Towards the end of 2019 we had started, like most companies, to make plans for 2020. There were a few big things on the horizon:
We were in the process of growing our team, building the new Countfire estimate features and putting our house in order. Which meant ensuring that our processes as a company were as watertight as possible, in order to let us provide a more efficient customer and product experience.
Like the rest of the world, coronavirus caused us to make big business decisions that were unprecedented (yes, the word for 2020) but we also managed to adapt to a new way of working and keep moving towards our company goals. In 2020 we became fully-remote, built an entirely new product aspect and we saw a surprisingly positive effect on estimating, with many of our customers powering on with plenty of work.
Here are five important moments that sum up 2020 for us at Countfire.
Working from home: the new normal
Like many companies we soon pivoted to a fully remote model and let go of Countfire HQ, our office in Wimbledon. We’ve always had a flexible working policy so many of our team had worked remotely previously, but it was the norm for us to be in the office the majority of the time.
With a move to remote, came adjustment. We had to find new ways of communicating, mainly using Slack (yes digital water cooler chat about the latest Borat movie takes a bit of getting used to), and we added in weekly “Town Halls” for us all to meet and talk about the different areas of the business, which we later reduced to bi-weekly.
Did we make the pivot perfectly? No, like any company, we tried things to see what would work and quickly moved on when they didn’t. The most extroverted amongst us also missed the ritual of celebrating a great week by packing up early on a Friday for a few beers and a game of ping pong. Virtual Zoom drinks just aren’t the same unfortunately.
The rise of estimating projects (and the increased need for software to do it with)
When the coronavirus started to look like it was here to stay, our Managing Director Will spoke a little to the team about what he’d learned from facing one economic crisis during his time as an estimator:
“During the 2007 / 08 global financial crisis, I was working as an estimator, with my trusty highlighter in hand, when the economy was hit with a severe downturn.
It hit the construction industry, with projects being cancelled and companies going into administration, however, one of the interesting aspects of that crisis was that as an estimator, I found myself busier than I had ever been, because we were tendering everything and anything that came through the door.”
As estimators started to get busier, both then and this year during the pandemic, they increasingly needed ways to help streamline their work and make estimating (at a faster rate) more efficient. We found that Countfire, allowing estimators to automate takeoff and work up to 10x faster, became the answer.
Similarly, many estimators were driven to work from home with no access to plotters, which meant that cloud-based tools became the norm for firms who may otherwise have continued to work manually.
Creating Countfire estimate
Once we no longer felt as though the sky was falling, we returned focus to our main 2020 goal which was to get Countfire estimate ready. Throughout 2019 we’d launched various new features and aspects to Countfire like improving performance across complex PDFs and automatically allowing you to compare two specifications, but this would be an entirely new part to the platform.
Countfire estimate is an intelligent estimating platform that lets you price and create estimates quickly and using automated tools, in a similar way to how our takeoff tool lets you complete automated counts.
We’ve brought our experience and knowledge of takeoff and estimating into this product and really feel that it’ll help many companies to streamline their workflows going forward. Look out for this coming in early 2021.
A new look and feel (for Countfire at least)
Whilst our team managed to escape dodgy home haircuts, we decided that after eight years it was time to create a new look for Countfire. This led to us creating a refreshed logo and a new brand using our preferred dark theme across the website and product, which avid Countfire users may have already spotted in action!
You can see the evolution here from Countfire’s old branding (left) to the new version.
Growing the team
One surprising positive for us during the pandemic was being able to hire across the business and even bring in some of our previous customers as Product Specialists. This means that not only do our customers get a direct line to someone who has actually been an estimator and walked their walk, it also means that internally we’ve had the chance to iterate new Countfire features based on how they will be used in the wild.
For example, Phil, one of our Product Specialists, was quick to point out that being able to quickly package up lists of materials and send them out to the market would be a major win to our estimating workflow, and so we’ve been quick to take this advice and work it into the product. Expertise like this helps us to build and iterate a product that’s market ready.
In the words of Homer Simpson if there is such a thing as a “crisis-tunity” for some industries, then estimating is definitely one that has become more adaptable and flexible as a result of 2020. A move to cloud-based tools, remote working and being able to estimate at scale has affected us, and many of our customers.
It may be hard to look too far ahead into 2021, given the uncertainty in the current situation, but we hope it is one where the industry remains steady and where we’re able to keep providing software that makes automated estimating a reality for more companies.
We'd like to thank all the team for their hard work over the year and of course, our customers for their support in what may have been a difficult year and we look forward to what 2021 brings.