Buildings are a lot more than just bricks and mortar: Facilio Co-founder Prabhu Ramachandran
Before he ventured out to start Facilio, Co-founder and CEO Prabhu Ramachandran worked at Zoho for almost 15 years, and headed its subsidiary WebNMS, a multi-million-dollar IoT company. The Chennai-based company, which uses IoT to make building management intelligent, recently raised $6.4 million from Accel Partners and Tiger Global.
Facilio was set up so that companies do not have to handle multiple apps and systems to know about the functioning of their facility. By making operations predictable, it has been able to save on both energy and cost.
YourStory caught up with Ramachandran at Facilio’s ‘Future Proof’ event, which connects builders with the future of tech, and spoke to him on the opportunities in building management.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
YourStory: What was your leadership style before starting up, and how has it impacted your startup journey?
Prabhu Ramachandran: After building and scaling business on Cloud and IoT solutions for over 17 years, my stint at Zoho was no different from working in a fast-paced startup. It spurred on me the passion to solve global problems early on and build a team that is in sync with the overall vision of the company.
Besides, I strongly believe in motivating teams to take ownership of their work and empower people to make decisions. This helped me in a large way to switch from Day 1 at Facilio to a startup mode, where every single person must hustle every day.
YS: What were the lessons learnt in starting up, and your journey till now?
PR: The biggest takeaway for us at Facilio is that learning is a continuous process, and you need to be constantly on top of your ecosystem - be it your customers’ expectations, understanding the market or emerging technologies. Every quarter, we would revisit on our strategies and reshuffle priorities to step up goals that can meet the changing trends.
For me, the primary challenge has been to ensure that we as a team are focussed on our core vision with all product and marketing efforts aligned to it, even as we experiment to grow. We also constantly push ourselves to aim higher and dream bigger.
YS: Did you know this product could raise money right from the beginning?
PR: From early on, we exemplified the approach of focussing on a large market, identifying the current gap, and building a distinctive product that would not just solve the problem, but disrupt the market as a whole.
We saw the Smart Buildings and Facilities Management space was undergoing a rapid transformation with the global real estate and building management software market poised to grow to multi-billion dollars.
And with building owners focussing on providing elevated occupant experience, we knew that facility teams would soon be expected to become stakeholders and collaborators for business growth and enable the highest efficiency in operations.
As a product that integrates the three essential parts of a building - people, sustainability, and machines, and centralises data and operations, we were confident about Facilio’s potential to transform how facilities were managed, enable maximum efficiency in real-time, and raise money as well.
YS: Could you throw light on the angel and series A rounds? What factors helped in convincing the investors?
PR: ‘If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution.’ - Einstein.
Though the IoT buzzword has being doing rounds for a couple of years, the data in buildings were still stuck in silos, and all building stakeholders - from owners and facility managers to technicians - still relied heavily on manual or piecemeal operations.
At Facilio, we were constantly driven by the problem - the inefficiencies at the core of every building operation - and the parallel void in the global market to address it in real-time. With a strong clarity about the core problem and an understanding of the market, we could convincingly pitch the product even when it was a mere vision.
Our idea to leverage IoT and AI to create incredible facilities in real-time struck the right chord with both Lee Fixel from Tiger Global and Shekhar Kirani from Accel Partners and convinced them to bet on Facilio.
YS: Why building a great team is important for a startup's success?
PR: In the early stages of a startup, it is extremely crucial and also tough to build the product right from scratch and finding the first set of customers to validate product-market fit. Therefore, before we could test the waters, we built a team that was coherent with Facilio’s vision and could keep up with the pace of giving everything to deliver quality results. With a strong core team at the helm of product, design, and marketing efforts, we quickly scaled up to successful early adoption of product across India, the Middle East and the US.
Besides, the best thing about having smart people early on in your team is that you hardly have to do anything, except share your ideas. Execution is right on cue. And with the best and smartest minds at work in Facilio, my job was half done.
YS: Why is the problem that you are solving so relevant today, and how does your product solve the problem?
PR: Traditionally, facilities management in buildings has entailed high capital and operating expenditure. Additionally, the legacy siloed systems and long implementation cycles of traditional FM software vendors have been bogging down commercial real-estate owners with inflexibility. This rigid infrastructure has prevented CRE’s from taking the leap into the next frontier of facilities management – modern and experience-driven services.
Today, buildings are a lot more than just bricks and mortar. From wellness and productivity to efficiency and sustainability, buildings have a great impact on our everyday lives and on the environment. This makes it imperative that we continuously rethink and reimagine buildings and facilities management to add value to the user experience as well as impact the sustainability equation.
And that’s why we created Facilio - to break these boundaries and deliver continuous efficiency. Facilio helps the built environment transcend from the age-old fire-fighting and reactive mode to one that belongs to the future - predictive and focussed on experiences.
We harness the potential of IoT and AI to extract powerful insights from the performance data available on existing automation systems. With portfolio-wide visibility and insight-led decision-making, our aim is to put CREs in the driver’s seat to be able to centrally control operations and sustainability across the building portfolio.
As a company, we are and will continue to be persistent about leveraging the power of innovative technology to unify building performance in real-time.
YS: What do you plan to do with Series A funding?
PR. We’re are going to use the capital to work towards two things –
a) making our software suite more powerful and extensive, and b) expanding our operations.
We will remain committed to our vision of helping CREs achieve continuous efficiency in real-time. This means, we’ll be stepping up to expand Facilio’s product offering, improve our machine learning infrastructure to produce more predictive models of building performance, establish AI-driven RPA capabilities to unlock long existing pain points, and much more.
The funding will allow us to pursue our expansion in operations across the US, Middle East, and other territories. We will also be setting up regional sales and support offices to focus on customer success and partner training, while also investing in R&D for product innovation.
YS: Who are your mentors? Why was it important to have people backing your ideas?
PR: I worked with Shailesh Kumar, who was my mentor at Zoho, for 17 years. His management style and approach towards people had a big influence on me. I am extremely grateful for his constant support and guidance at Zoho.
Shekhar from Accel is more of a mentor than an investor. In the past 18 months, his guidance has helped us to execute faster, while sharpening our approach and getting ready to scale.