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5Q PropTech Interview - Guillaume Bazouin Head of Startup at Leonard Vinci

December 1, 2022

1. Can you give us a short overview of your background and what has led you to where you are in your career today?

I got started by studying nuclear and energy engineering in college. This led me to my first job as a researcher in the field of nuclear fusion at Lawrence Berkeley Lab in California. At the time, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my hero, Carl Sagan, and work on space propulsion!

After a few unsuccessful bids at joining a PhD program in Physics, I travelled around the world for a year. During this trip, I often saw the impact of our fossil fuel and plastic addiction on full display. This sparked a passion for renewable energy systems and their potential to decarbonise our economy. I was fortunate enough to be able to follow this passion by joining a master’s program at Stanford University. There, I could explore energy systems, policy, and engineering within the Civil and Engineering Department.

I then dove into climate action with a Stanford group led by Pr. Mark Jacobson. We developed plans to transition the economy to be powered entirely by Wind, Water, and Sun (WWS). This team’s work is directly related to solidifying the Green New Deal in the US.

After these first years of research and policy work, I was excited about the opportunity to join BONE Structure. This startup develops high-end, net zero energy homes that produce no waste in construction. As head of product, I was responsible for setting up supply chains and partnerships and improving the constructability and performance of our product. I also learned a lot about the painful process of permitting in California!

Five years later, I decided it was time to move back to France (at least for a while). There, I was quickly presented with the opportunity to join the fantastic Leonard team with the mission to spearhead collaboration programs between Leonard VINCI and the world of startups.

2. Your role involves building bridges between Leonard VINCI and the world of startups. How can we encourage construction to engage with tech?

A common misconception is that construction has not engaged with technology over the last 100 years. Equipment and techniques have evolved tremendously, allowing us to attempt more daring projects. This innovation has been built through R&D, best practices and a close relationship between suppliers and builders.

What has not yet permeated at scale is the deployment of products and services developed by startups. The reasons are quite simple. One, there is no room for trial and error in an industry where reliability is key. Fail fast and breaking things does not quite apply to a bridge. Two, it is quite hard to sell anything at the project level as there is no time and no budget to try new shiny tools. Three, every project is unique, and the replicability of processes is hard to find.

On the startup side, there are a few tricks that can help. It is unlikely that internal processes will evolve to fit any particular tool. Products and services developed for the construction industry need to take into account and effortlessly fit with existing processes. There are also very few situations in which project managers will be OK spending money on a tool that may or may not work. This means freemium/premium structured tools have an unfair advantage. This is also true for startups embedding elements of product-led growth in their product.

‍3. How essential is Tech/ Data in ensuring that the construction industry reaches its decarbonisation goals?

The industry will need to leverage new technologies to meet its decarbonisation goals. A simple example can be seen in the day-to-day of a construction project manager. Dealing with the increasing complexity of any project is already quite a challenge. If you add a fully transparent tracking of the emissions of our supply chain or an exact tally of waste material by type, and if this is done on pen, paper, and excel. You have a time bomb of burnout and noncompliance ahead of you. These processes will need to be digitised and automated. The good news is that the ground layer is already there between drones, computer vision, robotics, and the ubiquity of smartphones.

4. Guillaume Bazouin you are a long-standing advocate for a fast transition to clean, renewable energy. Have you seen the response toward this transition accelerate in recent years?

The heatwaves, fires, and floodings of this summer have finally woken up both mass media and the general public to the urgency of change if we are to avoid the more catastrophic effects of climate breakdown.

Large corporations and governments are also enacting sweeping changes. For example, France enacted in 2022 a limit on the embodied carbon of every new construction project. If the project is over the limit, there is no permit. The same is underway concerning the existing building stock. Over the next few years, the least energy-efficient housing will not be allowed to be rented.

Finally, there is a tremendous response from the venture capital world with an explosion of climate-focused investors in the Nordics, Germany, and to a lesser extent, the UK. I look forward to seeing my home country, France, join the bandwagon on this crucial subject.

All in all, there has never been a better time to launch a ClimateTech startup. This is true in spite of the overall recession we are entering.

5. What advice would you give to startups entrepreneurs operating in a competitive market?

Answering with a construction-specific lense here

Know your user and their priorities like the back of your hand. I still see too many founders with a rather vague idea of who their specific users are and what very specific problem they are solving. In many cases, users and clients are also different people. How do you navigate this complexity?

Know your competition and be able to differentiate yourself from them. I have yet to find the credo of avoiding bringing up your competition very useful in Contech. Your future clients want to learn about your solution, but they also want to be educated about what is out there.

An oldie but a goodie; you definitely want to be a painkiller and not a vitamin. Identify the painful processes operators have to go through. Highlight it in depth and present how you get rid of that problem.

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