Revolutionary Tools for the Architecture Industry: Marc Kushner on Architizer

Published on March 10, 2016 | by Archipreneur
Do you want to get into the heads of the top initiators and performers in the field of architecture, building and development? If so, we heartily welcome you to “Archipreneur Insights”! In this interview series, we talk to the leaders and key players who have created outstanding work and projects. Get to know how they did it and learn how you could do the same for your own business and projects.

This week’s interview is with Marc Kushner, FAIA, Partner at New York architecture firm HWKN (Hollwich Kushner), and Cofounder of Architizer.

With portfolios from over 40,000 architecture firms worldwide, Architizer is today the largest database of architecture online – the ‘Facebook of architecture’, so to speak. In 2013, Marc launched the A+ Awards, an international awards program for architecture. But he didn’t stop there: at the beginning of this year, Marc launched his next innovation – Architizer Source – an online products marketplace for architects. His vision for it was that it could revolutionize architecture. Marc definitely has the means to achieve this: to help fund the national launch of this online tool, Architizer has secured $7 million in Series A funding in a round led by August Capital.

Marc just might be the very definition of an archipreneur! Keep reading to learn from an architect who built two very successful businesses, launched one of the largest awards programs for architecture, and now plans to completely revolutionize the industry. He is always one step ahead, and yet makes it all look so effortless.

I hope you enjoy the interview!

You first co-founded the architecture firm HWKN and later Architzer. What made you decide to partner up with Matthias Hollwich and start your own architecture firm? Was there a particular moment that sealed the decision for you?

Matthias and I knew each other for a few years and both found ourselves between jobs in the Spring of 2006. After sitting on a review together at Columbia GSAPP, we decided to enter a competition together. We lost – but it was an amazing experience. We just completely clicked. I was interviewing for a new position at the time and Matthias was only temporarily in NYC, but the magic in our collaboration was palpable to both of us and we immediately decided that we wanted to do more things together. It was a shotgun wedding – not much planning, just a mutual respect and admiration that we knew would lead to good things.

So what made you then decide to start Architizer? Could you tell us a little about your idea behind it?

We launched Architizer in 2009 with the goal of transforming how architects engage with the Internet. At the time, Facebook was growing and platforms like YouTube and Flickr were changing the way we share information. We looked around and wondered where the innovation for architects was.

How did you finance it?

We bootstrapped the launch; we’ve since taken financing from a group of NYC investors and, most recently, a Series A led by the Silicon Valley venture firm August Capital. We also have architects joining in. Gary Handel sits on the board and SHoP architects are our investors.

Architizer Office
Architizer Office in Manhattan | photo Michael Moran

What is the business model for Architizer?

We sell business tools to building product manufacturers who rely on architects to choose products for construction. Architects control nearly $100 billion worth of product choices every year in the US – that makes our community very valuable.

Architizer started out as a side project for your firm. Now, its community consists of over 40,000 architecture firms and it can hardly be called a side business. Do you still find time to design as an architect?

I do – but it isn’t easy. The single greatest decision I have made in my professional career is partnering with Matthias Hollwich. We sat down together a few years ago and found a way to run Hollwich Kushner together as I continued to run Architizer. It is a relationship that requires a lot of faith and trust.

But you didn’t stop there, even though one would think handling two successful businesses might be enough. In 2013, you launched the A+ Awards and now, at the beginning of the year, Architizer Source. Could you tell us a little about your visions; why you created this tool?

I guess I am pretty restless! Source is the culmination of what we have been working on at Architizer – leveraging the huge buying power that is wrapped up in the architectural profession. Architects are, per capita, the nation’s largest group of shoppers. Our profession calls it ‘specifying’, but it is not more complicated than shopping. There is a huge disconnect between how much spending we control and how underserved we are by the tools for making our jobs easier.

Today, specifying is a nightmare of Google searching, phone calls with salespeople, lunch-and-learns, PDFs, and postage stamps. You know things are pretty f**ked up when stamps are involved! Everything we do springs from the basic observation that architects are powerful; we just need to unlock their value.

Architizer has been compared to Facebook. You said that Architizer Source could be doing for the architectural industry what Airbnb has done for accommodations, or Uber for taxis. So you’re planning to go global with this, and hope that architects all over the world will use it?

Of course! The Architizer community is truly international. Source will be for everyone.

I read that to help fund the national launch of Architizer Source, Architizer secured $7 million in Series A financing in a round led by August Capital. Wow! That’s the type of funding every startup dreams of! How did you achieve it?

We raised money by looking beyond the self-deprecation that pervades the architecture profession. I attend dozens of architecture events in a year, and that means that I have endured endless complaints about the perceived value of architecture — about how architects don’t make enough money, about how we aren’t respected. I can prattle on for pages about how important architects are to society, but sometimes dollars speak louder than words.

$570,000,000,000. That’s how much architects oversee in US construction every year. That is a very compelling figure to bring to Silicon Valley and you don’t need to #LookUp to understand it.

Are architects the better digital media entrepreneurs?

Digital media is the least of our concerns as a profession. We need innovation in every aspect of our profession – and innovative risk taking is the only way we are going to address the challenges we face.

I know Architizer Source is still in its beta version and so there is still more work to be done – but considering your speed in completing projects, what’s next for you?

I dream of starting an investment fund focused on the architectural profession.

Do you have any advice for “Archipreneurs” who are interested in starting their own business?

Figure out where the money is. As architects we aren’t trained to be hard-nosed about money, but, if you figure that out, you can accomplish great things. The amazing thing is that it is actually easier than most of the problems that we face in designing a building!

How do you see the future of the architectural profession? In which areas (outside of traditional practice) can you see major opportunities for up and coming developers and architects?

I see a profession that is completely different from the one we know today. Traditional practice is broken – I yearn to see solutions that we can’t even imagine today.

About Marc Kushner

Marc Kushner, AIA, is an architect with just one agenda: he wants you to love architecture. As Partner at progressive New York architecture firm HWKN (Hollwich Kushner) and Cofounder and CEO of Architizer, Marc is a celebrated designer and pioneer in the digital media industry, continually striving to find new ways to help the world not just like, but fall in love with architecture.

Architizer is the largest platform for professional architects online, and the most comprehensive database of the products and people behind the world’s best buildings. With acclaim from The New York Times, Inc. Magazine, and New York Magazine, Architizer has revolutionized the way architects communicate their work to the world and engage with the design industry since its launch in 2009.

With his business partner Matthias Hollwich, Marc also founded one of the most dynamic architecture firms to come out of New York in the past 50 years: HWKN. Continually developing projects that combine provocative design with commercial sustainability, HWKN’s work is regularly printed in publications such as Wallpaper* and The Wall Street Journal. In 2012, HWKN won MoMA PS1’s Young Architects Program with their project, WENDY, a 5,000 sq ft temporal project whose ‘personality’ was brought to life through direct interactions with the public and her cult digital media following on Facebook and Twitter.

Marc regularly presents on topics about the intersection between architecture and digital media, he has taught architecture at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and has spoken at event conferences including TED, PSFK and GRID. He also serves on the board of +Pool.

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