I love seeing people do great things. Watching someone accomplish a goal stokes your own desire to achieve something. It’s inspiring. It pushes you. It makes you want to be better. It’s why I wanted to be an engineer and why I started my own consulting firm. I saw other people do it. I didn’t necessarily want to do exactly what they did or exactly how they did it, but I wanted to do it. This is the story of PAEVEN. This is the story of the experiences that turned into the website you are reading right now. It is fairly lengthy so you could watch the video or you may want to grab a cup of coffee and accept that you will be spending the next 5 minutes of your life reading about what makes us tick.
In October of 2014, my company – Sixmo Inc., an architectural and engineering consulting firm, was in a precarious position. I had started the firm with my business partner, Pat Thornton, in early 2013. We hired our first employee about 6 months after that and a few part-timers to work peak demands along the way. Things were trending up for Sixmo and before long we needed another employee, then another, then another, and then another. We were growing at a substantial clip and each day I found that I was doing less and less of what I set out to do in the first place – structural engineering. I was spending the majority of my time creating more business opportunities and managing a growing staff rather than engineering.
At the time Sixmo Inc. was poised to land a substantial project that for purposes of this story we will call “Moby Dick”. This project would undoubtedly stretch our resources beyond our limits given our workload at the time. The problem with being a smaller firm is with this size of an opportunity lurking in the background, you cannot afford to prove your stereotype true. Small firms can handle massive projects, but it takes a lot of planning and a very talented staff. I was confident we had the right people on the bus. I was confident they were strategically placed as well. Unfortunately, I was not confident that I could meet our current workload in addition to our whale. At Sixmo we prided ourselves on not hiring “bozos” as Steve Jobs put it. Our staff is exceptional. Everybody was the best at something specific. They worked hard, they took extreme pride in their work, and they had high expectations for themselves. Something this great was too valuable to ruin. We needed to add staff, but not getting the right person could sour the whole operation. I had been recruiting an employee from another firm that was the right fit, but it seemed the timing wasn’t. I needed a good sense of when our whale would be awarded before I could pull the trigger on the addition of staff members.
As months passed we hadn’t hooked our whale and we still hadn’t gone out and solicited any new clients. Work was still flowing, but it was repeat work, predictable yes, but only predictable given the state of the economy in Northeast Ohio at the time. --As an aside, Pat and I had also planned that as part of our growth and recruiting strategy, we would pay 100% of our employees’ health, dental, and vision insurance. You want to talk about a recruiting tool for a social issue that has dominated the headlines since the advent of the Affordable Health Care Act. What a benefit. Plus, our current team had earned it and retention outdoes acquisition every day of the week. -- Needless to say, we needed that massive job. We were going to be dishing out some coin and needed to honor our commitments.
As most business people do, I stressed out about it. As things started to mount I began thinking of ways to combat this. So while running one day it hit me; maybe I will attack my marketing conundrum passively. At the time we were already number 1 on Google thanks to our SEO consultant, but the thought of how to improve upon that left me wondering. I questioned whether there was a site solely dedicated to the AE industry where buyers post RFPs for architects and engineers. Surely a site like this exists already? I was wrong, it hadn’t existed. There are certainly a million sites dedicated to public RFPs, construction projects, and what appear to be Yellow Book type services to throw money at, but there wasn’t a site for private sector work, built with tools that the AE industry wants and needs. How could that be? It’s the 21st century. We were doing projects all over the country. The acceptance from the industry to work with someone you can’t see already existed. The technology was there. What was I missing? Then it hit me, why not create one?
How it Happened
For the next month I had stressed a great deal about the workload our company could handle. How much should we sell and how aggressive do we price given our whale still lurks in the background? When I realized that something like PAEVEN did not exist, I sat down and laid out the basic parameters of how a site like this should function. Being that the AE industry is my industry it was fairly straight forward. It honestly didn’t take that long to hammer out the basics of the site. I knew it had to have 3 core elements:
- It needed to be fair. No way to discriminate or be biased.
- It needed to be niche specific. Not Elance. Not Angie's List. Not a site for vendors. Not something paid for by ads. Not B2B networking. Something specific. Something professional.
- It needed to give back. My generation may be glued to their phones, but they care about people and their well-being…almost to a fault. So for every dollar the site is to make – 10% goes to charity.
The moment PAEVEN materialized I began to move throughout the day without stressing. When I went home at night I got excited about the possibilities the site could generate. This nostalgic period only lasted for a week, before…..it happened. The whale showed up in my inbox with big beautiful Arial 10pt font letters “Notice to Proceed”. I remember feeling like a giant weight was lifted off my shoulders. I remember high-fiving people. So delusional I was almost light headed. I couldn’t sit down; I was so ecstatic that we, Sixmo Inc., had landed our whale for the engineering department. A project worth $115M.
Later that week my wife and I began packing for our annual Christmas circuit tour which involves my family and my wife’s family. Our annually recurring tour included a finale of going down to Asheville, NC and spending a week with my wife’s family relaxing, checking out the Vanderbilt, watching my wife shop, food, and of course college football. Sounds great right? It could have been. Unfortunately, right before we left for Asheville we had a request come in. The contractor for the whale needed a preliminary foundation package to be sent out for pricing by January 4th. Seeing as how everyone was on vacation at that time, this meant I would need to spend my Holiday week working. Not just the week in between Christmas and New Year’s, but Christmas and New Year’s itself. The overall task was not insurmountable, but it would have been easier for a larger firm to flex their muscles in a situation like this. More people means greater availability. Greater availability means more help. In the past, I’ve seen my mentors do this exact same thing. You do it because you’re the owner. It’s your name and come hell or high water this project, 1000’s of miles away, was going to have a preliminary foundation plan come January 4th - because that’s what we signed up for.
After the holidays and into the New Year we saw some growth at Sixmo. We secured two highly coveted recruits and had a thorough understanding on the entire schedule for Moby Dick. As we worked on the whale project I kept thinking “I wish more people knew about us”. I know it sounds arrogant to say that, but it’s the way I felt. I believed that if more people knew about the great work we were doing and had already done, the sky was the limit to how much we could grow. With Moby Dick in house and our predictable revenue trending up, my brain was functioning so clearly I honestly don’t remember sleeping. I just remember doing. Having spent some time in this industry I knew others in my position felt the same way during certain periods of their career. That is when I knew PAEVEN had to serve as the means to bring together the AE industry and enable a truly competitive market.
True competition means that there is no monopoly. There is no one company that wins 70% of the bids in a given market, industry, or locale. In the AE business you pretty much know who the players are. You know who you don’t want to see at a pre-bid meeting. This occurs because before PAEVEN the local landscape didn’t reference the national landscape. In your pond you could be a big fish and have to some extent a monopoly. You could get the work if you wanted it. To those companies it might feel as if it’s more of a matter of what you are willing to let someone else in your pond have, rather than what they can garner on their own merit. I knew PAEVEN had to change that. It had to break up the good ol’ boy network so to speak. Regardless of whether you are willing to admit it, I know that nearly everyone in the AE industry reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about. The mindset that only a “few” firms can handle certain projects. The mindset that it’s about who you know, not what you know.
Allowing true competition meant PAEVEN would need to be a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform allowing an owner/prime to evaluate 50, 100, or 200 + bids sorted out by an algorithm based on the owners/primes top 5 selection criteria. That is true competition. It is what a level playing field looks like. When each pond gets engulfed into Lake PAEVEN, the big fish aren’t so big. Just like smaller shops, larger firms need to be innovative and efficient to show the worth of their price tag. Granted some of the larger firms do this magnificently, but many do not. In the end the client wins. Businesses that never got a seat at the table now get a chance to compete and win the projects that would otherwise pass them by. The only detractors from open bidding processes like these are the ones who will be exposed, those who are complacent and reliant on industry pedigree without substance. True competition drives markets, and that is what PAEVEN creates.
Entrepreneur or Businessman?
As the days turned into months and months into a year, Sixmo was churning strong on Moby Dick and now had several other large prospects on the horizon. I had been interviewing software development firms for PAEVEN and had found the right fit. A firm that knew what I was looking for, how we could build it, and a great awareness for user experience. Throughout the next several months all the thoughts, ideas, budgets, and strategies were laid out. The firm and PAEVEN were on the same page with development as both of us used a project management philosophy called SCRUM. Sixmo had adopted this philosophy in its second year as a way to deliver actionable items to our clients in literally a ¼ of the time. This project management style is not something any other AE firm (that I know of or have heard of) uses. So understanding the terminology, deliverables, and sprint schedules was a great fit. I kind of felt like I was on a PC version of the hit HBO show Silicon Valley.
I remember that during one of the meetings a team member for the development company used the term “entrepreneur” to introduce me. I thought about that introduction the whole way home from the meeting. This didn’t upset me, but it did get me thinking. I didn’t consider myself an entrepreneur, I considered myself an engineer and a businessman. I could be completely wrong about the definition, but not the perception. I would consider myself an entrepreneur if I decided to open up a chain restaurant or start a business based on one of my hobbies. Starting a business in your area of education, experience, and expertise makes you a businessperson. Peter Thiel talks about horizontal and vertical progress in his book Zero to One. In my mind horizontal progress, in most cases, are “entrepreneurs” starting a business around a pre-existing idea. Copying for lack of a better term. Peter explains that jumps in technology such as the type-writer to the word-processor are vertical forms of progress. I agree with this notion, but believe me when I say that I am not implying that horizontal progress is bad. I actually think it is great for competition, but I do believe that going vertical is the only way to change a landscape. Vertical progress changes the way something has been done for decades upon decades upon decades. In my opinion that happens when businesspeople have the courage to innovate in their field with the technology available to them.
The end is the Beginning
Every day I go into work and thank God for the opportunities and blessings he has given me. Sixmo has grown 400% each year we have been in business. To this day we have had ZERO turnover. It is humbling to think that a group of people can be so committed to their craft, their clients, and to one another. Those same individuals are the brain-child’s behind PAEVEN. These personalities have shaped the way the future of our industry will work. They have worked countless hours to build something bigger than themselves and for the betterment of those around them.
As PAEVEN continues to develop and grow, it is our sincere promise that it will be forever unfinished. It will forever be in refinement to adapt and pivot as our industry deems necessary. It will seek to challenge the unwritten rules of business and success. Our shared vision for PAEVEN is that we change “the way things have always been done”. Innovation frequently needs a kick start. In the AE industry we’ve seen this movement from hand drafting to 2D CAD to 3D modeling and now BIM technology. Just as with drafting those who embraced this movement succeeded, and those who chose not to embrace have stagnated, diminished, or ceased to exist. In that spirit, the team at PAEVEN has put forward an extraordinary effort to propel our industry forward. This effort is a desire to individually do great things so that others can reach levels of greatness they hadn’t thought possible. It is my sincere hope that this letter hasn’t just informed you about who I am, who we are, or what we’ve done; but rather has confided in you of where we are going and the values we hold. I hope you will join us in this movement to better our industry and to spur growth that sees talented firms from across the world drive the future of our business.
Welcome to PAEVEN,
Jared Perry, PE, LEED AP