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Virtual project manager Featured

6:18am EDT November 1, 2005
Twelve years after Dave Conway founded iSqFt, a developer of software products for general contractors, he’s made a few converts in an industry notoriously slow to adapt technology.

Actually, it’s more than a few converts — he’s shown more than 10,000 contractors the light.

Conway runs one of the nation’s fastest-growing businesses; last year, iSqFt ranked 50th on Inc. magazine’s annual Inc. 500 list.

“Right now, my top challenge is to keep the organization and its structure in sync with the pace of growth,” he says.

And growing it is. Over the past four years, Conway has driven sales growth of 496 percent and expects this year to close in on $15 million in revenue. Since last November, he’s hired 75 new employees, bringing his staff total to 185.

“We’re doing it by continually looking at the old adage that structure follows strategy,” he says. “We’re trying to continue to modify and organize our people and our company in a way that supports sustained growth.”

Smart Business spoke with Conway about the techniques he’s used to spur such rapid growth.

How have you built converts among general contractors?
The adaptation of technology in the construction industry is inherently slow. It’s a high-risk, low-return business, so inertia is kind of built in.

Changing a process is not something that is readily done, but we have created online and in-person training seminars that expose the technology and the value [it] delivers to prospects.

How do iSqFt’s products benefit them?
There are two primary products. Both create efficiencies and save clients money. One is a subscription service that enables trade contractors to go online, look at documents for commercial construction projects and search, sort and evaluate those projects to determine which ones they want to bid on.

The second enables general contractors who are frustrated with the costs and risks associated with free construction to better manage communication, their database and directory of subcontractors, and better manage their documents.

How have partnerships with industry associations helped your efforts?
Construction is like politics in that it is local. To have the credibility of a well-established trade association in a local market gives us a platform to educate, communicate and develop a market.

We’ve made several, including with the Associated General Contractors of America. Those are very important relationships, and we spend a lot of time and energy cultivating them. If we put our energy and our resources behind strengthening our partners’ position in a local or regional market, then ultimately, we both end up stronger.

How difficult has it been to attract and retain employees during this growth spurt?
Retaining has not been a challenge. Attracting the right folks at the right time, we’ve had some challenges with that. But we’ve worked hard, at least in our local market, to make people aware of our company and what we are doing.

Have you found any drawbacks to the growth?
Bringing new people in and communicating to make sure everyone is on the same page is a challenge. Communication is critically important. We’ve got a whole range of things that are both internal and external.

I’ve actually traveled more in the first six or seven months of this year than I have in the previous two years combined. That’s all about communication. It’s all about getting in front of our partners, customers and prospects and letting them know what we’re all about.

How much of your job becomes, instead of managing the organization, selling the value of it?
The No. 1 salesperson in the organization is typically the CEO. Whether I am selling the culture of the company to new employees or I’m selling an application to a prospective contractor, it’s always selling.

From my perspective, selling is a principal component of what a CEO in a fast-growing company does every day.

Does that allow you time to set the vision for growth?
In almost every selling situation, the vision for the company gets explained. You have an opportunity to share your view of the future with prospective customers, prospective employees, current customers, current employees and partners.

And because it evolves, sometimes you have to get back out in front of them for a second or third time.

What challenges have your recent acquisitions posed?
During the nine to 12 months leading up to the acquisitions, the amount of work that was required to gain the confidence and trust of the companies we were acquiring so that we ultimately got a transactions completed was tough. It takes a lot of energy before a deal gets done to get the deal done.

Some of the acquisitions didn’t include a tremendous amount of employees to integrate, but there were technology integration challenges — customer conversion issues, for example. If I was using this product and then upgrade or modify the product, I have to get retrained.

Do you envision future growth will be organic or through additional acquisitions?
Both. The acquisitions we typically make expand our geographical coverage and/or the scope of our service offerings, so there’s kind of an organic component post-acquisition. The future looks extremely bright.

We’re continuing to expand geographically and expand our product offering. This industry’s adoption of technology is still in the very early stages. There is a tremendous opportunity for us to continue to grow our business by offering innovative services and being at the forefront of leading this industry.

How to reach: iSqFt, (513) 645-8004, www.isqft.com