Seattle startup Unearth is finishing up its first fundraising round as it continues to build a product that will help construction teams avoid information and communications breakdowns that can cause major projects to go over budget or be delayed.
Unearth has raised about $1.3 million out of a $1.5 million seed offering, Brian Saab, CEO and one of Unearth’s co-founders, told GeekWire. The company expects to complete the funding round next week.
Unearth will use the money to hire more people and develop technology that will use drones, Internet of Things concepts and remote sensors to create a single place where construction workers in the field can communicate with teams in the office and gather accurate information that keeps projects on time and on budget. The product is in the testing phase right now, and Saab expects to release it in the first quarter of next year.
Saab is a former Microsoft manager who co-founded Buuteeq, a Seattle startup that powered websites for hotels around the world. Buuteeq was acquired in 2014 by Priceline, and many of its executives then went to work for Priceline’s hotel booking site Booking.com.
Unearth is the second venture capital-backed startup to emerge out of Buuteeq. The first was Forest Key’s Pixvana.
Saab said Unearth’s goal is similar to Buuteeq’s. The hospitality industry was behind the times in terms of technology, and the team wanted to create easy-to-use software that would make things more convenient for the industry and guests. Now it is doing a similar thing for the construction industry.
But why construction? It goes back to Saab’s upbringing. His family owned a construction company in Texas, and Saab’s first job was in construction, so he knows how tough the industry can be. When he became fascinated with the possibility of drones and the information they could capture to simplify industries, the team looked at industries like agriculture, mining, insurance, and others, but they just kept coming back to construction.
“I’ve always appreciated that construction is this cornerstone of our economy, and when you think about what construction does, we really do build these monuments that stand the test of time, and that’s very compelling,” Saab said.
Construction is also an industry that is perceived to have a lot of problems, Saab said, primarily with projects that take too long and end up way over budget. Projects are complicated, unforeseen circumstances pop up, and it can sometimes take awhile to communicate those issues to higher ups. Decisions and changes have to be made. All these things cost time and money. Communication breakdowns are often at the source of these problems.
“We find a lot of (issues) are due to siloed or delayed information, meaning there might be emerging risks or issues that are occurring out on a job site and by the time key decision makers are advised of those situations, a substantial amount of time has passed, and that has direct implications on the schedule,” Saab said.
Saab didn’t want to share all the secret sauce behind the product, but he said it will take in both breadth and depth of information. That means capturing the greater context of the entire project and surrounding area, as well as the extremely granular details gathered by experts in the field. Unearth then makes it easier to document and share this information, so everyone knows what’s happening.
“What we really aim to do is provide a rich information dashboard coupled with a lot of seamless communication between all the stakeholders — general contractors, landowners, even subcontractors — to help eliminate some of these challenges around schedule and budget,” he said.
Right now, the startup has five employees, including the co-founders, and it is looking for a couple more engineers. Much of Unearth’s current team worked together with Saab at Buuteeq, including co-founders Amy Hutchins, Nate Miller and Principal Engineer Pat Lasswell.
The company is operating out of an office in the Mariner Square building in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, across the street from Gas Works Park. Saab notes that it is great spot for he and his fellow co-founders, all licensed commercial drone operators, to fly their rigs.
Key, founder of Pixvana, told GeekWire that Saab’s creativity and attention to detail will come in handy in the construction industry. He said using drones and IoT concepts will be a big boon to the industry.
“He meticulously met with all kinds of customers, and came to realize that big construction projects would be an ideal market, as bridges, tunnels, freeways etc. — large complex projects — would have great benefit from the surveying data.”