A 150-year-old company, belonging to one of the most traditional, least digitized industries, enters the unfamiliar territory of construction tech. The company is Heidelberg Cement (DAX: HEI), a global leader in the construction materials sector.
A new VC firm
The vehicle for this transformation is a newborn Venture Capital fund, funded but not controlled by the single limited partner. The ecosystem of construction tech is still in its infancy, fragmented as the industry and difficult to map. The potentially disruptive solutions to the construction challenges come from other industries and technology fields, not from within.
To tackle this challenge, the new venture needed to free itself both from the industrial legacy of its limited partner and from the venture capital stereotypes that make almost all VC firms promise the same value, communicate in the same way, compete for the same talents.
Focus on them, instead of being busy with yourself.
Fact no. 1
VC firms are too busy defining themselves. They love taxonomies: strategic VC, thematic VC, thesis-driven, vertical, operational… but who really cares about how you name your category?
Fact no. 2
VC firms are becoming commodity. They all say they offer value beyond money. That value is invariably networking, expertise, access to clients, internationalization, tools, community. But founders are not all the same and do not seek the same from VC.
Fact no. 3
VC firms write a lot. Too much. Too often. Too opinionated. VC partners and investment managers are prolific writers. You find them everywhere: Medium, personal blogs, podcasts. They build a name for themselves, more than for their firms. To embrace content as a branding tool is good. But not everybody is Andreessen Horowitz. Think twice before publishing your next blog post.
Not all founders are made equal.
Some deserve different messages.
Our road to developing strategic messaging was paved by:
Data, not opinions.
Field intelligence, not thought leadership. Construction is opaque, fragmented and conservative. In order to inspire the future disruptors, the best you can do is to extract the hidden facts and bring them to light. Counterintuitive numbers, reasons of inefficiencies, frictions in the workflow. Show what’s there and reveal similar patterns to other industries, where breakthrough solutions have already emerged.
Call for the brains
Call brains to solve the challenges we see. Use facts and numbers to display the issues and provide the elements to inspire founders developing their solutions. Use content to show them the opportunity, not the solution you have in mind.
Your thesis is the reasons some founders should come to you, and some others not. The thesis is the differentiator, and the reason why you do the VC job. Non consensus or provocative, what matters is that your investment thesis helps innovators and founders to understand what you do and why, so they can decide for themselves if there is a match with you. You do not need fluffy mission statements and visions, nor a list of services to offer. Common understanding and beliefs are the conditions to join you on the mission. The rest – money, support, operational help – comes consequently.
Branding, visuals and words.
Construction is dusty, but we love it.
VC is a lot about big brains, big tech and sleeves rolled up. Where are the emotions? And how emotional can be the construction industry? Branding – name, audiovisual content, tone of voice – was not a simple task. Here is how I solved that.
Photography and videos to provide an emotional mirror to the rational investment thesis and the crude numbers, and to overcome the B2B imagery stereotypes… picture perfect, posed images and techie illustrations.
A visual bridge
Bringing together the two worlds of tech and construction fields, combining real-life photography and illustrations to show how digitally enhanced stuff can generate information, connect workflows, and enable communication.
A sense of beauty
Convey a sense of beauty, using unusual points of view, documentary style, close-ups and patterns created by objects, to show how we live ‘in’ this world. We used the eye of the ethnographer, and of someone that empathises with the people, who use their hands and their brains to build something new every day.
Show real people doing real work. Never contrived, trite or clichéd, but providing a genuine sense of place, and real-life interactions between people, between people and materials, and between construction workers and technology.
Points of view
Surprise your audience with unusual points of view. In our imagery, drones and panoramic cams offered the chance to develop unusual, rich and powerful ways to illustrate how construction is done now and how it is evolving.
Pay homage to materials. We did not fake reality, but we cropped, retouched and edited photos when this helped to better render the nature of materials and help our audiences – often not familiar with the construction site – to appreciate its beauty: the grey of concrete, the ochre of the field, the dark brown of metals, the sparks made by welders…
Words and voice
In a world of makers and doers, you need concision. But you also need attention. We developed a concise, factual but never boring way of writing. Starting from hard facts and evidence, driven by the belief that there is strength in numbers. Able to put numbers in context and provide a clear reasoning to derive conclusions and set directions.
We committed to write brief texts, but never superficial. Sometimes inspired by other realms of life – sports, entertainment -, but never taking the readers to long detours. Brutally honest. A new VC born to correct the shortcomings of the construction industry and make money out of that cannot be accommodating. We used language to acknowledge the frustration inherent to the construction industry.
What’s in a brand name? There can be many things. For many VCs, there is often a link to their roots. For Heidelberg Cement, the roots were less important than the direction to take. So, we left Heidelberg out of our naming strategy.
We did two things with our name: to provide a mirror where founders could see themselves, and a word to remind what radical transformation we were seeking. So, the name Foundamental was born. No need to hire an agency for that. Only to think and reflect on a mission, a philosophy and a new world to build.