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K.I.S.S.: FieldLens and Enterprise App Simplification

September 19, 2012

Brad Svrluga

When I wrote a couple of weeks ago about our investment in Routehappy I also introduced some new thinking here at High Peaks about our investment focus, describing our interest in Consumer Empowerment. I also alluded to a second theme we’re excited about, and said an announcement highlighting that theme was coming soon.

Today we are excited to announce that theme and our investment in FieldLens. Started by childhood friends Doug Chambers and Matt Sena, FieldLens is, in short, going to completely change the way that construction projects get managed – from skyscrapers all the way down to condo renovations. And in doing so, it will be a shining example of a whole new generation of b2b companies that we are actively pursuing.

As we think about the rapidly changing b2b application landscape, our thinking has centered around a theme of Simplification. For us, Simplification is about an entirely new world of business applications that are lightweight, inherently social, simple to deploy, simple to use and, very importantly, simple to sell.

All of this is driven by two fundamental and much discussed changes in the technology landscape. First is the iPhone-led mobile revolution.

In a world of 50% smartphone penetration and an app economy that won’t quit, we’ve hit the point where one can reasonably assume that the vast majority of employees in any enterprise carry and are very familiar with the functionality of a smartphone. Further, the realities of app development for 5” smartphone screens has enforced a new sensibility that is changing application design on all platforms. Less is more, and simplicity reigns.

Second is the Facebook & Twitter-led social revolution. There are a billion people on social networks across the world. And while we can debate the relative merits of one network vs. another, there’s no questioning that we have hit the point where Facebook, Twitter, etc. have trained the substantial majority of Americans on the basics of these new social communications modalities. This familiarity is growing and moving up the age ladder rapidly – in the past year the % of 45-54 yr old Americans with a social media presence has jumped from 45% to 54%. From 55-64 yrs old we’re now past 1/3 penetration.

Take these two megatrends together, add in for good measure the fact that cloud technologies and standardized, off-the-shelf components have cut the cost of starting a web-based business by as much as 90% from 10 years ago, and it’s game on for innovation.

In this mobile & social world, we believe the very nature of business communications and collaborations is only in the earliest stages of a massive transformation. We’ve all got smartphones, we are all engaged in social nets. The implications of these realities are arguably as powerful as the dawn of the browser and web 1.0.

One very attractive element of Simplification businesses is that they are so easy to use and thus, easy to adopt. As we’ve seen with Simplification leaders like Dropbox and Google Apps, these applications have a remarkable way of starting out being adopted by individuals or small groups within an enterprise. Frequently their use is free, or at least dirt cheap, in these smaller use cases. But then as their usage proliferates within an organization, it makes sense to bring in some control and standardization, and enterprise sales opportunities open up.

Done effectively, these distribution models flip the traditional enterprise sales model on its head. Talk about something that’s been needing a flip…

The first generation of enterprise consumerization companies were largely focused on horizontal applications – that is, applications for things like file storage and workgroup collaboration that are applicable to almost any business.

We think there is much more ground to cover on Simplification of these horizontal applications, but we are also increasingly excited by opportunities for Simplification of vertical applications. We’ve made plays here already with our very promising investments in Ticketfly and PublicStuff.

Now FieldLens is as good an example as we’ve seen yet of these game-changers – lightweight, elegantly designed, mobile-first, and tapping into elements of the “friend and follow” communication modality of the leading social platforms.

The FieldLens opportunity stems from the fact that in the construction industry, the desktop web revolution never really happened. Why? Simple: No desktops!

Think about it…management of tasks and workflow on a job site is something that can’t be done with even the sexiest & most elegant of browser-based web applications. The guys who run these jobs aren’t sitting at desks, they’re walking around in hardhats.

So when FieldLens CEO Doug Chambers was running huge pieces of projects like the New York Times building and 4 World Trade Center, how did he manage tasks and to do’s on the site? You guessed it – a clipboard and paper notes. Not surprisingly, during one of Doug’s sprinkler system inspections a few years ago one of those pieces of paper got lost, a defect didn’t get reported, and when the system went live for final test a massive flood ensued, wiping out the electrical system for 5 floors of a skyscraper. A very, very costly mistake.

And thus, in a classic “there’s gotta be a better way” moment, FieldLens was born.

You can read the press and see the FieldLens site for more on the specifics of the product, but suffice it to say that its time has come, and by leveraging the best elements of simple mobile applications and efficient, collaborative social communications, this is about as much better as mousetraps get.

Like all great Simplification businesses, FieldLens will be easy to trial, cheap to adopt, and viral by nature.

The platform is valuable for management of a whole building, but also valuable to any individual sub-contractor working on just one corner of the job. So FieldLens use will proliferate organically, frequently bubbling up from the bottom, and spreading virally from job to job and firm to firm, as the networks of organizations involved in any one job interact and connect through the platform. These network effects are an important characteristic of the best examples of Simplification.

We couldn’t be happier to be partnered with Doug, Matt, and the team at FieldLens, and we expect remarkable things from them.

More broadly, we couldn’t be more excited than to be sitting where we are on the front end of the broader theme that FieldLens represents. Simplification is going to continue to dramatically change the landscape in enterprise IT, and we’re very eager to add even more investments in companies tapping into this wave of change.

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2 Comments

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  1. September 19, 2012

    Imagining the ripple effect this app can create — in terms of the sheer amount of waste eliminated and the higher level of human safety — is exciting indeed. And although it paid the price in the past, the construction industry ultimately benefits, I bet, in being able to leapfrog from clipboard to mobile app without having to deal with a morass of legacy systems (unlike the healthcare industry, say).

    p.s. Love the site design too!

    • September 20, 2012

      Exactly. I’ve made the analogy several times to cellular networks in the developing world…when I lived in South Africa for a year in the 90s I was struck by the fact that their cell networks were far better than in the US. But they never got great landline infrastructure, and so the cell networks just leapfrogged that at lower cost to implement. Similar here in the construction industry, and also what we’ve seen in municipal government via our investment in PublicStuff.

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