I’m trying to figure out is how do you see this and what was the thinking behind what you guys are doing in Slate? No, and I think that makes sense. I think with the GCs, we’re looking at it as there are more use cases. And as you said, with the architects engineers, it’s a bit more specialised, but that does not mean that later on when we’re comfortable, then we feel that we have a solution that we can now expand to a different market, which is architects, engineers, or for me, a big one as well is owners, because they are one of the largest decision makers for projects. So I don’t think of it as we’re building something that can be used for others. 

That we’re putting our concentration here and once we’re comfortable and happy and say that, you know, we’re happy where we can move resources to start building new specialised solutions for other stakeholders, I’m sure that transition will happen at some point. But, you know, I think being a startup, we wanted to just concentrate on the market that we knew had the most to benefit from a digital system. That’s not saying that others don’t benefit from it. They surely will, but, you know, we wanted to concentrate our efforts. Yeah, you have users and then you have buyers. Yeah. In any case. 

What is a day in the life of a product manager at SlateLook? And I don’t know if you can answer this, but did you prefer the on-site project management? Or do you prefer, I think, the answer. You prefer what you do now? Yeah. I mean, that’s actually a good question, because I think people, it’s definitely different from project management. You’re interacting with people, and I think it’s a huge part of project management. But you’re interacting with people differently. It’s, I think having the tangible versus non-tangible output is a huge differentiator, obviously. I think the attitude in technology is more technical. So sometimes in construction, as I’m sure we’re all aware, you know, it gets a bit emotional. People use their loud voices sometimes and- And they are using, their ego too much. And using their ego too much. And you know, I’m not going to lie. Like, I don’t think the technology industry is perfect. But I think there’s certain people that are more technical. And I always thought to myself, someone who’s I’d rather sit down and work on a more difficult problem than sit down and run a massive meeting or commissioning, for example. So that’s what always attracted me in construction is the technical aspect of construction. I always thought it was beautiful how you could take these simple parts and assemble them together, and you have a beautiful building or a bridge or a dam, or whatever it can be. And I think actually, I see technology similar in that way that there are those building blocks. There are those algorithms, those logic tools that are the building blocks and putting them together, you have this large software. 

So although it might seem quite different, I actually found a lot of similarities and a lot of the skills transferred over, you know, so people who are in project management, project controls and construction in general, I don’t think that our skills are that far. Obviously, there are the technical skills, which you can learn. They’re not everyone who does it at some point did not know it and had to learn it. And we might have to spend a bit more time because we’ve already spent 10 to 20 years in the construction industry and we don’t have as much free time as someone who’s in university. But I don’t think that it’s impossible at all to learn those technical skills and I do think that we should appreciate how skills transfer over. And that’s one thing I liked about Slate is that they recognise that. They thought that, yeah, we don’t have the product manager experience, professional experience, but you spend the time learning the technical skills. You have the soft skills that you could use here. And a lot of it is kind of storytelling as a product manager. Yeah. 

Are you doing a lot of customer interaction as the product manager? I don’t as much. There’s some there’s, you know, actually we have different product managers doing different things. I’ve done a bit of customer engagement, but there’s others who are more involved with customers. Maybe because of my passion for the assistant, I’m kind of trying to be full time on that as much as possible. Okay, yeah. Yeah. But sorry, to just to jump back, like which one I prefer it. I don’t think I have a preference. I did really enjoy my time in the construction industry. And I don’t think that yes, you have bad days, and I think you have bad days in both roles, good or better or worse. I think a big part of it is not just your job, but outside work. What do you do to relax, to be feeling fulfilled? Yeah, sure. We’ll come to that. Yeah. 

So I wanted to pick your brains on something that you mentioned, which is machine learning. What is your understanding of it and how you think it works? Any thoughts on machine learning or AI in construction that you can tell us about? As I mentioned earlier, you have your simple automated, you know, if-then logic, which is AI, and your machine learning systems, you have these agents, these, whether they’re self-learning or supervised learning agents. 

And for me, an ideal solution is kind of a supervised learning agent for machine learning, where you’re giving it some rules, and you’re watching. Yeah, you’re giving it some rules and you’re telling it within those rules, these are the things that could change. And the more data you feed it, the more it understands these different scenarios, maybe different soil types, the piles are, let’s say, an easy example, like pile driving, for different machines, so that for different soil types, there is more time required for pile driving. There is, if it rains, there’s more time required to clean up, to start using the soil before it rains, like in sand, maybe you could start two days later and in clay, you might have to wait a week. Because these small things that yes, we could write a million rules, but I think a machine learning system can start learning it on its own. But I do think that it has to be guided learning. 

So you kind of have to have the first, the first maybe 10 users will start to have this, you know, maybe yes, no, and this yes, no, because this yes, no to the machine learning in terms of this is right or this is wrong. We’ll start with us, the people working at Slate, running projects, machine learning system and teaching it. Yeah, this is what if scenario makes sense or no, this one doesn’t really make sense because there’s this typical progression. For example, you’re not going to cure concrete before you cast it. So yeah, it’s simple things like that. But, you know, at first, the first day the system is born, it’s not going to know all these things. So you start slowly teaching it and teaching it. And we all build differently. All GCs, all contractors, subcontractors, architects, sometimes design differently. So that’s why having a system that’s flexible to people’s differences is important. 

And that’s what we’re thinking of for GCs. GCs have different standards. For example, something we do is like upholding scheduling standards. So yeah, we have some default lists, and the system is looking for some default names. But it’s also flexible that each company with their own standards, the system can work differently with them. So for me, that’s the biggest use case of the machine learning system, is that it can adapt itself to the different projects and different innovations that exist. 

Really? Something just came to my head, is like when, if you’re assuming a software company which develops machine learning systems for construction. And then they sell them to the contractors, to architects, to engineers, which are perfectly designed systems for their use cases. Then you have to convince the architects and engineers and people to actually use them. Yes. Yeah, but based on probably the least friction, less way of doing things and the most productive and most efficient, and most profitable. And if they prefer to choose it, not to choose it, then that’s their own old-fashioned egoistic way, probably, that they’ve been in for years. 

Yeah, just to add onto that, you can build all these systems, but they also have to be simple, easy to use. They have to make sense to the user. And I think that’s where a lot of our efforts, because we can have the best system in the world. But if it’s very complicated, and if you have to read code, and you have to have all this analysis that you have to do after the machine learning system, no one’s going to use it. So on the back end, yes, you can build this as complex of a system as you can, but on the front end, it has to be simple to use, easy to use, it has to make sense to the user. So those more traditional architects, engineers, contractors would look at the data and it will make sense to them and it will be hard to refute it. And that’s how we’ve been designing all these messages that we tell the user, the assistant tells the user. It’s giving them the full story. It’s giving them, hey, here’s the impact, here’s the overall impact, here’s the milestone that’s affected, and here’s what you can do about it. 

So they could, of course, poke holes through it – anybody could poke holes in anything. But the idea is that they’re getting a full picture and hopefully that starts to make people more open to adopting something like this. Yeah, sure. 

Yeah, and how have you found the response from the market for Slate’s technology? Has it been received well? I’d say like Slate so far has been working, and, you know, I can’t name names, but we’re partnering with larger GCs. And I think with these larger GCs, they already have internally this culture of innovation. They want to build differently. They do agree that there are gaps and there are ways to improve it. And I came from those large projects. I worked on those billion-dollar projects. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve worked on a couple of those. And I’ve seen the chaos. And a lot of it comes around organisation and filtering the right data to the right people. So they see the benefit of these tools because a lot of them have been trying to build something and, you know, haven’t achieved it because it’s, at the end of the day, when you’re a GC, you’ll spend money on technology, but you don’t want to build a startup. 

I think it’s something beautiful that’s happening in the industry now, and I see it a lot, is these larger GCs have an idea for innovation and they go and actually start the company. So they fund the company with the employees that came up with this idea, they make them in charge of that company, and they just become an investor in the company, and the company works inside them. So they can actually, I think, come up with solutions, and if they want to bring outside funding, they can bring outside funding. I’ve seen a couple of companies, a couple of large GCs do it. I think larger GCs looking to innovate or build something new, that might be a better approach because they’re not doing it under the umbrella of, “here’s your limit on overhead and here’s what you can do and here’s how much resources you’re going to get” and that’s it. Yeah, sure. Yeah, cool, nice. These GCs that you’re working with, are they in North America? Are they global? I would say they’re global. 

Some in the UK and some in the US, mainly around the UK and the US. So I was just going to go a little bit off of Slate and off topic, but just something that can benefit a lot of people that probably listen to this and are thinking of making a similar switch to what you have, Eli, is what did your routine look like when you were obviously working, probably a nine to five job? Yeah. Weekends and evenings maybe, but also teaching yourself how to code. Yeah. Yeah. How did you, how did you do it? How did you fit it in? I’m not going to lie and sugarcoat it. It was very tough. You know, it was, it took a lot of effort because it almost becomes like two jobs. I think the big thing that helped me was time management. I think managing your time to not just study and work, but also do other things. I play football. I love to play football – soccer in the US. I love, I love to play, along with seeing friends and seeing family members. 

So the approach that I took was I had a list of deliverables, of milestones that I set for myself. The problems that I had to solve for my studies were, I would always break it down into small milestones because some of these courses that you take, sometimes you have a problem to solve, it could take you two, three weeks to solve it. And you don’t want to leave after three hours frustrated that you barely did 10% of it. Instead, you leave thinking that you reached a milestone, and you’re very happy. So breaking it down, chunking it down. Breaking it down. Yeah. So breaking. 

So I think one piece is breaking down your deliverables, making them achievable, and then time management. So personally, I like to work in sprints and bursts. So I would have, you know, my workday, I’d give myself some time for a break, exercise, I want to exercise, cook, whatever. And I would kind of batch up study time. So I would do it in different sprints. And I use the calendar, Google Calendar, any calendar system. And on my calendar, I would put exercise time, I would put lunches, dinners, things, even things as errands. Because when you’re looking to study while you’re working, you’re taking away from your free time. And some of that free time could be taking the car to get washed, getting groceries, you know, simple things. But I think including all that stuff with my study plans helped because then I knew, okay, these are all the things I need to do. 

And I don’t have anything else to worry about. And I have it set in my calendar. And the beauty of a calendar with yourself is you can change meetings as much as you want. You’re the only stakeholder. It becomes easier to, and yeah, it helped me, like taking this approach of actually seeing it on a calendar helped me improve my time. This is all valid until you are single. Yes. Yeah. So time blocking was a key. Yeah. Okay. So I have a very interesting question, and maybe not off topic, back onto the topic: the acquisition of Slate. So you acquired a software design company, which specialises in design for manufacturing and assembly. What was the thinking behind it? Because you guys are focused on project management and the general contractor. So I’m just curious about it. 

And yeah, you’re right. SlashModular is a design for manufacturing software and Slate is currently concentrating on project management and the construction period, let’s call it. But we do believe and we do agree that there’s a lot of influence and decisions that happen at the pre-construction of the design phase that completely influence the project probably even more than the decisions of the construction phase. And acquiring SlashModular and bringing their system and software into Slate allows us to build that connection from the early design stages. And you know, we’re doing some cool stuff for the design stages where we can simplify the design process, trying to come up with a cost estimate, a very rough level schedule from a couple of geometric shapes or a BIM model. And the idea was, Slash would be our approach to start getting into the pre-construction world. And that’s one approach of looking at designers, owners, you have less GC involvement at that stage, but you still have important decisions to make. And we can inform those decisions with the data that we have around the construction. And since these two systems, from the design phase to the construction phase, are connected, your closeout package is going to be wholesome. So, the approach with Slash gets us to the pre-construction phase and gives us a better closeout package at the end of Slate. Exactly. 

Every decision made during the design stage will drive the cost of the general project at some point. Yeah, and it’s tough because I’ve worked on those design projects, I’ve worked with the design teams, and they’re always on… I’ve never seen a design project which was, “Hey, this is a relaxed timeline, let’s lay it back, it’s going to be easy.” No, all of them are rushed, all of the owners want the design tomorrow, there’s pressure to deliver, of course, to deliver something that gets permitted, but also to deliver something that gets permitted and is achievable, is constructible, and won’t cost too much. And they’ll be able to make those analyses within minutes rather than days and weeks of coming up with different design scenarios, giving it back to the GC for a cost estimate and a scheduled estimate, bringing it back to the owner and saying, “Here are the three options, here’s what it costs and here’s what, how much time it takes.” The nice thing is having the software of Splash and Slate joined together and start making those decisions in one meeting with a couple of clicks. Very nice, yeah. 

And one last question before we wrap up. So what’s your biggest piece of advice for someone who’s innovating in the construction tech space? I think one is to pick the idea that you love. Have an open mind on ideas and concentrate on ideas that you’re passionate about because that means you’re going to spend more time on it. And two, educate yourself as much as possible. Even now, I’ve got to the role that I want, I continue to educate myself. And I don’t think it’s something that anyone should stop at any time. I like to use a quote my father always taught me, which is “you’re never going to know everything. So keep teaching yourself every day.” And up to his last day, he was always like, “I’m learning something new every single day, 40 years into the industry.” 

So, that’s something that I live by, is like always educating, always improving yourself. Very cool. Alright, so Eddie, where can people find out more about you and also Slate? Sure, well, we have our website, we have our LinkedIn page, and I have my LinkedIn page as well. So people are more than welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn or send me an email. It’s just my first name, last name at gmail.com. And I’m always happy and excited to talk to people about construction and construction technology. As you can see, it’s something I believe we’re all passionate about. And I think there’s a growing interest in this field. There’s definitely a growing interest not just from people in the industry, but from people outside the industry as well. And I do believe that in the next decade, 20 years, the industry is going to completely change. I know we’re all excited to be part of it. Awesome. Thank you very much. Thank you, guys. Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of the Bricks and Bites podcast. If you are enjoying the show, please feel free to rate, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. We really appreciate it, and we’ll catch you in the next episode. 

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