About two years ago, Tiffany Brown was struggling to keep track of operations on the construction site of a 2-million-square-foot building in Alexandria.
Brown had left her job as a corporate defense lawyer to serve as president of Tag Mississippi Enterprises, the construction contracting business her father and husband had founded together. On this project, Brown was responsible for 3,000 doors, along with their frames and hardware.
One day, the superintendent asked for a list of all the doors and frames that had been installed in the building.
“I didn’t have a list, and I was very embarrassed that I didn’t have a list,” Brown said. She spent two days walking around the site to count the doors, keeping track of them with pen and paper.
Brown’s experiences on Tag construction sites gave rise to another venture, her Reston-based start-up BuilDatAnalytics. The company has developed a cloud-based software service that allows project superintendents, construction crews and others to share plans and document building progress.
Brown recently won a start-up pitch competition hosted by the Ballston Business Improvement District and sponsored by sports team owner Ted Leonsis. The prize was a $15,000 investment. (BuilDatAnalytics was one of two Virginia-based start-ups to win; the other, CarSquare, takes listings from car-sale sites and makes them searchable on one site.)
When she became Tag’s president, Brown didn’t have much experience in construction, she said. But she was struck by seemingly obvious mistakes the crews made. Often, the crews were working from older versions of blueprints, which hadn’t been updated. “I’m looking for a door in one place,” she said, “and the framers put the frame six feet in another place.”
In some cases, crews didn’t have visual documentation of what the site looked like before they arrived and what they had done since, so they were underpaid for their work, Brown said.
“When I arrived on site, I asked the foreman, ‘Hey, where’s the software you guys use to keep up with all the moving pieces?’ And he said, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ ”
So Brown decided to leave Tag to create construction-management software. She has been working on BuilDatAnalytics full time since 2012.
The cloud-based service — called CTBIM, for Construction Trade Building Information Management — is accessible from tablets and smartphones. The software alerts users if there are discrepancies in plans, creates three-dimensional visualizations of plans, and lets users store photographs illustrating construction progress. Users can keep track of inventory by scanning bar codes with their smartphones to store them in the system.
BuilDatAnalytics is currently being financed by Brown, who works with a chief financial officer, Scott Cotter, and has hired independent developers to create the software. A handful of construction crews in Virginia are testing the software.
Brown said she hopes to put the $15,000 from the start-up competition toward hiring more employees.