News, Insights and Stories from the Australian and New Zealand tech ecosystem.

Startup Bookmarc gets architects out of their age-old bind

Architectural and construction professionals harness the power and resources of nature and shape them into useful applications – from bridges to skyscrapers. But when it comes to practice, they’re stuck in an age-old bind, working in a pool of clutter. Rather than storing sketches, CAD files, BIM files, CDs, brochures and more in hard copy, Bookmarc offers a way to do it all online.

Not only that, Bookmarc also connects the design professional and home renovating market, helping them source building products and materials as well as allowing them to share their design galleries with clients and colleagues.

So what is Bookmarc exactly? It’s one of many things – a cloud storage solution, technical directory, niche search engine, and marketing platform. It’s a way for architectural and construction professionals to eliminate inefficiencies and experience the full benefits of cloud technology.

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Sam Hamawi

Although Australia and New Zealand are at the forefront in terms of architectural innovation, the process they go through to build property is “very prehistoric”. Sam Hamawi, Bookmarc Director of Client Services and Strategy, says that architects’ libraries are “growing out of control”, and that “some even hire in-house librarians to collate information.”

“We’re rapidly diverging into a digital world, but architects still work in the physical world. They have hundreds of folders with thousands of pages of information. We’ve digitised that, and brought the industry into the 21st century where they (architectural and construction professionals) can host and store their information in the cloud,” says Hamawi.

“It’s a bit of an oxymoron, because the industry is all about sustainability these days. But the way marketing material and collateral are being put together is not sustainable. They are printing millions of pages of paper, only to throw it out later. We try to eliminate all that waste. We encourage them to keep everything in a digital format, and by using Bookmarc all of that information is available at their fingertips.”

With Bookmarc, architects can upload their projects onto the site (whether they’re sketches, CAD files, BIM files, articles, photographs, or anything else), and tag the files for easy discovery. Their design gallery can then be shared with clients and colleagues through a link.

“It’s a bit like the Pinterest of the architecture and construction industry,” says Hamawi.

Architectural and construction professionals can also use the site to stay informed about emerging industry trends.

“Technical literature becomes out of date quickly, so relying on binders, books and brochures isn’t the best way to stay up-to-date with current trends,” says Hamawi.

Given how widely the Do-It-Yourself philosophy is being embraced by home renovators, Bookmarc also offers an avenue for this growing market to source products.

“It’s very hard to do it yourself unless you have an architect, interior designer or builder working for you. A lot of home renovators have no idea where to look for designer products. Bookmarc works a bit like a search engine, so they can find designer tiles or timber boards, or anything else, in one place,” says Hamawi.

For the end-user, Bookmarc can be seen as a directory with comprehensive technical information. For example, if they’re looking to renovate a bathroom, they can conduct a simple search on Bookmarc, click through designs to draw inspiration, and retrieve important technical information on any given product – for example, the size and type of tiles, tap pressure, and more.

This means the end-user no longer has to rely on hard copy booklets; they don’t have to obtain information through phone calls to hundreds of suppliers, or even conduct a Google search only to be returned with millions of results.

“Bookmarc provides relevant, visual stimuli to the end-user. It’s not like directories that only list suppliers and offer no further technical information. For the end-user, it’s a sexy search engine, and for design professionals it’s like a personal pin board,” says Hamawi.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 12.47.23 am
Screenshot from www.bookmarc.com.au

By listing themselves on the site, suppliers are more likely to be discovered by relevant audiences. Hamawi explains that if you search for bathroom products via Google, Australian brand Caroma is likely to be the top result. But there are people who want something “a little different to the norm, something unique”.

“There are many manufacturers beyond the first page of Google results competing against the big brands to be discovered,” Hamawi adds.

“On our platform, the end-user can get all the different variations of bathroom products; it’s not based on who does SEO the best.”

Bookmarc is, therefore, about driving brand awareness to a very niche, targeted audience. Hamawi explains that architects are “creatures of habit” who are likely to “stay with the same supplier for the rest of their careers.”

“Bookmarc is another way for up and coming suppliers who have no access to architects to push their product. They could be spending $5,000 to $10,000 to market their products, but with Bookmarc they’re only paying $1,200 for the entire year. It’s up to them to generate as much content and interest as they please – whether through growing their digital galleries, writing blog articles or sending out EDMs to our 14,000 members.”

The site also offers a “Specification Tool”. For instance, if an architect is working on a new 100-storey apartment building, and need to prepare a specification report with comprehensive technical information (like colour, height, width, manufacturer, or more), they can click through profiles on Bookmarc, retrieve the information they need, and generate a report in mere minutes. Previously, they would have to do hundreds of hours of manual research – making phone calls, flicking through brochures, and searching across multiple sites before typing up the report.

The Bookmarc team have been very marketing-savvy over the past few months. They’re using social media to engage with their 24,000-strong follower-base, across Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest.

“Where the architecture and construction industry falls behind is social media engagement. A lot of the brands have Facebook and Twitter pages but they’re not really engaging with their audience online. They’re using the platform for hard selling. We’re being quite savvy with social media, we’re saying to our audience ‘look at this project, look at these products, look at the latest trends,’” says Hamawi.

“This is very new to the architecture and construction industry. They’re very slow to react. We feel like we’re pioneering a new way of communicating, and part of our mission is to go out and educate people in the industry about social media and the role it plays in driving engagement.”

They regularly interview renowned architects and industry leaders about new projects and emerging trends, and post the interviews on the blog section of their site. The team also attends industry events, like the Grand Design Expo, where they can find and engage with architectural and construction professionals.

At other times, the team visits architecture practices – not only to sell the platform, but to discover ways to improve the site from the feedback they receive from industry professionals.

“We’re gauging what they’re saying about us, as well as what features they want. This way we can introduce new functionality and tailor the product so it meets the needs of the industry,” says Hamawi.

Bookmarc’s biggest achievements to date are how quickly they’ve been able to move up site rankings (currently sitting in the top 1,600 in Australia) and the rapid growth of their client database.

“It’s been amazing to see how quickly architects and suppliers have embraced our platform. At first they were saying, ‘we have a great website, why would we want to advertise on your site?’ We explained to them that we’re offering a channel that they can use to drive audiences to their own website,” says Hamawi.

In just 13 months, Bookmarc has become the number one destination for professionals in the architecture and construction industry, well ahead of their five-year target.

Bookmarc has also gained a lot of international traction, with overseas architects “begging” for the product to be available to them.

Hamawi says that after conducting market research they discovered that there was no other product like Bookmarc in the global marketplace.

“We were very surprised because we thought we’d at least stumble across one or two similar sites in the US but there’s been nothing. In fact, a couple of architects from the US have sent us emails asking when we would make Bookmarc available to the US market,” says Hamawi.

“It’s a huge compliment, and confirms that our idea can be applied globally. Unfortunately, we don’t have the funds to do it right now. But we plan on raising capital and expanding into global markets next year.”

In the mean time, Bookmarc is undergoing a fresh, new facelift, with more features being added to the site. Hamawi explains that the new version of Bookmarc will allow anyone to generate a true specification whether or not they’re familiar with the industry or product technicalities.

Their biggest challenge has been educating the market about what Bookmarc is “because [they’re] introducing a new and unique concept into a very traditional industry”. People struggle to grasp the idea that one platform can have multitudinous functions.

“Some people think we’re a social marketing platform. Others think we’re a directory. We do many things, and that’s the point. Bookmarc aims to be an indispensable all-in-one tool for people in the architecture and construction industry,” says Hamawi.

Bookmarc is free for the end-user, but charges members an annual fee of $1,200. For more information, visit www.bookmarc.com.au





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