Immigrant Founder Stories: Niran Shrestha, onTarget
Call Niran Shrestha “Maestro” because you will always find him leading from the front and conducting the company’s multiple pieces into one harmonious rhythm.
With a history as an architect, engineer and manager, Niran’s wealth of experience has enabled him to navigate complex projects and deliverables. His eye for detail helps him manage the flow of work for team members both in the field and at the office.
He’s been fortunate enough to have lived and worked around the world doing what he loves: dreaming, drawing and building.
This Nepalese immigrant arrived to the U.S. with an entrepreneurial vision: make construction management easier. When the need for an improved construction management software could no longer be ignored, he and his long-time friends, Sanjeev Ghimire and Aashis Khanal, grabbed their tools — compasses, rulers, computers — and created onTarget.
When the trio aren’t collaborating on software, you’ll find them jamming out to the classics such as, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and The Rolling Stones. The hard won success of these old school rock n’ rollers inspired the team: be passionate, perfectionists and persevere.
1. Where did you first develop a passion for construction management technology?
Growing up in Nepal, we didn’t have proper infrastructures like roads and bridges. I always wanted to develop my skills in Architecture and Civil Engineering so that I could contribute to economic development through infrastructure.
In 2006, when I was hired as the Technical Director of a growing firm for the construction of World Bank HQ in Nepal. I learned about new technologies (3D coordination, sensors, digital project management) and although, I wasn’t able to fully implement them at that time, I was able to increase the profit by 2% using the technology that was available. That’s when I knew that construction industry was going to change in the years to come and I wanted to make a contribution.
2. What was the exact moment that the idea for onTarget came about?
While working as a project controls engineer in East Side Access Project, I used Oracle software Primavera P6 which is the current industry standard, to track the team’s schedule and cost. It is mandatory for all federal projects and large scale projects to prepare Project Control Reports.
However, these reports require consistent status communication and can take 1 to 2 months to produce on complex software that requires several months of training to gain proficiency. This results in reworks and loss of productivity.
It struck me then that the requirements for these reports could be centralized and real-time communication was possible utilizing mobile devices. Bottlenecks could be removed in an instant and projects could be delivered “on target”. Hence how the idea of onTarget was born.
3. What is your professional background and how has it helped at onTarget?
I started as an architect designing buildings. Architects have an emotional attachment with their buildings and want their buildings to be constructed perfectly. When I moved towards civil engineering and construction, I kept that passion and appreciation for the craftsmanship of building a great structure.
I had the opportunity to work in several countries in Africa with the United Nations for nine years where I managed large scale construction projects in cities like Abidjan, Accra and Entebbe. I had the opportunity to work in these mega projects like United Nations HQ renovation. I saw the importance of a centralized platform to manage these complex projects. While I was doing my Masters at Columbia I learned from some of the best in the industry about the advanced technology which helped me develop onTarget.
4. Who’s been with you on your journey and how are they important to you?
Carl Ericsson, vice president of The Vorea Group, has been a great mentor me. He gave me the first project to pilot onTarget and has been a guidance both professionally and personally. It was only my second year in America and yet he believed in me enough to give me a project. For an immigrant to the States, the opportunity was huge.
5. What inspired you to pursue the entrepreneurial journey?
The desire to create something that will make an impact and make people’s lives better. The construction industry is one industry that hasn’t advanced in its use of technology. When you see all these great bridges, roads, towers and houses built around us, it took centuries of innovation in design, engineering and management. Imagine we could build them faster, safer and cheaper.
6. How has Unshackled provided you with an opportunity to succeed?
Unshackled has helped us to transition from our full-time jobs to focus on building a business. When I was on student visa and work visa, I was constantly thinking about how to sort out my visa and follow my passion of building a startup. That is very stressful. Combine that with the stress of building and running a startup, that’s a double whammy.
With Unshackled, we are now able to fully commit to building an awesome product, then sell and scale it to a higher level.
1. Why does the world need this company?
According to US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Labor Statics, contrary to all manufacturing industries that show steady increase in productivity — the construction industry has been declining steadily for the past two decades. Among many other reasons, adoption of the right technology has been critical. The industry still relies on an archaic management system, papers and 2D drawings.
This $7.2T construction industry has a $2.9T software market. None of the current software provides the right solution to that automates the management process. onTarget automates the project management so that one immediately gets access to the right information when you need it.
2. What is the core insight at the foundation of your product?
onTarget automates construction project management by connecting field to office with real-time updates and access to all information in digital platform so you can always make the right decisions for your business. onTarget calculates cost escalation and delay risks to generate actionable recommendations enabling accurate decisions.
Architects and Engineers can share the latest blueprints or 3D models with construction companies using the cloud-based platform which is integrated with project schedule so that contractors are always working on the most critical tasks.
3. Why do you think onTarget will be successful in the long term?
With the success of current pilots, we will be able to demonstrate the value of onTarget in saving 10% to 20% of cost and time which is an increase in profit of the construction companies. onTarget is built for easy and quick implementation. It takes 20 minutes to setup the project and start running it. This is very fast for SaaS product and enterprise software which usually has several months of sales cycle.
Construction management has the same standard globally and the market is growing in USA, China, Middle East and Africa. We have already started discussion about growing this business in China in the next phase.
4. What’s the challenge of working with a construction management application ?
Since there are many blue collar workers who might not be very tech savvy, one of the major tasks was to make it so intuitive that it doesn’t require any training. Although the underlying algorithm and analytics are very complex, users find it very easy to use.
5. How does a city (NYC) filled with ongoing construction let onTarget thrive?
NYC is booming with megaprojects like 2nd Avenue Subway (my current job), World Trade Center, East Side Access, Hudson Yards (infrastructure development) and real estate construction. When I started developing the concept of onTarget, I held meetings that helped me build the initial version with construction tech experts from NY firms such as
onTarget organizes regular events in the city to create a forum to discuss new technologies in the industry. Many of the clients I consulted when I left my full-time job in June 2014 are now using onTarget to manage their projects. Even without any marketing, onTarget gets average 20 “request for demo”s per week which clearly indicates the high demand for construction management software.
6. Tell us about your favorite success story with a client.
With Malbro Construction, we started out with one project for Hurricane Sandy renovation. Using onTarget, they brought all their subcontractors and daily workers into the same platform. Even the homeowner was able to communicate with the construction team through onTarget.
The 8-month project was completed in six months due to fast turn around time of documents for approval and reviews. Malbro Construction is now using onTarget in three projects and plans to continue use in the future.
7. Describe your company culture. Is it highly collaborative, product-focused, competitive, casual, etc.?
Our team has been friends for long time but when it comes to business, it’s an eye for an eye of innovation! There is a very healthy competitiveness between us pushing us to be better. We often stay awake until 4 a.m. fixing a bug and calling each other for feedback.
We are highly product-focused at this stage. We are very critical of each other and promote innovative and competitive thinking. But with the support from our mentors, clients and (most importantly) each other, we never considered this work. It’s a passion to make life better into a reality.
Stay tuned throughout our Founder Stories series to learn more about the portfolio companies making a difference in their industry with Unshackled.