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The New Closers: Why PlanGrid CEO Tracy Young Is One Of Commercial Real Estate’s Next Market Leaders

When Bay Area native Tracy Young was in her late 20s, she discovered a glaring problem in construction. While working on a Kaiser hospital in Northern California, the then-project engineer lugged around 50 pounds of paper in a cart doing quality control inspections and recording findings. 

PlanGrid CEO and co-founder Tracy Young

The process was inefficient, required a lot of extra work and constant updates to plans. She realized there had to be a better way.

“Life is way too short to only be stuck on a construction project,” she said during an interview. “The construction industry is full of people impatient about things that distract from work.”

More than six years later, the 33-year-old PlanGrid CEO has built one of the largest construction tech companies in the industry. Its software has been used on over 1 million projects around the world.

She started the company with PlanGrid Chief Technology Officer and co-founder Ralph Gootee in 2012 when construction tech was in its infancy. Existing building software was only available on desktops and required staff to drive back to the office to record findings, she said.

Gootee said Young came to him with ideas about what needed to be improved.

Blueprints and drawings are imperfect and often lead to buildings having many different versions of the same element, resulting in stacks of plans, Young said. She didn’t understand why Apple’s new iPads weren’t being used to view blueprints.

Gootee said he thought the simplest solution was to just take PDFs of the blueprints and upload them to the iPads, but the documents were so large and complex, it crashed the iPads.

“As an engineer, I’m interested in hard problems,” he said. “This became … outrageously complicated really quickly.”

The number of PDFs needed to allow someone to work in the field with digital plans was hard to achieve. The challenges of creating an application that worked with digital blueprints didn’t faze Young or Gootee.

The company ended up creating software that can read the blueprints and machine-learn aspects of the plans. Whenever there is an updated or new version, the plans are digitally stacked and specifically marked so viewers know which version they are viewing. Using Google search, staff members can look for specific items like fire extinguishers across all the blueprints to find out where they are.

Young's goal has been to create more efficiencies on the job site so workers can spend more time with their families. Even if using tech means saving 10 minutes on the job site, that is 10 minutes more spent with families, she said.

From Project Engineer To Industry Leader

PlanGrid CEO and co-founder Tracy Young and Chief Technology Officer and co-founder Ralph Gootee

During the startup years, Gootee saw Young’s innate leadership skills in action. She was task-oriented and helped keep a group of engineers focused and on track, he said.

The first time Young stepped into a leadership role was when the fledgling team of engineers needed to meet a deadline interview to get into Y Combinator, a seed accelerator for startups that has helped launch companies like Airbnb and Dropbox

Young did a dry run of their interview 50 to 100 times to make sure the prototype and presentation ran smoothly, he said. All the preparation paid off, and they were accepted into the Y Combinator. 

In 2013, Sequoia Capital came in to provide Series A funding for PlanGrid and other investors later tagged on, Young said. The company has since secured over $62M in funding from various investors.

As the company grew, Gootee saw Young’s leadership abilities blossom. He said one of her strengths has been her ability to clearly explain a vision and get other people on board. He said she not only was able to secure funding from Sequoia, but also recruited a strong board of directors and executive team. 

He said now that the company is fairly large, a lot of team members come in with different ideas, but Young lets those ideas bloom and helps guide them in the right direction.

“She’s very approachable, which sets the message for the rest of the executive team that we’re not above everyone else,” Gootee said. 

He said Young started doing open office hours, letting anybody come and talk with her, ask questions and share concerns and other feedback about the company. 

“She has the right balance of listening and being quiet and hearing all the different opinions,” Gootee said. 

Her actions have helped create a culture of transparency in the company.

Despite all the meetings she leads throughout the day, Young said she is actually quite introverted. She plays bridge on Thursdays and goes offline on Saturdays, when she often goes on a hike. She said she enjoys time at home and listening to classical music.

Creating A Path For The Next Six Years

PlanGrid CEO Tracy Young

In the last six years, PlanGrid has grown from a company that was once unsure of its ability to meet payroll into a company that has payroll planned for the next six years, Young said.

Nearly a million blueprints are uploaded into the cloud every week, she said. The cloud now has over 100 million blueprints.

Her company’s software has been used for the Interstate 4 project in Florida, Interstate 99 project in Lodi, California, and Hudson Yards project in New York. Customers include The Raymond Group, Granite Construction, Herrero Boldt and Devcon.

“We like to play a part of it even if it’s a small part,” she said.

PlanGrid continues to find ways to improve the construction industry, and has a queue of thousands of future project requests from customers.

In January, it released a submittal dashboard and tools to monitor and track the submittal review process from start to finish. The submittal auto log will upload a spec book and automatically extract information into downloadable spreadsheets.

The company is hosting a summit in June to unveil new products.

“We’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do for the industry,” Young said.

CORRECTION, MAY 16, 10:10 AM PT: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of projects that have used PlanGrid. The article has been updated.