Founders Interviews: Jerónimo, Nicolás & Mencey of Bildia
“The true spirit of innovation is really within the life of the startup.”
A couple weeks ago, we had the pleasure of hosting our Spanish founders in our Lisbon office, so we sat down with them to ask some questions. Jerónimo van Schendel, Nicolás van Schendel and Mencey Melgar are the co-founders of Bildia, a project-centred collaboration platform for procurement in the construction industry.
Bildia was the first Spanish startup to be onboarded on the Indico Founders Program powered by Google for Startups, which is currently taking applications!
*This interview has been slightly edited and adapted for reading ease.
To start, can you tell us a bit about your professional background and what has led you to Bildia?
J: Well, I’m Jerónimo, I’m the CEO, and I’m an architect by training. I’ve been in practice for more than 10 years, in different places, from small to big companies, from public to private projects, in Spain, China and Latin America and many other countries. And basically, what I saw while leading projects — especially complex projects, with many subcontractors and different types of stakeholders — is that the disconnection between the procurement agencies was very, very big. This is a core problem for our industry, in which more than 50% of the direct costs go into procurement. It’s causing pains every day for many parties. So, we thought, we need to digitise this industry, which is very poorly digitised. At least a few years ago, it was among the three least digitised industries in the world. And now I like to think it’s not anymore, because it’s catching up very quickly, but it is still in the tail end, so we thought it was a relevant and interesting challenge to try to provide value to our industry through the digitisation of procurement.
M: I’m Mencey, CTO, and I’ve been developing since I was 15. I’ve been moving around in many types of companies, as well as working by myself in different projects and different technologies; from 3D, to video games, website development. I don’t come from the from the [architecture] industry like Jerónimo, and Nicolás, but when Jerónimo told me the idea of Bildia, I felt that it was a great idea. I didn’t know the industry, but it seemed like it made sense. Also, part of my family is in the architecture industry, so, I decided to join the boat. And I’m really happy I made that decision.
N: I’m Nicolás, I’m leading operations. I’m also an architect by training, as Jerónimo. And I’m also his brother.
J: And co-founder.
N: Of course, co-founder, yeah. My experience is more linked to project management. I have been in different countries in Europe, mainly in France, working first as an architect, and then as a project leader. During this time, I have seen how colleagues were suffering from the problem that Bildia is now trying to solve. So, when Jerónimo told me about this idea, for the first time, I really saw the opportunity and the problem, and also the challenge. We had a perfect fit with Mencey and the mentality we all have for working. This was a great opportunity to try to solve a problem that I have intimately known in my profession. And so, I joined the team and now we are in the path to, hopefully, success.
How was Bildia born? What’s it’s origin story?
J: The first time we really dedicated time to this was when I was studying at Harvard; there was like an independent study laboratory where you could bring in a topic that was relevant, and together with experts from the field, you could sort of start to analyse it really in depth. So, we produced first model. It didn’t even have a name, but it was under the motto, ‘building connections’, which was, by the way, an idea of Nicolás, that name. You know, it’s been a long path, but still, the principles of what we did then, are now very present, except much more robust, and with a lot more power and projection capacity.If you want to, go ahead.
M: I didn’t know Jero had the idea in Harvard, as he just said. I didn’t know that it started there!
J: Please don’t say the idea was mine, because I really don’t feel the idea was mine at this point. It’s so complex.
N: The identification of the problem came from [Jerónimo], but then we were in different ways linked to the problem. And so, we tried to put together the solution that we now have.
M: In my case, it was thanks to Montse [Zamorano], which is one of our founding advisors. I worked with her in Accenture Interactive, we made a couple of developments together and she knew how I worked. She’s a friend of Jerónimo, an architect as well. So met each other and we started from there. When I joined, you already had a mini wireframe design of the platform. And then we started to build an MVP.
N: Yeah, at the time, I was doing an MBA in Digital Entrepreneurship. Of course, we are close, we’re brothers. So, we have always followed each other’s work very closely. Jerónimo told me, ‘we have this thing, if you could start helping us by trying it, testing, helping us with the technical parts of project management issues, etc.’ I started little by little and then one day, we said, ‘okay, this is this is going to happen, we’re building this together’. And here we are.
M: I like to say that Nico was our first user, because he was the first person to actually use the platform, to find issues, bugs and stuff.
J: In terms of the timeline, we did our first academic research work with ‘building connections’ at Harvard University. We have a super early-stage idea competition in the Polytechnic University of Madrid, which is the longest standing idea competition in entrepreneurship in Spain, and we presented there. There were 417 participants and we were one of the winners, because of the ‘potential business model’ — that was the jury’s statement. That was at the same time we were developing the first MVP, so that gave us a push do it full time. After that, we went into other initiatives that were competitive as well. We’ve been in the Lanzadera which is a wonderful accelerator and incubator in Spain, which then helped us to also get in touch with Indico. It’s only a few months ago that we started having let’s say organic recognitions. For instance, Estate Innovation, a real estate magazine, has listed us as the 3rd most innovative company in construction. That was sort of a surprise; they brought together big corporations and small corporations, like startups. And the entrepreneurship magazine, Referenda, named us number 13 in Spain on the most innovative startups. And now, we are participating in the real estate association prize, to which we have been nominated. So, we’re happy to start seeing that the industry understands the value of what we’re doing, as well as the goal of what we’re trying to do, because it’s not easy. It’s a massive industry and we’re addressing a core problem. It requires a lot of precision and having a quite a robust product.
Can you talk a bit about your experience here at the Indico Founders Program and what it brought you?
J: First of all, we are very thankful to Indico to Google. That’s very important to say, because we truly believe in it. When we started speaking, we saw straight away that Indico is the kind of fund that helps you build a global vision and a global expansion path. And that was very powerful for us, because of course, we’re in a huge industry and we have that ambition. Indico really helped us to believe in it and give it shape. It’s like feeling supported on many, many points; it’s not only one hand that is pushing you in the back, it’s being held by multiple hands. Do you need insights from experts in the procurement industry? Here you are. Do you need people that are in SEO strategy for B2B, by the hand of Google? Here you are. Do you want to speak to another founder that has been in the same situation? Here you are. Indico also invited us to come to the Demo Day, which was a wonderful experience to speak to more than 200 global investors. Of course, it’s an amazing opportunity because of potential investment, but also, it happens to be a great opportunity in learning. Surprisingly, it was a big learning experience on performance in this type of events, done with a lot of professionalism. I also think it’s great to be in a family that is big enough to have variety and feel the ambition and the power, but small enough to feel really cared about.
N: I subscribe to all the words. Jerónimo is the one that is in contact with all the investors, but of course for all of us, it’s really good to feel that help, and all that vibrant ecosystem that is connections with people, interesting people that can add value to what we do. And that helped us to to feel like what we are doing makes sense and is connected to the world, in a way.
Do you have any tips for someone who’s maybe starting a startup, for example, in terms of business growth or marketing?
J: More and more, I try to stay away from the word ‘tip’ and use instead ‘insights’, and ‘journey’ and ‘learning’, because from the outside things seem very easy. The investment and the startup industry, in general, tends to tell you the success stories; but behind every success, there’s a very long path of perseverance, effort, of trying many, many things, imagination, passion, and so on. So, my one ‘tip’, or thought, is to differentiate very well if you’re a B2B or B2C, all the implications that entails. The one consistent thing that, needs to be reinforced [in the ecosystem] is differentiation between B2B and B2C, how to run things, how to do things, how to envision, how to raise money, how to market. It’s different animals.
M: On the development side, I would say that your first idea won’t be the final idea for sure. So, be prepared to learn and change your mind constantly. The goal and the design. When you’re trying to innovate and you’re trying to make something different, you can’t get the final product the first day. And also, need to learn about the client, because the clients are businesses and companies themselves. Each one is different from the other and you have to understand what they need and how they use the technology that you’re trying to make. So yeah, be prepared to change. Always and every day.
N: Yeah, I would add that, sometimes, you want to do everything in the most perfect way. And that’s a good way to do things, but I think it’s even better to find the most efficient way to do good enough. Do just good enough so that you can continue on to the next thing. Time runs really fast, and resources too, so try to find the sweet spot, the good enough spot — it’s better than the most perfect thing. Because changing perfect things is difficult, and the effort that you have put in the first place is bigger. Trying to find that good enough spot is not easy, but I think if you manage to do that, the path is easier.
M: Adapting that to technology, I would say that you need to build something that is flexible and not the final product.
And lastly, I want to know, what’s the best the hardest part of having a startup
J: Well, I believe I’m fair if I say that both Nicolás and me are vocational architects in the sense that we like our profession lot. And doing a technology startup for construction is not necessarily the most predictable path you can have [as an architect]. But I do think that every time has its relevant fights. If you are in the sustainability fight, or in the digitisation fight right now, you’re in the relevant fight. That doesn’t mean that any other fight is not interesting or necessary. But you are in the, let’s say, mood of the times. It’s about impact, it’s where you have the most outstanding impact capacity. I think the greatest thing of being in a startup is that capacity of impact, of being an actor of change. That’s great. I think the hardest thing is you need to be perseverant. It’s like chasing a carrot, you need to run after a carrot for a few miles.
M: There is 1 ‘yes’ for 10 ‘no’s. So, when you have a no, you have to just look it in the eye and say, ‘okay’. And when you have a yes, then it’s the most rewarding thing.
J: Yeah, absolutely. I do think it teaches you a lot of things, you know, reward, and effort and innovation. The true spirit of innovation is really within the life of the startup itself. And I also think camaraderie, if you want. I’m not sure I love that word in the context we are now, etymologically speaking, but anyway, working closely with people that you know. We depend on each other quite heavily. It can feel risky, but at the same time, it’s very nice, you know?
N: Returning to your question of tips, maybe one tip is to partner with people with whom you have the same goals or the same interests in the in the venture you are starting. If the interests are completely different, even if the problem that you’re solving is the same, the result is not going to be good. I think we are really fortunate to be a close team. We know there can be always mistakes, one way or the other, but we know that the mistakes are only mistakes and not bad intentions. And we know that we can really trust each other with everything and that’s really powerful for everyday work and really important if you want to sleep well.
M: I would say one of the good parts is that you have the right to build whatever you want. As a developer, I’ve worked in many companies, and you’re always working for someone else and building something that sometimes you like and sometimes you don’t. A startup gives you the possibility to build something that you really want to build and decide what you want to do with it. And a bad part, that I would say is a good one as well, is that you are the one who makes everything. You’re constantly learning new things and how to manage people, how to make a contract, many things that sometimes are not that fun, or that good. But for me, it’s a great thing as well.
J: One of the struggles I would say is the turnarounds. I went this way and then I realised I had to go back to take the other path. Oftentimes, it’s inevitable, regardless of whether or not you knew or had the information, because it depends on third parties or something like that. Other times, it would have been evitable, because when you know the right thing, you know the right person, you have the right resources, you can just avoid those turnarounds or detours. So, if there’s a tip that I think can work — in the sense of the word ‘tip’ — is ask. We are ecosystem of people — employees, founders, and investors, the friends of friends of everybody — and I think the great startups are the ones that learn to squeeze that ecosystem to say, ‘okay, who might know about this thing.’ You need to realise you don’t know enough or you don’t know as much as you would need to go as fast as you want, so ask. Try to find the person that can help you find the shortcuts, give you the right piece of information, share with you insight that is going to help save you time. And there’s a fine line between asking for anything, for useless stuff, and wasting your time in meetings that are not valuable, and reaching out when you really need someone, with clarity. Ask with precision. Don’t ask to be nice, just ask what you need and that’s it.
Anything you would like to add?
J: Bildia dot com!
*Interview by Matilde Castro
*Illustrations by @pch.vector via Freepik