After identifying pain points for developers related to low productivity rates, rising housing costs, and supply chain issues, Salman Ahmad and Sep Kamvar co-founded Mosaic in 2018 as a technology-forward solution to drive efficiency in the industry.
Mosaic’s general contracting services extend from predevelopment to warranty, and the software’s design allows users to deliver innovative product designs, expand quickly, and produce data-rich reports. Ahmad spoke with BUILDER to discuss the origin of Mosaic, the company’s interest in the build-to-rent sector, and the company’s “Construction as Code” message.
BUILDER: Can you discuss your personal background, the origin of Mosaic, and how the organization operates today?
Ahmad: Mosaic was founded primarily to provide the best services to real estate developers everywhere to build amazing communities. This is very much aligned with our mission statement, which is to create places that people love and make them widely available. And we have a very deeply held hypothesis that the best way to accomplish that is to empower real estate developers and democratize real estate development.
And so our goal is to provide the most amazing services to real estate developers everywhere. We're starting with the construction component because that's probably one of the most challenging parts that developers face. We believe the best way to really do that is taking a technologically forward approach. We keep ourselves grounded with our mission of building places that people love and empowering developers with the best services to do so.
At a personal level, my background is in a combination of software engineering and computer science. I did my Ph.D. at MIT and my master's at Stanford. I worked at several technology companies [and] founded a couple of technology companies along the way. But I grew up in a construction household and saw first-hand the challenges of the construction world and what people actually need to be successful. And I also saw the potential of software to transform traditional industries. So both those things came together in the story that is now Mosaic.
BUILDER: For an industry that is traditionally hesitant or cautious toward technology, how does Mosaic build trust with the construction industry?
Ahmad: I completely understand and echo their concerns, for a couple of different reasons. No. 1, I think a lot of players in the past have made big promises and underdelivered. Also, home builders and real estate developers have their personal livelihoods on the line. And so it's understandable for them to be somewhat risk averse. I think we've really tried to approach this with a sense of humility and recognizing that traditional practices exist for a reason. We’ve also built an extremely experienced team that is steeped in those traditional best practices.
That being said, I do think there are opportunities and ways to do things better. The approach that we've taken at Mosaic has been deeply rooted in minimizing third-party behavior change. Many of the technologies that we've been developing are internal-facing as opposed to requiring home builders or tradesmen or subcontractors and vendors to have to do things differently. A lot of our developer partners appreciate that approach because they feel like they're taking a lot less risk. It's actually been really beneficial for us from a business perspective because it's allowed us to scale much faster in that we don't have to reinvent the entire wheel. We can hook into a lot of the existing infrastructure and relationships and companies out there that already service this space. While we are pushing the boundaries internally, we're also ensuring our developer partners know everything we do is backed by a tried-and-true, battle-tested, capable executing team who are overseeing project execution in the field.
BUILDER: What is the Mosaic Trade Partners network?
Ahmad: Our trade partners are at the center of literally everything we do. We are really focused on providing an amazing experience for [our developer partners], and the best way for us to do that is to really focus on our trades. If we focus on our trades, the needs of our developer partners are going to be naturally taken care of. We optimize a tremendous amount of our efforts in developing the best trade network nationwide.
Our trade partner network is what a lot of people refer to as their trade base. It's a collection of subcontractors, vendors, and consultants we work alongside to help achieve our developer partners’ goals, and we take a deep relational approach with each member of our trade base. We invest a lot of time, energy, and capital in building processes [and] systems that not only make our trades want to work with us, but make the trades’ work with us more profitable for them as well.
We have found the four pillars to building amazing trade partnerships are to make it easier for them to bid, schedule, work, and get paid. And we've had a lot of success with our trade base by building systems around these four areas. We're really active right now in many markets in Arizona, Texas, and Florida, and we are actively building capacity in Colorado and Idaho for our developer partners.
BUILDER: What does “Construction as Code” mean to Mosaic?
Ahmad: It goes back to the overarching sentiment that the best way for us to deliver amazing services is through data. The code that you write as a programmer in the software world is actually not the code that the computer executes. It's in a data format that is understandable by humans, but then you have compilers, you have optimizers, you have translators, you have different assembly packages, all of which are processes that take that source code and manifest it in and move it through different stages before it's ready for the actual processor on your computer to execute. The world of compilers and programming languages is what's referred to as an “intermediary representation.” It takes your code, it transforms it into an intermediary representation, and then a lot of magic can happen. You can optimize it. You can test it. You can statically analyze it. You can convert it from one architecture to another architecture. That intermediary representation is so powerful, and it's the core of what is missing in the construction world.
Similarly, you have your construction drawings as the source code that you would write, and then you have the execution in the field. But there’s currently no intermediary representation. It's all in multiple people's heads, each of whom has a slightly different interpretation of the facts. So not only is there no intermediate representation, there's no ground source of truth. That's when I go back and revisit the point about how data is the best way to deliver services that we want. How do we bridge the gap of what's on the construction documents and what could actually get computed and executed in the field? The more that we're able to model and represent that, the more that we're able to get it right ahead of time in the digital world to minimize the mistakes, the delays, and the quality issues in the real world.
BUILDER: What is attractive to Mosaic about the build-to-rent sector?
Ahmad: I'm super bullish about the build-to-rent space. I think it has so much potential to address so many of the challenges with housing shortages, affordability, and availability. On the business front, build-to-rent has been a huge focus of ours because it's a great investment class for developers, and we want to help our partners deliver the best communities they can. I think there's also a tremendous amount of alignment between that asset class and the technological approach that we're taking as a company. So much of what [data] allows us to do is to again really optimize and eliminate so many of the risk factors and variants and variabilities in the preconstruction phase. So that once you get started, you never have to stop and you minimize surprises as you're executing. There is probably no better asset class that would benefit from that type of approach. Also, the build-to-rent space is so high density and fast paced. There's horizontal and vertical work happening at the same time. There's so many small things that can go subtly wrong and create huge delays. So the technological approach that we've been taking is very much aligned toward this asset class.
BUILDER: Where do you see the company going in the next couple years? What is the growth trajectory for Mosaic?
Ahmad: We're getting a lot of excitement and expressions of interest with our developer partners to be in markets other than the core markets that Mosaic is active in today. We're very much focused on continuing the market expansions that we have been doing as a company and continuing to grow to empower our existing real estate developer partners, but also connecting with new ones and continuing to expand our trade networks as well.
Construction is just one piece of the services that a real estate developer needs. Right now, we still are very focused on how we deliver the best construction service, but we're also focusing on how we create services that allow us to connect developer partners with capital. How do we create additional services that allow developers to find and get connected with land? I think construction, capital, and land—those are the three core ingredients for any real estate development shop. We're very much focused on the construction side, but that hopefully gives a sense of the road map we're thinking about.