Angel Investing in AEC & CRE Tech
Arol Wolford got his start in the AEC technology industry before it was hot. In his 20’s, inspired by his engineer and entrepreneur father, Wolford founded Manufacturers’ Survey Group in 1975. He entered the construction information industry five years later with the founding of Construction Market Data (CMD), a construction leads and market data provider based in Atlanta, Georgia.
Wolford sold CMD for $300 million in 2000 and joined the board of directors of Revit Technology, the most popular BIM software in use today. He remained involved through the sale of the company to Autodesk in 2002 for $133 million.
Since then, Wolford has remained at the cutting-edge of design and construction technology innovation as the co-founder of SmartBIM, a distributor and resource for BIM manufacturers, and VIMaec, a design visualization company that helps designers create interactive 2D, 3D, VR and AR experiences. In 2017 he also joined Building System Design (BSD) as Chief Innovation Officer.
Because Wolford has dedicated his career to architects, engineers, and contractors, he was named an honorary Fellow of The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and is the only non-architect selected to serve on the prestigious AIA 150 Committee.
He shares a high view on how the industry has progressed since he first decided to make his mark in the field, and where he’s seeing it move towards next.
What has been the biggest technological advancement in your 30 years in the industry?
Revit and BIM. It’s transforming our industry — the function, the aesthetics, the costs, and the environment. Now, we can move even ahead of that. Revit is great for the design, but what we need now is more of virtually building buildings. But I would say in the last 40 years, BIM has been great.
What sector has been slow to adopt technology?
I think architects and engineers didn’t go ahead full force with technology until 2008 when you had the Great Recession. Revit only went from $1M to $6m from 2002 to 2008. The Great Recession hit, 30 percent of architects got fired, and productivity had to go up. Then, the revenue of Revit goes from $5 million to $500 million in five years because the architects and engineers adapted it — and it was a breakthrough in design.
Now, that has to follow through: we’re virtually designing [buildings] well, but we need to virtually build them well. The contractors are starting to step up; you’re starting to see progressive general contractors virtually build buildings, and the subcontractors are beginning to get in there too. That’s the next big wave, and it’s starting to happen.
You’ve heard the term virtual design construction? The very progressive firms are starting to do this and are moving out ahead of everyone else. Now, you even see progressive mechanical and electrical contractors virtually building. That’s been the slowest uptake thus far, but it is starting to take off.
What is one thing in architecture and construction that technology has yet to fix?
The environment is so important 42 percent of the world’s CO2 is spent on and in buildings. That could be significantly reduced if architects spent more time on the environmental side, balancing that with cost, aesthetics, and function.
As a multi-time successful entrepreneur, what advice do you have for early-stage founders?
I would make sure that they feel a passion for what they’re doing. Do they really think it’s a good idea? Is it something they can really get behind?
Another thing, I would get a couple of good mentors. I was blessed in my life with two or three older guys who were successful, and it made a massive difference to me. I would try to find a mentor and build upon that. If you can find somebody you respect, who seems to have a sound business mind, that will go a long way.
Arol Wolford, President & CEO at VIM AEC, shared his experiences as an angel investor in AEC and CRE tech during Shadow Summit 2018.