Sponsor Spotlight: A Q&A with Zulq Malik of SMARTBUILD Construction Solutions

SMARTBUILD Construction Solutions

Zulqernain Malik, known to many of our members and industry partners as “Zulq,” is a construction industry entrepreneur. Zulq created and sold a construction company in Ontario, Canada, before starting his latest venture, SMARTBUILD Construction Solutions, a process-based construction management and design platform.  

SMARTBUILD, a sponsor at this year’s Annual CLN Conference in Coral Gables, FL, provides software solutions for general contractors and subcontractors. The cutting-edge software provides design automation for everything from buildings to carports to roofing.  

Zulq’s a pretty interesting guy, so we were excited to sit down with him to discuss his role with SMARTBUILD, his interest in Construction Leadership Network, and the challenges of launching a construction tech business at the dawn of a pandemic.  

CLN: Thanks for joining us! For our members who haven’t used SMARTBUILD yet, can you explain a little about what it does and how it helps the construction industry?

ZM: Sure! Essentially, SMARTBUILD is a construction-based management platform that helps contractors manage day-to-day deliverables from project inception to project closeout. We offer two different products, one for general contractors and one for subcontractors, because their needs are slightly different. 

One thing that really distinguishes SMARTBUILD from its competitors is its ability to have customers trained within 3 hours and be proficient within 5 hours. 

To put this in concrete terms, the adoption time for SMARTBUILD is only about three hours. Compared to other systems, many of which require some sort of certification that can take three months to complete, you can get up to speed with our program very quickly. The difference is night and day. 

CLN: What else is unique about the SMARTBUILD solution?

ZM: I think one of our big selling points is that it’s really been designed to be intuitive for the typical user. With over 30 years of actual industry knowledge, I have lived the responsibilities of being a company owner and walked in the shoes of all the people who make construction happen.  With an in-depth understanding of the roles and relationships between stakeholders, SMARTBUILD provides a cost-effective solution to manage the respective risks of the stakeholders.

CLN: How did you become involved with the software side of the construction business?

ZM: I set up my first company back in 2005, and it grew quite rapidly over the next couple of years. We bid on a $20 million dollar job in our second year of business, which was fantastic. 

I think I got into the software side of things because I’ve always had an engineering mindset. I look at a process and ask, “How can I simplify this? What steps can I take to digitize?” Even before I sold the company, I was always trying to think about what would make a more efficient system based on my own experiences as a project manager.  

By 2011, we had a fully integrated project management tool for the company. With real life in the way and my quest to be a father, in 2018 I began to think, “How can I bring this technology to everyone?” So, I reached out to a friend of mine and asked him if there was a market for this. He said, “Dude. This is like untapped territory.” So, we started to plan out how to commercialize what we had already been using in my construction company.  

CLN: What’s the difference between running a construction company and running a technology company?

ZM: In the end, the problems of running a business are the same. It’s just different humans and different skill sets. The approaches, the issues, the day-to-day emotional challenges—they’re all the same. Of course, the tools are different, and the products are different, but people are still people at the end of the day.

CLN: You and your business partner started SMARTBUILD in the fall of 2019. What was it like launching a business during COVID?

ZM: In some ways, it was a good thing … for us, at least. Covid forced people to pivot more towards digital engagement and away from interacting in person. Since we sell a digital product, it actually helped elevate interest in it. 

Right after our soft launch in 2019, that’s when Covid happened. But we had been working on SMARTBUILD for a couple of years at that point, so when 2020 rolled around, we just sort of said, “OK. This is happening. Let’s keep rolling.”  

The good news is we’re still a growing company. We can pivot and adjust to changes a lot easier than our competition. A lot of larger technology companies don’t have that ability, because they’re held down by their own bureaucracies, and other small startups can’t pivot as quickly because they’re beholden to their investors.  

Honestly, it was nerve-wracking at first, but here we are, four years later, and our company continues to grow.  

CLN: How did you learn about Construction Leadership Network? What drew you to the organization?

ZM: I was introduced to John Lehmann and Stephanie Schmidt through the Associated Builders and Contractors community.  

John described CLN as a kind of ecosystem where leaders in the construction industry can get together, share ideas and problems, and work on finding solutions together. I thought it sounded awesome, so we got on board pretty quickly. That concept really resonated with me. 

CLN: Would you recommend CLN to other construction leaders?

ZM: Absolutely! So far, it’s been a great resource and opportunity. It’s one of the few organizations that I’ve come across that actually encourages collaboration among business owners in the construction community. A lot of business owners in the industry feel pretty alone and isolated, and a lot of other organizations … it just feels like they are there to basically collect your money. 

CLN is special because they want you to be engaged and share and talk and ask. A lot of useful ideas come about that way. In the Toronto ecosystem, people don’t want to really share a lot about their experiences. All too often, they just want to hold it to themselves, because they think they have some kind of competitive advantage. But really, it helps everyone when we’re all engaged. 


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