René Morkos’ Background
Morkos grew up in Lebanon, and his father was a civil engineer. And Morkos’ father told him: “Son – be whatever you want… As long as it isn’t a civil engineer.”
“And of course, that means I went on to study civil engineering in college,” Morkos quipped.
After university, Morkos worked on construction projects throughout the Middle East. He helped to build a major underwater oil and gas pipeline. And Morkos worked on automation technology engineering on a $350 million gas refinery expansion project. Plus he led teams building airports in Afghan war zones.
“While these projects were engaging, I reached a point at which I was hungry to learn more about construction from an academic perspective, and that in turn led me to the Ph.D. program in construction engineering at Stanford,” said Morkos.
Formation of ALICE Technologies
How did the idea for ALICE come together? ALICE Technologies has emerged as an extension of Morkos’ Ph.D. research at Stanford. And he was investigating issues of construction efficiency and ended up working on how he could apply artificial intelligence to the challenges of construction schedules.
“This was not something that had been tried before – but I was convinced that this technology could bring major improvements to the scheduling of large construction projects,” Morkos revealed.
What has been Morkos’ favorite memory working for ALICE? One of Morkos’ favorite memories is from early in the ALICE journey.
“My thesis advisor had encouraged me to enter a business plan competition at the Stanford business school based on the technology and ideas I’d been developing during my Ph.D. work. When that plan won first place in the competition, my advisor excitedly exclaimed, ‘René, you have a company here!’” Morkos noted. “This victory and his enthusiasm helped me to realize that I was onto something promising. It was soon after this that I raised our very first funding for the company, and ALICE Technologies was born.”
Challenges Morkos Faced Building The Company
What are some of the challenges Morkos faced in building the company?
“The biggest single challenge that we’ve faced with ALICE is that we have introduced something new to the construction industry, an industry that traditionally has not been quick to embrace change. With the ALICE platform, GCs and owners can create thousands of possible ways to build a project and then run ‘what if’ analyses to explore different ways they could vary their schedule and the impact those changes would have on factors like cost and time,” Morkos acknowledged. “We call this ‘construction optioneering’ and it’s new. We’ve found that it often takes our customers time to understand the power of this technology and how to put it into practice in their organizations. But when they discover what they can learn and do with ALICE, those who’ve resisted often become our fiercest advocates.”
What are ALICE’s core products and features? Alice Technologies offers the ability to create thousands of different construction schedules in the course of an afternoon, which is at the heart of what they do.
“This generative construction scheduling is now getting a lot of attention in our industry, just like ChatGT and other “generalist” generative AI tools are receiving in society overall. Before ALICE, GCs and owners would usually build just one schedule for a project, one that was based largely on the intuition of schedulers who had been in their jobs for years. It was simply too time-consuming to do anything else,” Morkos explained. “In addition, it was previously quite difficult to run scheduling scenarios based on important questions. “If I ran a second crane on my job, how would that impact build speed?” “If we have a prolonged winter this year, how would that impact my originally planned schedule?” These questions and others like them were too tough to solve – and so they generally went unexplored. This opportunity to investigate options and refine your plans with ALICE is another critical aspect of what we do.”
Evolution Of ALICE’s Technology
How has ALICE’s technology evolved since launching? Since its launch, ALICE has built a diverse customer base that includes companies from infrastructure, commercial, and industrial construction.
“And while we started selling principally to GCs, we now work with a variety of owners as well. Our most important changes are coming from conversations with these customers,” Morkos pointed out. “We regularly ask them what we could be doing differently and better for them, and we’re very focused on adding capabilities that help them maximize the value they get with ALICE – and to realize that value faster. For example, in addition to enabling customers to import BIM models to get started with ALICE, we also added the ability to quickly create 2D models and logic diagrams as starting points, for in the U.S., fewer companies use BIM than is the case in Europe.”
What have been some of ALICE’s most significant milestones?
“Bringing major new customers into the fold has been particularly important for us. Not only do these customer wins serve as a measure of progress, but they also get us involved with influential companies from which we can continue to learn,” Morkos shared. “Just last year, we announced wins with companies like Align JV, The Beck Group, Bouygues, and others, and we’ve celebrated every single one.”
Customer Success Story
When I asked Morkos about a customer success story, he cited work that they have done with Align JV on HS2, the high-speed rail project in the UK that is currently the largest infrastructure project in all of Europe.
“Align JV used ALICE to do critical optimization work in planning the construction of a viaduct in the Kolne Valley. The work was important enough for Align to win the British Construction Industry Award in recognition of their accomplishments with ALICE, and you can learn more about this project here,” Morkos noted.
ALICE recently announced a $13 million extension of its original Series B funding round, bringing the total of $47 million of capital from the round. The notable participants in this round included not only venture capital firms such as Vanedge Capital, which led the round, but also two strategic investors: Bouygues and Swire Properties.
Total Addressable Market
What total addressable market (TAM) size is ALICE pursuing? “The global construction market has a total annual value of $12.1 trillion. We plan to be a global company, and with customers in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, we are already well on our way to this goal,” Morkos highlighted.
Differentiation From The Competition
What differentiates ALICE from its competition?
“Generative scheduling and construction optioneering are new to our industry, and ALICE is leading the way in bringing these technologies to bear for GCs and owners,” replied Morkos. “Traditional scheduling products like Oracle’s Primavera 6 and Microsoft Project lack the power that AI brings to generate numerous potential schedule options quickly. In addition, they aren’t flexible enough to enable users to experiment with options to zero in on the optimal way to build a project. These solutions represent the past. Powered by AI, ALICE represents the future.”
Future Company Goals
What are some of ALICE’s future company goals?
“ALICE has an ambitious mission: to reduce the cost of construction globally by 25%. Doing so would help companies and governments to build much more for their stakeholders and citizens with the money they’ve allocated to construction. It would also have a significant impact on the environment, as building more efficiently means using less to do more,” Morkos concluded. “We believe that setting a BHAG – a ‘big, hairy, audacious goal’ is inspiring for all involved, and this goal is a big motivator for our entire team.”