Interview with IndustryHub founder Savannah de Savary:

What was the inspiration (lightbulb moment) behind IndustryHub?

There was definitely a “lightbulb moment”. I was working for a big real estate development firm in New York, sitting in a meeting about a large development site they had in Brooklyn. The CEO wanted to transform the site into an office complex that would attract the hot tech companies and grew frustrated when his development team couldn’t easily identify the architectural firms and interior designers who had a rapport with such tech companies. We needed a team who knew their design preferences and had the necessary reputation within the tech community to attract them to our site.

However, finding out who those firms were remained as time consuming as it was 30 years ago. We had to leave the meeting with his questions unanswered and call round our word-of-mouth networks until eventually we found someone who could identify a suitable candidate. It was time consuming and frustrating to say the least and was mirrored on a frequent basis when we wanted to know who was behind a specific project we admired or was regarded as up-and-coming for a specific service. I began to think how useful it would be to have a search tool that enabled us to know the answers right off the bat.

Is this full time or are you and the team still working elsewhere?

Full time and still struggling to find enough hours in the day for the pace at which we are growing – IndustryHub is a 7-day a week job!

Describe the process / challenges of putting it together.

We spent an enormous amount of time on the UI/UX design. I think in a way it helped that I approached the user interface without a tech background. The priority was simplicity of use: ensuring that the product was intuitive for people with real estate backgrounds. A key part of the process was getting feedback from our future user base as often as we could. We’re not looking to be a “disrupter” – changing both the means and methods by which developers source consultants, just the “means” by taking word-of-mouth insight online – so it was important to hear from our user-base how best we could do this for them.

A key challenge of putting it together has been making sure we create a two-sided marketplace that adds value to both sides. We simultaneously need to provide unparalleled marketing exposure for consultants, search tools for developers and collaboration tools for both. Our discovery tool enables developers to find consultants by their experience with a particular project type, client, specialism or even by their involvement with a specific project the developer admires. However, it is the data from the consultants’ profile pages that powers the developers’ discovery engine. We therefore have to ensure that the majority of top consultants are on board and showcasing their projects before we invite our waitlist of developers to begin using the platform. Deciding when we’ve reached this tipping point of enough consultants is our primary challenge.

This is both a platform for developers and consultants – which target market has responded best to the concept?

We’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that consultants across the board have responded with enthusiasm. Even the largest firms like CBRE want to have their projects visually mapped out and showcased to a wider audience of potential clients. We are in an earlier stage with the developer side because, as mentioned earlier, we have not yet invited our waitlist of developers to use the search functionality except to provide feedback. That said, we’ve noticed a lot of developers are already signing up organically and using the beta platform.

From reaching out to them, we’ve found there isn’t uniformity in what has attracted them to the platform. Some are using the platform to discover innovative new consultants such as up-and-coming interior designers and to be kept abreast of the new projects being unveiled by leading consultants. Others say they have had the same go-to consultants for decades. What they’re frustrated by is how much time they waste researching precedent and inspiration for their projects.

For these developers, the exciting part isn’t the consultant discovery tool as much as the project search tool which enables them to discover relevant inspiration for their projects. We have a wide variety of search filters that enables them to browse the most applicable images with more added every time a consultant uploads a new project. Such developers have been the driving force behind us creating the Pinterest style notebook feature which will enable them to save project ideas, browse those curated by their colleagues and create project-specific notebooks where they can collaborate with their consulting team during schematic design. We’ve found it is well worth taking the time to find out which aspects of your offering users are responding best to. For example, by doing so, we’ve discovered a lot of fund managers and developers see IndustryHub as an opportunity to showcase their own projects. Sourcing consultants, attracting investors and joint venture partners remains largely reliant on word-of-mouth referrals. Different developers therefore have different needs that can be met by IndustryHub without us expanding our focus.

Is there anything like it in the market already?

Surprisingly, there is relatively little competition currently, although if there was none it would be a worry itself! There are great sites connecting designers with furnishing and products and directories focused on specific verticals, such as listing architects or engineers. However, if you want to discover the professionals behind a specific project you admire, you still have to rely on your personal network or a laborious google search.

Having already built out this search functionality and integrated with google maps, we are pretty far ahead of any competitors that may emerge. By having professionals themselves power the content in exchange for free marketing exposure, our data is multiplying on a scale that is difficult to maintain on a platform that is manually researching or scrapping data.

What is your business development / sales approach? (are you marketing, word of mouth etc)

We extend invitations to a wide variety of consultants, from the leading structural engineers and sustainability consultants to lighting designers and landscape architects. We have a great business development team who’ve recently been reaching out to top architectural firms and interior designers in the UK and inviting them to join the platform. As we offer free marketing exposure on a scale unprecedented in the industry, the response has been unanimously positive.

In light of the firms we are working with having each completed hundreds of projects in the past few years, when they create an account, our data entry team can temporarily join to add their past projects for them. This makes creating an account a painless task for consultants, although firms with large marketing teams often enjoy creating the profiles themselves. Word-of-mouth also plays a large part. Many consultants that join don’t just add the images of a project but also who collaborated on the project with them. If these companies are already on IndustryHub, the project links through to their profile page. If not, they can automatically be invited to join. For the company being invited, the proposition isn’t just to have a profile – it is to have one that is visible to any potential client browsing the page of the consultant they’ve collaborated with. This makes for a pretty effective business development strategy.

What are you the stats?

So far we have just over 12,000 projects listed, 49,000 project images and 4,500 profile pages. Some of these were created during our beta by IndustryHub and an invitation then sent to the company in question to take ownership. However, increasingly we’ve seen companies join organically from around the globe. During the past month alone, nearly a third of the AJ 100 architects have joined.

What are your long term plans (5-10 years)?

Our initial launch city is London; however, our road map goes global. Especially in fast-growing emerging markets, developers find it extremely difficult to identify the players with local connections, experience and credibility. IndustryHub will change this.

Is the site complete or are you still rolling out new features?

We are still rolling out new features. It is similar to LinkedIn in the sense that everything you see is and will remain free with premium features available for an annual subscription cost. We will be rolling these premium features out in Q1 2017 and are pretty excited about unveiling them.

Is this also for individuals – ie. linkedin for real estate?

At the moment our focus is on B2B with the personal profiles simply having an “About Me” section and profile picture. For company profiles, there is significant peer-to-peer connectivity: you can follow company profile pages and send inter-company instant messages, reminiscent in format of Bloomberg Chat.

In time, I think we will look to develop personal profiles to enable blogging, Ted Talk style videos and the ability to follow and message individuals on the platform. The objective will be to provide a platform where members can establish themselves as thought leaders in a specific field. We are in the early stage of developing these personal profiles, so any feedback as to what you’d like to see them include is most welcome!

Posted by Jack FitzGerald

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