Anyone that travels frequently by air knows that many American airports are currently undergoing renovation, expansion and other construction projects. Because airports are business enterprises with various operations going on at once, these construction projects can become major hindrances.
This is where Citiri co-founder and CEO Ortez Gude saw an opportunity to make these projects less challenging for everyone impacted by construction, from retailers and concessions operations to carriers, TSA, the FBI and airport general managers.
“Imagine if you tried to serve Thanksgiving dinner to your family in the middle of remodeling your kitchen,” Gude tells Hypepotamus. “Airport construction is the same thing. You have to continue operations as you have disruptive stuff happening.”
Considering itself a “customer-focused and market-driven software company,” Atlanta-based Citiri manages airport construction projects from planning to design, building, operation and experience, by automating management and coordination tasks through a single integrated system. The result for stakeholders is streamlined communication, alignment and oversight of construction projects.
The platform is built on Salesforce’s Force.com PaaS, and guides users through a process known in the aviation industry as Operational Readiness and Airport Transfer (ORAT). It offers a variety of collaborative “Live Documents” that provide real-time collaboration, updating, and controls, as well as centralized activity logs and automated alerts, to help ensure that construction schedules, communications plans and other information get tracked.
Citiri’s API integration also works with popular systems, including IBM Maximo Asset Management and building design software Revit, so that information stored on these platforms can be accessed and even surfaced alongside data inside Citiri dashboards for efficient analysis.
“You know how, in the movies, anytime they’re showing NASA preparing to send a rocket into space, you have a command center of people checking various items to ensure the rocket is going to blast off successfully? They start weeks before the launch. Our project does that same process for a construction launch,” Gude says.
A native of Monticello, Georgia, and a graduate of Georgia Tech, Gude says the idea for Citiri came from his personal background.
Gude’s father was a builder and always had him working on small projects around their home. After graduating from Georgia Tech and attending Stanford University Graduate School of Business, he worked for Beers Construction in the 1990s, during the time that the general contractor company worked with H.J. Russell & Company to build Centennial Olympic Park and other sites for the 1996 Olympics.
When Beers was acquired by Swedish company Skanska, Gude stayed and worked his way up the corporate ranks to become CIO and ran business units in North and South America, working out of New York, New Jersey, London, and Miami.
But he was itching to come back home to Georgia, and knew he eventually wanted to go into business for himself. “I always had this bug of doing something on my own,” he says, “building something from nothing, basically.”
Family would once again play a role in his interest in construction opportunities. He happened to have a cousin working at Skanska named Samuel Gude. According to Ortez, the relatives were the only African-American executives among more than 80,000 employees.
They decided to launch Gude Management Group, which has managed over $2 billion in construction programs for clients like MARTA and the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). Ortez also became an investor in the real estate development asset management and planning platform Corvado, where he says he learned invaluable lessons, including that what he really wanted was a high-growth company.
After selling his interest to his cousin Samuel, Gude was contacted by investor Bob Morrell, who also has a background in construction and was looking for new ventures. Gude says he told Morrell he was “getting ready to swing the bat again,” and Morrell told him he “was game.” Citiri was launched in March 2018.
Gude sought the guidance of experienced aviation leaders, such as former ATL airport GM Ben DeCosta, who he says helped Citiri identify a specific, underserved need in the aviation industry: tech solutions that would help ensure the success of large construction projects.
Gude says DeCosta also facilitated customer discovery calls and meetings, which he used to feed into Citiri’s product development planning.
Today, Citiri has clients like the Port of Seattle and LAX, where Gude says they’ve saved customers upwards of 200 hours of familiarization and training. He also says turnaround time on executive reporting has been lowered tremendously because of Citiri’s dashboard analytics, which has allowed customers to elevate their status and position in airports.
Citiri looks to fundraise this spring, with content marketing and outbound sales being the main areas of planned growth, along with the hiring of Level II executives to help Gude execute the “big plans” he has for the company — he expects Citiri to hit $10 million in annual recurring revenue in the next 24 months.
Gude also says Citiri’s success and growth is helping change the perception of startups in Atlanta, as opposed to what’s happening in Silicon Valley. “We have successful companies and unicorns. Things are starting to happen; we’re getting press coverage and attracting outside VCs,” he says.
And he also enjoys the expanded opportunities for entrepreneurs, especially those who identify as people of color. “A lot of minority entrepreneurs can’t jump on planes and meet with investors to get their pitches right. It’s great we’re getting that attention here; it helps make things easier.”
Ultimately, Gude intends to continue providing Citiri’s value by building on the wins of the company’s first two years. “For us, the first big milestone was getting that first customer that was willing to give us a check. Next was moving beyond pilot and getting a full-blown contract,” Gude says.
“Hearing a customer you didn’t even know before coming to you saying ‘We got a lot of value out of this; it couldn’t have worked without you,’ proved that we’re actually doing something that is making a difference for our customers, and building something special.”