Our investment in Canvas: Construction has entered the golden era of technology adoption
Matt Murphy, Partner at Menlo Ventures @mmurph
While construction is a multi-trillion dollar industry, it has largely been starved of innovation for more than 50 years. Productivity has barely increased (contrasted with manufacturing, agriculture, and retail, which have improved by 1500% over the same period). It is challenging work in a dynamic environment often relying on manual processes, with repetitive and sometimes dangerous tasks. These dynamics have led to a critical labor shortage, as the workforce retires and fewer young people than ever are joining the trades, which leaves the industry unable to meet rising demand. Yet the slightest improvements could mean hundreds of millions in cost savings and solve labor shortages. That’s why we’re thrilled to announce our investment in Canvas, which is transforming productivity and predictability in drywall finishing with its robotics system.
Drywall finishing is an extremely manual, time-consuming, and labor-intensive task. It typically takes about a week to complete, is a multi-step process that leads to musculoskeletal injuries, and is often on the critical path of project completion. This is costly for construction projects that are already prone to schedule overruns. Now, with Canvas’s innovation in computer vision and robotics technology, trained workers can finish a drywall job in two days with higher quality, better working conditions, and less rework. And with pandemic-related holds on construction projects starting to lift, the industry is ripe with opportunities for robotics to address labor shortages with automation and improve existing worker productivity and safety. This alone is a huge opportunity, but eventually, Canvas will expand into other construction trades.
In our investment process, we focus on teams who are uniquely differentiated to achieve their mission, also called founder market fit, and Canvas is certainly that. CEO Kevin Albert and CTO Maria Telleria have spent the duration of their careers in robotics. After studying mechanical engineering at MIT, they both went on to work at Boston Dynamics. Henrik Bennetsen, CBO, met the pair at robotics incubator Otherlab where they worked together for over five years before deciding to launch Canvas. This level of technical expertise, passion for the mission, and shared chemistry is rare, and the driving factor behind our investment.
The addition of Canvas to our portfolio signifies our continued interest in two distinct areas that we’re bullish on: robotics and construction. Over the last three years, we invested in 6 River Systems (acquired by Shopify), Righthand Robotics, and Fox Robotics, all building warehouse robotics; and Fieldwire, which brings mobile-first project software to the construction industry, Hover which helps home contractors from quote to close on home improvement projects and Openspace which creates a digital image time series record of the entire project, on the construction site. It’s clear that we are in the early innings of a golden era for robotics and for rapid and overdue technology adoption in the construction industry. Canvas is perfectly at the confluence of these two trends. To say we’re proud to be backing Canvas this early in their journey against a huge ambition is an understatement, and we can’t wait to partner with them to build something truly special. The trail they are blazing will improve the construction industry and accelerate the adoption of robotics by many more industries.