Five years ago, I left McKinsey as a first-year associate partner to launch bld.ai. Last year, we expanded to 500 members, generated $14 million in revenue and $3 million in profit. We have a strong balance sheet with no debt. We operate as both a partner network and a platform, with 95% of our members working as contractors. We aim to have all members, myself included, work as contractors or as employees of our partners.
We have three main units:
- A SaaS platform for our partners and clients that automates professional services’ backoffice.
- A marketplace of partners for our clients to launch teams with built-in quality assurance audits.
- An AI/web3 strategy front office that invests time in proposing innovative ideas to clients.
Our clients feature prominent brands, big energy, giant mining, and tech companies, including startups funded by top venture capitalists. Our growth is solely attributed to word-of-mouth, as we have not allocated funds to marketing yet and prioritize delivering high-quality services to our clients.
Our SaaS platform enables full automation of professional services from quote to cash, which allows bld.ai to function with a monthly overhead (legal, finance, accounting, operations, human resources, etc.) of less than 2% of revenue. We are growing to become a large professional service firm with millions of workers, but our back office processes are implemented in software. Professional service firms typically spend between 15-30% of their revenue on overhead costs. We believe we can expand 1,000-fold with a correspondingly small overhead and can continue to fund our platform’s product development.
On paper, it’s a beautiful story of growth with our marketplace of partners who are able to focus on thought leadership (e.g., AI strategy) and delivery (e.g., designing and implementing a generative AI/web3 app) while maintaining their own unique company culture.
We brought the horse to the water, but will it drink?
Looking ahead, however, we see three looming problems:
- In absence of marketing dollars, most of the sales come from less than a handful of people (sourcing, proposing, and closing). How will this growth continue?
- Our (internal) platform is good, but we have a captive audience. How do we expand our user base and ensure we make something people want?
- We have reached a scale where we don’t know each other personally. How can we continue to measure and uphold high standards of quality at scale?
These are not the types of problems that we can find lasting solutions overnight. We’re not afraid to do things that don’t scale. Quoting from Paul Graham about The Airbnbs:
They went there in person to visit their hosts and help them make their listings more attractive. A big part of that was better pictures. So Joe and Brian rented a professional camera and took pictures of the hosts’ places themselves. This didn’t just make the listings better. It also taught them about their hosts.
We’re therefore planning three medium term solutions, and three short term solutions against each of those.
1. Continue growth
In the medium term, we will seek external private debt/equity funding, which would help us finance building our brand recognition as well as provide some liquidity for stock based compensation schemes. We would deploy this cash on LinkedIn Ads to target VP/director level decision makers at the Global 2000 as well as the largest private enterprises and governments around the world. We estimate that there are around 100 such individuals per organization, so our target audience is around 300,000, and perhaps 100 of them will see this post!
In the short term, we will set up an overhead team responsible for producing high quality proposals quickly to supplement our partner companies internal sales initiatives. The team will support our partners, especially those that have the mindset and skills necessary to source and close new work. Like any other proposal team, this team will focus on understanding the strategy of the client in question, formulating hypotheses, making mockups/prototypes, estimates, and budget.
This is a temporary solution akin to Joe and Brian taking pictures of hosts’ places in New York.
2. Make something people want
We operate very efficiently thanks to our internal platform Flow. However we must continuously assess our tooling and find new opportunities to improve the user experience for our partners and clients. In hindsight, a number of design decisions were made to simplify and ship our product quickly. In the medium term, as we scale, we will rebuild components every few years to avoid the innovator’s dilemma.
In the short term, we will open up our SaaS platform to more partners and clients by doing things such as:
- Open sourcing as much as possible
- Exposing our API to allow partners to develop their own extensions
- Publishing frequent blog posts and videos about new features we ship
- Supporting partners to bring their own single sign on beyond bld.ai
- Empowering partners to decide the licenses they want to pay for (e.g., Microsoft O365 vs Google Workspace, Figma, Gitlab, Jira, Linear.app, etc.)
We will carefully listen to our (existing and prospective) partners and clients, and aim to make super fans out of the ones that help us achieve our mission.
3. Quality assurance audit
In the medium term, we will have quality assurance audits built directly into our platform and will leverage AI to identify patterns in the quality of our services at scale. The dimensions we currently cover include:
- The purpose of the product
- Data governance
- User experience and design
- Coding standards, documentation, and testing
- Team agility and product management
- Team wellbeing
- Worklog integrity
- Data science standards
- Web3 standards
- Regulatory and compliance - GDPR, ISO 27001, SOC 2, and HIPAA
- Web content accessibility
- Environmental impact
We’ve initiated our quality assurance audits and constructed a prototype platform that is designed to function at scale, providing a robust solution even as our operations broaden. This enables us to execute tasks efficiently with a lean team of auditors, capitalizing on state-of-the-art technology. Moving forward, our immediate commitment lies in ensuring that every new client project we embark on has our quality assurance audits activated. To further strengthen our commitment to excellence, we plan to designate ‘quality champions’ within our organization who will advocate and enforce our dedication to high standards. Through these actions, we aim to steer ourselves in the right direction and stimulate broader adoption of our quality assurance practices.
Growing fast brings its own set of challenges. We’re making strategic plans to continue our growth, improve our platform, and maintain the quality of our services. We’ll continue to iterate, improve, and welcome feedback from our partners and clients.
Thank you Janis Kukainis, Leah Grace Capitan, Jorge Finke, Andres Desantes De Mergelina, Apoorva Kiran, and Wan Zahara Alim for your input.
Disclaimer: this was not written by artificial intelligence (e.g., an LLM). I did use it, however, to check my syntax and small errors to improve readability. I prefer to avoid it as much as possible to stay more authentic and credible.