According to recent reports, the global construction market size reached an approximate value of 12.74 trillion in 2022, presenting a massive opportunity for innovation in this industry. Toronto-based tech startup Biiibo founded by Roger Sabat, Alex Sabat, and Amanda Sabat operates as an on-demand digital marketplace and platform for construction supplies, streamlining the purchase and delivery of materials in the construction sector. Biiibo has bootstrapped its way to becoming a team of over 90 professionals across three offices in Toronto and Vancouver since its launch. What makes this story incredible is that it is one of the fastest-growing startups in Canada, achieving remarkable growth without raising any external funding. In this exclusive interview, Luis Saffie, the CTO of Biiibo, shares valuable insights on driving innovation in this dynamic space.
Describe what you do in 140 characters or less.
In my role, I guide the technology and product direction, giving substance to our company’s vision and establishing our strategic goals. I critically assess our technical architecture, ensuring its readiness and capacity to grow with our expansion and achieve our mission. Remembering the human factor is crucial. I have faith in a highly effective team and am committed to creating an environment where talent blossoms.
By fostering innovation and a pursuit of excellence, we’re forming a fantastic culture that has the power to make consistent progress. The combination of strategic vision, technical knowledge, and adept people management form the foundation of my leadership approach. This allows us to ensure our technology not just caters to our immediate needs but also makes progress towards our vision. It’s a thrilling voyage, and I’m honored to lead it.
What was the inspiration behind your career route?
My journey to becoming a CTO began in the trenches as a software engineer. There, I focused on understanding the architecture and design patterns that are the building blocks of software. This foundation was crucial as I transitioned into more senior roles. As I advanced in my career, my focus expanded beyond just coding and design. I became more involved in broader aspects like product creation, technical architecture, team development, collaboration, and resource management. This shift was not a predetermined path but a natural progression that happened due to my evolving interests and the demands of my roles.
Note that I definitely drew inspiration from exceptional leaders I read and observed over the years. Their ability to combine vision, empathy, and strategic thinking to lead their teams and drive their companies forward significantly shaped my leadership style. Their impact was instrumental in my move to the executive level, reinforcing my belief that effective leadership is about empowering others as much as achieving individual success.
What makes a great technology leader at a fast growing startup?
To be a technology leader at a startup requires an ability to lead others, obsession to solve your customers’ problems, relentlessness to finding the truth and wide technical knowledge.
In your opinion, what makes a great product?
Simple, a great product is one that solves customer problems.
How should startups go about building their MVP? What are some of the mistakes to avoid?
I always like to start by defining what success looks like. I ask my team to come up with hypotheses. Once we have them, we add metrics to then measure. For me when building the MVP, the aim is not perfection, but functionality. The goal is to get the product into the hands of customers quickly so that we can get feedback and start iterating.
What were some of the technical challenges you had to overcome?
The first one and most difficult was the move from IC to management. I had to learn how to get work done through others, communicate effectively and become good at context switching (get the most done in 25 min bursts/meetings).
I’ve faced a few notable challenges along my journey. One was navigating the realm of data in general. I’m not only talking about the technical parts such as ML, dashboarding and LLMs but rather learning what questions to ask and interpret what the data tells you. I spent lots of time on this as I believe that being able to make sense of the data is a crucial component of any successful individual. This was tough as it required lots of my time/attention, and that is hard to come by.
Another hurdle was gaining a detailed understanding of different system-building approaches, such as synchronous and asynchronous systems, and related technologies like SNS, SQS, API gateways, and load balancers. Assessing their pros and cons was intricate work, but vital for making informed decisions about our technology stack. The reason why this one was hard for me was because you can only get so far reading. You have to see these systems in action to be able to assess and understand.
What do you look for in your team members? Both technical and soft skills
When I’m building my team, there are a few key qualities that I look for in potential members. On the technical side, a strong base knowledge is fundamental. It’s crucial for them to have a solid grounding in the technologies that we use. But beyond this base, I appreciate individuals who have the ability to deep dive and rationalize their technical approach to solutions. The ability to delve deep into a problem, dissect it, and develop a rational, effective solution is hard to learn.
On the non-technical side, I look for an obsession to deliver results. I find that it speaks to a character trait, a habit of pursuing the best in whatever they do, and that is something that can lift the whole team to new heights. Other than this, I look for team/culture fit. We do this by involving more than one/two people in the interview process and asking situational questions. This gives the candidate and the team a chance to assess each other.
Where do you see the development of AI in the construction space?
Undoubtedly AI will revolutionize the construction space, impacting everything from planning to material sourcing, and even the materials themselves. In terms of planning, AI could significantly streamline the process. It could optimize everything from project timelines to budgeting, and even sourcing of materials. Complex algorithms could predict the best options for sourcing materials, taking into account variables like cost, quality, and delivery times. For last-mile delivery, AI can revolutionize route planning and fleet management. Advanced predictive models could determine the most efficient routes and best fleet mix, factoring in variables like traffic, weather, and delivery windows.
When it comes to warehousing, among many others, AI can streamline inventory management and automate many of the current manual processes. Machine learning algorithms could predict inventory needs, optimize space usage, and automate the reordering process. Most excitingly, I see AI playing a transformative role in the development of construction materials. Through machine learning and material science, we’re going to see the development of new materials at a pace we’ve never seen before. These materials could be more durable, sustainable, or better suited to any environmental conditions. So, in my view, the intersection of AI and construction will not just be about optimizing current practices, but also about paving the way for innovations that we are just beginning to imagine.
What is next with Biiibo? Any exciting product updates?
At Biiibo, our vision is to revolutionize the construction industry by seamlessly integrating digital solutions into the material buying and delivery processes. With this vision guiding us, we have some exciting product updates on the horizon. First, we are set to onboard a variety of new brands, which will expand our offering and provide our customers with a greater diversity of choices. But our growth isn’t just in product breadth. We are also embarking on a substantial geographical expansion. This expansion will allow us to serve a larger customer base and cater to a wider array of construction projects.
We are also refining our payment verification process to make it more streamlined, easier, and safer for our customers. We have several product enhancements in the works that are designed to significantly improve speed, user experience, and product offering/discovery. Biiibo is heading in an exciting direction. With ongoing expansion in brand offerings, broadening geographical footprint, and continuing to refine the customer experience, we are moving forward on our vision to revolutionize the construction industry. It’s an exciting time for us, and we can’t wait to see where this journey takes us next.