-By Brad Svrluga, GP at Primary Venture Partners
One thing we always try to impress upon our portfolio companies is that you never know which partnership will develop into the one that ultimately matters most. There’s no one who knows this lesson better than Andrew Dreskin, co-founder and CEO of Ticketfly, whose storied fundraising journey taught him about the power of relationship-building, and the ability of just one or two individuals to make a big difference in a company’s trajectory. “I am a big believer,” Andrew told us recently, “that entrepreneurs should always be cultivating relationships with prospective financers, acquirers, bankers and even competitors, as you never know where the best outcome will come from.”
Ticketfly’s surprise ending - and one of the most satisfying deals of my career - came in the form of a $450 million acquisition by Pandora in October 2015. Until those discussions began, Pandora would never have made our shortlist of potential Ticketfly acquirers, and the experience reminded us as investors that the best buyers are often those disrupting bigger adjacent markets at a real scale. Today, we are pleased to be toasting a similarly non-obvious acquisition for our portfolio company Fieldlens, which has just been acquired by WeWork. Fieldlens built a mobile field coordination platform for the construction industry that has been used to coordinate projects big and small, including new Disney theme parks, research hospitals, NYC’s Hurricane Sandy rebuilding efforts, and thousands of single-family homes. As of today, Fieldlens is a division of WeWork, now the most valuable startup in New York City, and arguably the most ambitious disruptor the real estate world has ever seen.
Fieldlens was started by Matt Sena and CEO Doug Chambers, a former construction manager who worked on major projects like the New York Times building and the new World Trade Center, and who was intimately familiar with the communication gaps and productivity costs associated with existing, antiquated modes of communication among field workers. From the outset, Fieldlens had that unique founder-market fit, and Doug & Co. set out to build products that addressed the pain points he had experienced so acutely himself.
Recognizing the growing power of smartphones and mobile computing to change the way deskless workers communicate, we knew immediately that the Fieldlens team was onto something. With construction spending now topping $1 trillion in the US alone, and over 7 million construction workers in the field, Fieldlens has a huge market opportunity before it, and we bought wholeheartedly into their powerful vision.
Throughout its at-times complicated journey, the company remained laser focused on its primary mission. Having proved relatively early on that its customers became addicted to the Fieldlens platform, we long thought the company would be a ripe acquisition candidate by one of the older, more established construction management companies who needed help moving into the mobile-first era. Procore, Viewpoint, and Autodesk were high on our list of obvious buyers. And just when you think you’re getting it all figured out - glowing customers, a customer acquisition plan that seems to be paying dividends, a clear product roadmap, budding relationships with partners who might logically become acquirers - something comes out of left field and makes you do a double take.
For Fieldlens, that unexpected flying object was WeWork, which had become one of Fieldlens’ strongest clients and had seen firsthand what connected construction and project management teams could accomplish. WeWork, of course, has built its name as a co-working space for companies of every shape and size, but it’s a technology company at heart, having built a collection of sophisticated platforms and systems to help it manage the millions of square feet of space it controls in over 40 cities around the world. As WeWork’s expansion has accelerated, and as it has begun moving into building out and managing space for a broader array of larger clients, they realized they had both a growing pain point around managing the complexity of all that work, but also an opportunity to realize a new framework for the way physical space is built and managed. With a longstanding interest in the intersection of technology and construction, the WeWork team approached us and painted a vision that was incredibly compelling, and convinced us that a synergistic acquisition of Fieldlens would be a true win-win.
This, of course, was our “aha” moment. Unlike the more traditional acquirers we had initially envisioned for Fieldlens, which would have had very functional, incrementalist views of progress, WeWork presented a much bigger, more creative, and hugely disruptive vision of revolutionizing the global real estate industry. We had faced a similar crossroad with Ticketfly; while an acquisition by a more traditional buyer like Ticketmaster seemed the obvious choice, that would have been a very traditional, roll-up style sale, versus the Pandora acquisition, which represented a broader, holistic mission to change the music industry. So when WeWork presented us with a similarly broad vision - and one that presented an utterly unique platform from which Doug and his team could continue executing against their objectives - it was an offer we couldn’t refuse.
The Fieldlens purchase is not simply an acquihire, driven by a desire to bring on people and embed them into the company’s proprietary systems. Rather, Fieldlens will become a key piece of WeWork’s approach to its own property management, while also continuing to support and grow the ecosystem of construction and design professionals who have come to rely on this powerful platform.
Borrowing again from the Ticketfly playbook, when executing these sorts of complicated combinations of cultures, products, and people, there is no substitute for a partner who shares - or, better yet, expands - your vision, objectives, and values. Andrew prioritized strategic vision and culture fit above all else, making Pandora a logical, exciting, and disruptive choice. And from the moment Doug first sat down with WeWork CEO Adam Neumann to discuss strategic objectives, it was clear that he had found an acquirer who would inspire and drive his team to much greater heights.
We are incredibly proud of the Fieldlens team for all they have accomplished to get to this point, and for the validation this acquisition provides of their vision, mission, and market opportunity. Together with the most disruptive real estate company in the world, we expect to see some amazing things from Doug and his company in the years to come.