We have two big ambitions at Vanti – to create incredible, user-focused digital experiences within the built environment, and to become a beacon tech employer. Reaching those ambitions is not straightforward.
This is the third in a series of posts about the culture work we’re doing. I started with laying out the framework we’re using, and then detailing some of our major strengths. You might want to check those out so you have context for this post. If you’re coming from having read those, thanks for sticking around!
We face lots of challenges. In this post, I’m starting with some of the biggest of these – the ones that seem to be root causes of some of the questions we’re grappling with.
Vanti are growing – and fast. We started with just Raj and a drill, then it was Raj and a few others with a drill. We now have more than 32 permanent employees and lots of freelancers working on major, unique construction projects (and we’re looking to double our headcount soon). Things move at a pace at Vanti. Lots of opportunities, but lots and lots of potentially challenging consequences.
Raj in the rowboat
Ok. A nautical metaphor. When they tell the Vanti origin story, the early days of Raj and the guys sound idyllic, like they were on a rowing boat on a sunny lake. Very agile, everything very do-able, small, peaceful.
Then with the first five employees, Vanti became a bigger boat, maybe on a river.
Where we are now is a big wooden ship on the sea. There’s weather. There’s no harbour. We have to build and repair the ship as we go, whilst sailing it on sometimes rough seas, which are out of our control. And the ship keeps getting bigger.
I think if you go right in the middle of that ship, you’ll still find the rowboat. The company really has grown organically, and slightly chaotically, around that core.
More prosaically, Raj and Mike are the two directors of the company and are still the people who make most of the decisions, around tech, approaches, finances, you name it. But they would be the first to admit that it’s way beyond their capacity to continue to do all of that, and they don’t want to be those guys. They’ve taken lots of action to mitigate that situation, but it’s still a bottleneck.
Construction projects have lots of specific issues
Construction projects are slow, sometimes taking five or more years from start to finish. The environment can be very toxic, psychologically, with a kind of laddish attitude that doesn’t allow for nuance. It’s certainly very different to the caring, inclusive culture everyone is used to in the office.
The projects are also incredibly complex, with a mess of dependencies, and an ad-hoc way of organising, with layers and layers of project management and outsourcing. This means that Vanti, as just one of a bunch of suppliers, are often at the whim of other people’s promises.
As projects get nearer their supposed completion date, they move to sometimes 24-hour working. Because of this, and for health and safety reasons, there’s not much room for autonomy or doing things in the Vanti way.
The construction market is not ready for smart building tech
A fundamentally bigger problem from a tech-in-buildings market perspective is that so many potential clients want to be first followers, but they don’t want to be the actual first to do something. In addition, there are complexities in terms of who builds buildings, who funds those buildings, who ultimately ends up using those buildings, and the defensiveness of a very hide-bound industry.
When some of the benefits of smart buildings are only experienced by the people who occupy those buildings, there’s little incentive for the developers to take those features into consideration, particularly when, to do it well, we need to be in early early early (what in construction parlance is called phase three – before a spade has hit the ground, basically).
These challenges lead to a bunch of questions we’re dealing with – I’ll be looking at the ones that focus on people in the next post.