The founders of construction management software company Bridgit set their sights on the U.S. soon after the business got off the ground in early 2013.
“We knew that the U.S. market was ten times the size of the Canadian market when it came to construction,” says Mallorie Brodie, CEO of the Kitchener, Ontario-based company. “In order to really grow our business, it was a significant market opportunity.”
The number of very large general contractors south of the border also meant the company could increase sales more quickly.
“If we signed up a single project there was going to be a huge opportunity to expand into many projects with that customer,” she adds.
Today, the Bridgit Closeout app is used by construction teams in four key American markets — New York, Chicago, Seattle and Miami – and by customers all over the country. More than 70 per cent of total sales are in the U.S. and Brodie expects that trend to increase.
Brodie and co-founder Lauren Lake came up with the idea for Closeout while still undergraduates at Western University. Brodie was studying business and Lake was earning a civil engineering degree. The pair was accepted into The Next 36, an accelerator program in Toronto for young entrepreneurs, and handed $90,000 in startup capital to launch a new business.
“We instantly decided we would focus on construction because both of our grandfathers had worked in the industry,” Brodie says. The pair honed in on a problem called deficiency management, a labourious, headache-inducing chore on office tower or condo builds.
Traditionally, a project manager walks through a building site noting issues like cracked drywall, chipped paint and unfinished electrical work, enters the information on a computer, emails instructions to various subcontractors and manually tracks progress.
“There would be around 10,000 items getting to maybe 30 subcontractors, so the volume was high and it was very time consuming and frustrating to do by hand,” Brodie says.
The duo’s solution: A real-time smartphone app that replaces unwieldy spreadsheets and wayward sticky notes. It allows managers to quickly record the information, communicate instantly to subcontractors and get tasks resolved as quickly as possible.
The pair started “crane hunting” to sell the subscription-based service, which is essentially cold calling building sites and talking to project managers.
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“This was actually a really effective way to start building our customer base in Canada, but obviously that doesn’t scale,” adds Brodie.
The company soon garnered national and international attention. Bridgit did well at several local pitch competitions and in 2015, it won “Disruptor of the Year” on The Disruptors, a Canadian TV show hosted by Dragon’s Den alumnus Bruce Croxon.
Bridgit also came first at Google’s Demo Day competition in San Francisco, where the Canadian outfit beat 11 companies picked from 450 applicants of women-led businesses.
“I think the thing that separated us was that we had quite a significant amount of revenue traction in both Canada and the U.S.,” says Brodie. Bridgit has had month-over-month double-digit growth for the last couple of years.
The high-profile victories have helped expose Bridgit to potential investors. “It’s a great proof-point, when there are so many startups, to see who can rise from the crowd,” she adds.
It was also a shot in the arm for company morale. “Any sort of external validation you can get is really exciting.”
In early 2016 Bridgit raised $2.2-million in seed funding and used some of the proceeds to expand southwards.
“A number of our investors had grown companies into the U.S. and they were very encouraging to go there as soon as possible due to the market size,” says Brodie.
The sales strategy includes a city-by-city-based approach, with new customers offering word-of-mouth referrals.
The company also created case studies based on the initial client’s experience and used that compelling content to engage other companies within the city. According to Brodie, the app is “dead simple” to use, and the hours and thousands of dollars saved by users speak for themselves.
“We’ve signed on some of the largest contractors in the U.S. and we’re continuing to grow those accounts.”
Bridgit also tapped into government initiatives to test market feasibility, such as the CDMN Soft Landing program for mature startups and SMEs that provides grants for traveling to the U.S. for business development.
“Programs like this have helped us make the jump and de-risk the situation,” Brodie says.
Bridgit, which employs about 30 people, plans to continue all sales from its Canadian office and grow its U.S. customer base remotely, a recipe that seems to be working.
“Every month that we’re closing new business, a higher and higher portion of it is coming from the U.S.”