WeMaintain, one of President Macron’s favourite start-ups (see Tweet opposite), has raised e30 million in Series B funding to drive international expansion and extend its smart buildings technology from lift and escalator maintenance into other areas.
The company, founded in 2017 by Benoît Dupont, Jade Francine and Tristan Foureur, had previously raised €1.8m and €7m over two rounds in 2018 and 2019.
With offices in Paris, London and Singapore, WeMaintain is aiming to transform lift and escalator maintenance, using IoT to provide building owners and managers with real-time data, smart maintenance and a next-generation customer experience.
The combination of its proprietary cloud-based technology, IoT devices and skilled maintenance engineers has had a big impact in the regulated maintenance market, helping WeMaintain to win major contracts with Allianz Real Estate and WeWork, but the plan was always to bring the intelligence, visibility and control offered by its solutions to other critical building systems.
To this end, WeMaintain recently acquired fire alarm solutions company Shokly.
The new funding from Red River West, BPIFrance Digital Ventures and Swiss Immo Lab will give WeMaintain a big boost as it extends its technology into new applications and into additional overseas markets, including Asia and North America.
The company opened a London office in 2020, winning contracts with coworking provider Workspace and KeolisAmey Docklands (KAD), operators of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), and earlier this year set up an office in Singapore to develop its operations in Asia-Pacific.
With the onus on asset owners to make buildings smarter and greener, while also cutting costs and improving the service offered to tenants, the investment in WeMaintain could not be more timely. Technology Reseller finds out more from co-founder and CTO Tristan Foureur.
Technology Reseller (TR): So, tell me more about WeMaintain. You started out in lift maintenance, but are moving into other areas and using IoT to transform the service customers can expect.
Tristan Foureur (TF): Yes, that’s right. Historically, we were heavily focused on lifts, but over time we have expanded into other regulated maintenance areas of the building. For instance, in France we are doing fire and safety, which we will soon be doing in the UK as well. We also maintain escalators and automated doors.
The clue is in our name. We are called WeMaintain because we want to become the one-stop-shop for regulated maintenance inside the building.
We created the company in 2017 and became commercially active in 2018. In 2019, we started conducting R&D into IoT with two objectives in mind – to improve operations, for example by detecting anomalies before the user notices them and identifying when a breakdown is going to occur before it happens; and to help our customers understand the usage of their buildings.
A lift is effectively the spine of a building. Knowing how it is used and how often it is used tells you a lot about the actual usage of the building, about the occupancy rate, the traffic between floors. This can be helpful in optimising the flow of traffic inside a building, for example.
And that is just for lifts. There are also great things to be done in other areas that we don’t cover yet, like HVAC systems.
We see IoT as an enabler. It is not a product that works on its own. You still need skilled engineers to come on site and you still need people to interpret the data it produces, but it is an enabler for better service and a better understanding of a building.
TR: Did you have IoT from the start?
TF: No, we developed it over time and didn’t start rolling it out to all our customers until 2020. The idea from the get-go was to empower engineers through tech. IoT is a part of that, but it is not the whole thing.
The idea is to have a platform on which customers can manage and oversee their whole operations at a portfolio level and for engineers, through their app, to have a good overview of their portfolio and when deadlines are coming up.
Anomalies or issues can be noticed by IoT-equipped devices, but they can also come from other sources – from insurance reports, from lift consultants, from users themselves via call centres. IoT is another source of qualified data that we get in real time and from the ground, but we have other means of capturing and generating data.
TR: Is it too early to have measured the benefits of IoT?
TF: No, we already have some really cool stories and use cases where IoT has generated value for customers.
Even before the pandemic, estate owners wanted to understand the occupancy rate and use of their building, but during the pandemic especially they wanted to understand if they were at risk of losing tenants. Having real time traffic information helped them understand this – they were able to drill down and see if some tenants had stopped using their rented floors.
We created a dedicated offer for the pandemic (in place until the end of 2021) that gives customers flexible pricing depending on the occupancy rate. We wanted to reflect the fact that if the equipment was being used less, it was going to be less time-consuming for our engineers to maintain. The equipment still has to be maintained every month, but we recognised that using IoT to measure likely wear and tear could have a positive impact on costs for the customer.
Because our solution can be retrofitted to any type of equipment, you can see how having flexible pricing, be it for a single building or multiple buildings, makes sense at a portfolio level.
TR: In what other areas are you interested in deploying your IoT technology?
TF: For now, we want to keep focusing on regulated maintenance and regulated equipment in buildings. There is still a lot that can be done on that front.
All that equipment – the lifts, the automated doors, the escalators, the HVAC systems, the fire safety systems – is traditionally managed in silos and the providers of that equipment work in silos as well. They don’t integrate; they don’t generate and capture much data; and when they do, they don’t share it. We think there is great value to be had if you have a single provider to take care of all those aspects.
If, through the doors and the escalators and the lifts, you are able to generate traffic data and, through IoT, you also manage the HVAC system, then you can reprogramme it to start heating up at 10 a.m. when people start coming in, instead of 6 a.m.. By leveraging the data you get from one piece of equipment to impact another, the building owner can save energy, save money and reduce the carbon footprint of the building.
TR: Have the incumbent players in lift and escalator maintenance been slow to recognise the potential of IoT?
TF: Incumbents in any sector that are not digital by nature are going to find it hard to pivot. They are trying to innovate and come up with new smart, connected products, but an asset owner with 100s of buildings in their portfolio doesn’t want to have to change every lift or escalator in every one of their buildings. They want something that can be installed effortlessly on the very first day of their contract and which provides data from across their whole portfolio.
We think at the building level. We don’t think in terms of lifts or doors or escalators; we look at the big picture. I think that’s the major difference between us and the incumbents.
TR: What are the constituent parts of your solutions?
TF: Right now, we have three different solutions that share similar characteristics – one for escalators, one for fire and safety and one for lifts. In the near future, we are going to have a single solution and use the same modular base for every type of installation. This will act as a gateway between us and the remote sensors gathering data.
Today, each solution has a few specific things that help us gather data that we think is relevant. For example, the lift solution has an accelerometer; a laser that we use as a range finder to accurately measure the position of the cabin inside the shaft; sensors that check whether the doors are open or closed, how long it takes them to open and close, things like that; and a small computer on board for edge computing purposes.
Once we equip the lift, it needs to run for a little bit so that it can self-learn normal values, such as door cycles, the amount of vibration, where each floor is located inside the shaft.
The fire and safety solution is much more dependent on software and we actually read the data from fire alarm panels in real time for diagnostics purposes. When the fire and safety engineer comes to check the detection points and maintain the fire detection systems (e.g. by triggering all the pull points that you need to activate a fire alarm and gassing the detectors to make sure they are functioning properly), we give feedback on their app, so they don’t have to keep going back to the panel to check whether or not they are triggering in the right areas of the building.
R: You have won some high-profile customers in a relatively short period. TF: You would think that customers like BNP and Allianz wouldn’t risk working with start-ups, but the average quality of maintenance has historically been so bad that they were eager to try something new. They also understood that we could help them build their data strategy and their smart building strategy. When we work on generating data that can help customers understand their building, we build those solutions directly with them and for them. We have calls with their heads of data, of product, of digital to make sure we can be a long-term partner in their strategies.
TR: Can your data be integrated into other systems as well?
TF: Absolutely. We try to achieve interoperability as much as possible and are already looking at integrating with state-of- the-art solutions for smart buildings – things like BIM (building information models) where all smart devices in a building share and generate data.
We already have APIs that we offer to customers so that they can get fine-grain data from any device. We want to build their data strategy with them; we want to offer them access to that data. That’s helped us to secure accounts that are a bit more mature than the industry average in terms of moving to a data era.
TR: You have a very technical side to your business, but ultimately you are dependent on engineers to fix and maintain the equipment. What do they think of your approach?
TF: Typically a lift engineer will have 120 to 150 lifts to maintain in a given window – 6 weeks in France, 4 weeks in the UK. They have so many visits to make that they don’t always have enough time for proper maintenance.
Our proposition value is not limited to the customer’s needs; we also had a clear proposition value for the engineers, giving them a much saner work-life with way fewer machines to maintain. In France, instead of 150 they are limited to around 80, so they have much more time to do the job properly. When we win a contract, taking the time to make sure it is compliant and in good condition will give us fewer problems in the long run.
At the same time, engineers have financial incentives linked to maintenance KPIs – number of breakdowns, response times etc. – so at the end of the month, they have a much better wage compared to what they had before. The margin levels in the industry were so high we have been able to cut into them and deliver a fairer distribution of the margin.
TR: Do your engineers welcome greater use of technology?
TF: Some providers have tried to leverage mobile apps for engineers, using tech to make sure they spend the right amount of time on-site – typically 10-15 minutes – before moving on to the next job, with the idea of optimising margins. Tech was used to control rather than to empower.
In our case, we use IoT to troubleshoot and to help engineers diagnose an issue by giving them raw data from sensors. By looking at this data, they are able to save time and provide a better service to customers. They really see the value of tech as a way to empower them to provide a better service.