- Series A funding can be transformational for business growth — as long as you seize the opportunity to hire the right talent.
- As a startup grows, roles and responsibilities will change — especially for the CEO; learning to delegate is essential.
- Big ambitions can cloud your focus from the task at hand; always keep your customers' needs in mind.
By focusing on talent, changing roles and vision, CEO Meirav Oren put Versatile on the path to fast growth
Construction startup Versatile, whose CraneView® technology gives contractors a bird’s eye view of job sites, yielding reams of data to track progress on building projects, has been gaining traction with some of the top builders in the US.
From its founding in 2016, the business has been a steady march, as CEO and co-founder Meirav Oren and her team focused on improving Versatile’s core product and ensuring customers benefited from it to the fullest. Late in 2019, Versatile raised a $5.5 million seed round that helped the company weather a pause in construction during the early days of the pandemic.
Yet the pace of growth accelerated further in December 2020 when Versatile raised its $20 million Series A, defying a temporary slowdown in early-stage venture funding coming out of the pandemic.
“There are a few numbers that got us there – zero customer churn, repeat business, revenue expanding from project to project – but they were all around customer satisfaction and revenue has flowed from there,” Oren says.
Flush with resources, her focus and priorities have shifted into overdrive.
“A lot changes with having resources, right?” Oren says. "The company was growing at 10x year-on-year when we raised our Series A funding and the pace has continued to accelerate from there, across all key metrics."
From freeze to growth
Now Oren is laser-focused on expanding Versatile's customer base and embedding its technology more deeply with existing customers including construction giants like Turner, Gilbane, Swinerton, Pepper Construction and Clark Pacific.
CraneView's machine learning-powered software gives general contractors real-time planning and job scheduling insights, promising to make sure projects can be completed faster, on budget and with greater health and safety regulations and protections. So far, every pilot has turned into a revenue-generating customer, as site superintendents and project teams discover the insights the company’s product supplies, Oren says.
"We are geared toward getting CraneView on every crane in America," Oren says. Facing an “enormous” market opportunity, Oren decided to put her new capital to work quickly. “It’s about getting ahead of the business growth that's out there," she says.
For Oren, hiring became the number one priority, as she sought to fill positions in every department at the 50-person, then 75-person company. She went about it systematically, focusing on building out Versatile’s senior leadership team first, so that each of those leaders could then hire the right people in areas like sales, operations and customer success.
It’s been a welcome change after bootstrapping the company in its early years and a temporary hiring freeze in 2020 because of the pandemic, even though she’s still getting used to all the new faces.
Yesterday’s founder becomes today’s CEO
The growth spurt that followed Versatile’s Series A funding has required some changes. For most employees, it meant adjusting their duties so they could focus intensely on the company’s immediate needs, shed superfluous tasks and think about what priorities could be pushed into the future.
No one felt that change more acutely than Oren, who had to fire herself from many founder tasks.
"You must have the ability to transform yourself from being a Jill-of-All-Trades, in the early days, and start to hire people who are smarter than you in key roles," she says. "I have successfully fired myself from finance. I have successfully fired myself from sales. Eventually, I even got there on marketing.” Shedding those tasks has allowed her to grow into the CEO role and tackle important initiatives that were previously on hold because she was trying to do it all.
Oren understands that the transformation is an ongoing process, as the company continues to scale and its needs change. "As you grow a company from zero to IPO and beyond, you must be willing to be flexible and evolve," Oren adds.
Keeping the mission and vision in mind — and in check
Like every successful startup setting out to change the world — or rebuild it, in Oren’s case — Versatile has a grand vision that involves turning construction job sites into controllable manufacturing processes.
Versatile's current product is packed with cameras, GPS and other sensors that send images and data to a cloud-based building management platform, allowing contractors to manage construction jobs in 4D — three visual dimensions overlayed with scheduling functions to keep projects moving. But Oren believes that’s just the beginning. Over time, CraneView will be just the foundational piece of a broad technology platform meant to support the construction industry.
And yet, Oren is keenly aware of a core challenge: staying focused on what Versatile needs today so as not to get swallowed up in big, distracting ambitions.
“There are so many shiny objects out there, so many other things that your technology could potentially do,” she says. "Maintain focus on your customers, and you will get there."