When Paul McKeon launched his software business 25 years ago to help paving companies create more efficient proposals, he was told that he’d never get rich from it. But sitting in his Portsmouth office in front of a marble fireplace and plush leather furniture overlooking views of both Portsmouth Harbor and Bow Street, McKeon talks about how B2W Software became a major player in the heavy construction management software industry that now employs 110 (85 in NH) with a sales office in Atlanta.
In 2018, B2W celebrated its seventh consecutive year of growing revenue by more than 20 percent annually, expanded its sales and support team by 30 percent, and doubled the size of its Atlanta-area sales and service facility. Its flagship construction estimating product—B2W Estimate—is now used by tens of thousands of estimators across North America.
In January, the company released an upgrade for its primary product, ONE Platform, which combines the company’s various software offerings into one unified platform for both estimating and operations. The company accomplished all this with zero debt and no outside investment, McKeon, CEO of B2W Software, says.
McKeon caught the entrepreneurial bug early, starting a paving and construction business while still a junior at the University of NH in the mid-80s. The company primarily paved driveways and commercial parking lots and, at its peak, employed 20 full-timers and generated between $5 million and $10 million annually. During that time, McKeon commissioned a database application to help him automate the estimating process, which was usually done with pencil and paper. “Computerization sped things up and allowed me to scale,” he says.
When the economy tanked in the late 80s, so did McKeon’s paving business. “I went bankrupt. I learned I had to be more than a good salesperson, I had to be a good business person.” So he took a job with a Massachusetts construction company, where he headed a project to automate its estimating process.
After seeing the success of that, McKeon struck out on his own, starting a company called Niche Software. “There was a sense of charging forward,” he says, as the company began selling to customers across the country. The company’s next product, Bid2Win, catapulted the business and led to a rebranding in 1998. By 2002, larger civil engineering companies began embracing the software.
Unfortunately, the size of the customers’ demands also taxed the software and, McKeon says, “We realized the technology framework was not going to scale... We decided to completely rewrite the product.”
McKeon did not want to incur debt or take on VC partners, so he reached out to customers to “give them the opportunity to prepurchase” the proposed software. Many took him up on the offer, and Bid2Win raised $1.4 million in 30 days, well before the days of crowdfunding.
Nine months into development, McKeon and his partners realized the company they hired to rewrite the software could not make it happen. McKeon’s partners vehemently argued they should stay the course with the company they hired. McKeon, the majority shareholder, disagreed, and finally convinced everyone to develop the product in-house and hire their own talent.
The new version of Bid2Win took an internal team of eight two and half years to develop. McKeon attributes the company’s transparency as the reason customers hung in with them.
A turning point for Bid2Win was when a global paving company inked a deal with them for $500,000. And then came the competitors, offering similar software but with more bells and whistles. McKeon says he wanted to focus on their strengths rather than try to meet the competition. But he eventually learned that it doesn’t pay to ignore the wishes of your customers and that, to compete in this market, Bid2Win would have to deliver functionality well beyond estimating.
“This became an interesting turning point for the company,” McKeon says, adding that his competition introduced separate products for each function while Bid2Win developed browser-based tools that could handle tracking, scheduling, equipment maintenance, and bidding, which could share data and communicate with each other in real-time.
The company rebranded again in 2013 as B2W Software to avoid being pigeonholed as an estimating software company only, and McKeon adds, its mobile offerings have fueled recent growth. “There’s a constant effort to deepen the tools we have, broaden the tools we offer, and make sure our products remain technologically current,” McKeon says, noting that B2W rolls out three new releases annually.
McKeon is bullish about 2019 and its long-term prospects. “I would love to grow into a $100 million company. It will take time to do, but it’s possible.”
For more information about the company, visit B2Wsoftware.com.