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Built by Builders: Featuring Joseph Leiva of Kaster
Steve Dell’Orto • 05 May 2023

Built by Builders: Featuring Joseph Leiva of Kaster

Tune in to this Built by Builders episode with Joseph Leiva, Co-Founder and CEO of Kaster. In this interview, Joe and Steve discuss the significance of supporting communication between everyone involved in preconstruction and the importance of exchanging information. Joe spent over 12 years as a subcontractor project manager on several large infrastructure and heavy civil projects in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. He is also a licensed professional civil engineer.

The Built by Builders interview series by ConCntric features conversations with entrepreneurs who have construction backgrounds and have started technology companies to address the pains they have experienced in their construction careers. ConCntric’s Founder & CEO, Steve Dell’Orto, chats with guests about the importance of technology in the construction industry and discusses the various solutions being developed.

Watch the full Built by Builders video featuring our Founder and CEO, Steve Dell’Orto and Co-founder and CEO of Kaster, Joseph Leiva, here:

Steve Dell’Orto: Welcome to Built by Builders. This is a conversation video series we’ve created highlighting construction professionals who have started tech companies that provide solutions for the construction industry. It’s really unique to have solutions created by the very people that experienced all of these pain points firsthand. I believe this is the kind of leadership that is needed to really move our industry forward. Joe, I really appreciate you joining me today. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? You come from a family subcontracting business, and I’m sure you have firsthand experience and war stories from the subcontractor project manager perspective. What about that experience caused you to start Kaster?

Joseph Leiva: Steve, thank you for having me as a guest—It’s always a pleasure. As a subcontractor, I spent over a dozen years working with many general contractors. Every general contractor project team had their own unique process, whether it was onboarding, procedures, reporting, different software—even in the same company on different projects—the general contractor had their own ways of doing pretty much the same things on each job. There was a lack of standard processes, and the plight of the subcontractor was having to learn, maneuver and keep up with these various processes when working with different GC’s on different projects—all while managing a business at the same time. It was chaotic and it made jobs risky, but these processes are generally the same. I created Kaster to standardize project processes for all subcontractors in the industry. By standardizing the way subcontractors are onboarded, how they report and how they communicate with the general contractors, we can alleviate their administrative burden, increase productivity, and reduce risk, which is good for business. Steve, how important is communication and information sharing in the preconstruction phase?

Steve Dell’Orto: In a lot of ways, the essence of preconstruction, is bringing all of the stakeholders, the design team, and the owners together and taking something from an idea or a cocktail napkin sketch, and maturing that design and budget to make it an active construction project. That doesn’t happen by itself. That’s just people coming together and exchanging ideas and doing the work that they need to do to make sure that the goals and objectives for the project are being met and ultimately will be delivered. Communication is truly the essence of preconstruction. I know that you have this unique perspective as a subcontractor and you also have the experience based on the time you’ve spent within the general contractor community. I don’t think Kaster is just for subcontractors alone or just for general contractors. From a communication standpoint, Kaster is really solving the interchange between the two, but maybe from the subcontractors perspective. What do you see that is similar or different from the subcontractor perspective versus the GC’s needs and their process? 

Joseph Leiva: What’s similar is that we all need to stay organized, and on top of things from start to finish—it’s essentially risk management. This includes completing deliverables, scheduling, managing resources, good quality production, and getting paid on time. What’s different is the GC needs to do a good job of managing the project through all the stages and communicating with all the stakeholders, whereas the subcontractor is just a small piece of the pie. The needs of the subcontractor—which I’m well aware of—are often overlooked. What we have to do is we have to manage a dozen projects with different general contractors on each one. That’s a dozen processes, a dozen procedures, a dozen or more software logins that we have to learn and do. It’s an unrealistic burden and it’s why we see subcontractors push back and stick to email, phone calls and texts to manage these processes and communication with the general contractor on these projects. We need a standard way to do things so we can build a better working relationship with the general contractors. 

Steve Dell’Orto: I’m sure you see it, Joe, that a lot of people think—from general contractor to general contractor—that the way they do it is unique and special and nobody else does it the way they do it. But I think as you see from contractor to contractor, 95% or 98% of it is pretty standard, often just with variations on a theme or slightly different letterhead. I think that the key thing that you’re doing is really finding that commonality between all of it and you’re really just trying to make things far more efficient for both parties. I think if you solve it for the subcontractor and they perform better, you’re ultimately solving a pain point for the general contractor. It’s certainly a unique value proposition that by helping one entity, you’re really helping the other at the same time. 

Joseph Leiva: At one point I was actually a subcontractor for Clark, and I definitely understand those processes. That kind of segues into my question for you, Steve. I know that you, yourself, were an executive at Clark for 26 years. It’s a big leap to leave that and start a software company from scratch. I’m curious, why did you take that risk? 

Steve Dell’Orto: I’m glad I did because I’ve never looked back. It’s one of those things where having spent 26 years involved in all the types of projects that I was involved in and growing a business unit, what I really always appreciated was when the table was set up for success. If you really did a good job in preconstruction, you usually had a much better outcome, not just for yourself, but for your customer, for the design team, and all of the stakeholders involved. Naturally, I just became very passionate about that part of the project delivery lifecycle and started investing more time and energy into leveraging the data, presenting the information and communicating more graphically, all the different things that make up the modern solutions that you see in the financial industry and others. It struck me that the construction industry did not have that in the most valuable stage of its lifecycle. I just couldn’t keep doing it the old standard way that it’s being done today and I knew I needed to do something to build the next generation solution for all preconstruction professionals. It’s really not about disrupting things—because it’s not that it’s being done wrong at all—I think all the processes are sound, however they are not being complemented with technology to make everybody’s life easier. We want to be able to unlock the power of their data to do things that people can’t even really fathom now, but once they see it, they’re going to realize that the power of their own data can do enormous things for them. So ultimately, that’s why I’ve made the leap. It was a big risk, but it needed to be done. Joe, as we wrap up here, what’s next for Kaster? 

Joseph Leiva: From a broad vision, we are continuing to standardize the process for all subcontractors. Similar to how you took that leap on your end, from the GC side to building a solution for preconstruction, we are looking at what can be done better with today’s processes. It’s the same thing on my end with the subcontractors. Things don’t necessarily need to be disrupted, but there needs to be a better way of doing things and a better way of doing business. Our vision, ultimately, is to one day eliminate unnecessary risk from projects by building a tool that’s inclusive and can be used by everyone: subcontractors, field workers, managers and administrators. 

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Follow Kaster on LinkedIn to learn all about their exciting app for contractors. To demo Kaster’s app, click here.

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