Not Your Father’s Construction Business
LA-based Foundational Builders Corp. focuses on innovation, education
Andrew “Drew” Robles is a man with an innovative vision for the construction industry. And as he prepared to launch Foundational Builders Corp. in March 2020, he took advantage of COVID-19 shutdowns to turn his attention to honing a unique business model.
“When everything slowed down, it allowed me to study for my general contractor’s license and submit the application and take the test,” Drew says. “Had it not slowed down, I may have still been in the day-to-day fire of my old job, and going solo may have been something I thought about but couldn’t really do.”
In starting his own firm, he could fulfill his desire to create something unique and different from the company where he had been.
“They were a family business and they were really not built for me,” says Drew, who holds a business management degree from Pepperdine University. “I want to compete on a corporate level. I thought, if I create my own company, I can attract certain people, build my own vision.
“I’m a very innovative person, and I’ve looked at construction and know that’s one of the industries that hasn’t changed. It’s the same people doing the same thing from 40 years ago because that’s what they know. I know from a business standpoint that’s how you go out of business.”
He says it was crucial that he build an all-star team to help his young Los Angeles-based firm reach the playing field he had in mind.
Experienced and Innovative
Senior Project Manager Diana Vierra is one of the six salaried employees at Foundational Builders who’s helping bring Drew’s vision to life.
She grew up around her father’s construction sites and even worked on them as a teenager. Now, with over 30 years of experience in the construction industry, she’s known as a great, respectful communicator who prides herself on teaching those newer to the industry and building productive, transparent relationships with clients.
In addition to experienced project managers and other players typically found within a general contracting firm, the company is utilizing less expected experts, such as Quantitative Analyst Sen Li.
Drew says he calls Sen in when a property owner doesn’t have permits pulled yet and is discussing potential plans with him. Sen will run an analysis of the site and give the property owner hard numbers and details regarding what their building should include in order to make the most profit on the site and what the cost will be.
“Just by offering that, I’m letting owners know that I’m not just a guy with a tool truck, and hammer and nails,” Drew says. “Services like that make me more valuable. When I become more valuable, I can’t be shopped.”
With the help of contract laborers, Foundational Builders offers a range of services including pre-construction, estimating, wood frame construction, and structural concrete and masonry.
Driven to Succeed
The company has a handful of projects in LA under contract, with slab recently poured on a 38-unit apartment building. The company plans to grow quickly and eventually add a YouTube channel to showcase its building process to investors. The immediate goal is to have 10 projects going at all times.
The team is driven to reach that goal. Diana says she makes it a point to note the names and faces of everyone who visits a site—tradespeople, bankers, owners, etc.—always taking the time to talk with them and drop the names of the company and those involved to help them be better known and top of mind.
Meanwhile, Drew puts his own people skills to work, sending intro emails to dozens of developers with projects in the pipeline to make more connections and drum up business.
Foundational Builders’ General Counsel John Rincon, who handles negotiations and the legal side of the business, says this kind of approach is complementary to the team mentality that he believes Drew is building and which makes the company so marketable.
“We want to focus on relationships with investors, developers, subcontractors and real estate agents,” John says. “When you do that, you build enormous credibility, and that will go a long way; opportunity will come. Many doors will open up because of the credibility and our team concept as a whole.”
While multifamily housing structures over 4,000 square feet is their focus, Drew says he doesn’t want to be boxed in.
“We will definitely adapt. If somebody wanted us to build a football stadium, then I’m going to find the best project manager and superintendent that has built a stadium, and I’m going to hire them,” Drew says. “It’s not about what we’re building, because I’ll go out there and find the talent.”
Although he’s open to a range of projects, Drew’s ideal client is “a developer that takes pride in their projects. They’re thinking about the people who are going to live there and what will make them happy.”
He says Foundational Builders is open to projects in Ventura, Orange and San Bernardino counties, San Fernando Valley and San Diego.
Part of the Community
Wherever their work takes them, the Foundational Builders’ team plans to show that, more than a construction company, they are part of the community. Drew says that with every project, the company makes a donation to boys and girls clubs at the Al Wooten Jr. Youth Center in LA. He initially got involved with the clubs when he was in college and believes supporting them is a way to support the community and its kids.
“If we support the local boys and girls clubs, we can invite them to our job sites and they can learn about construction,” Drew says.
The company encourages employees’ personal causes as well. For example, Diana is heavily involved in the PTA at her son’s school and takes an active role in his Boy Scouts of America troop. In addition to making donations to the organizations, Drew is also excited to have the scouts come experience job sites and learn about construction.
This type of employee support extends beyond philanthropy. For Diana, it is refreshing. As long as she gets her work done, Foundational Builders is flexible about her taking a day off for a PTA event or to go camping in the woods with her son.
“For me, that was like, wow they understand we have families, we have lives,” she says.
Giving Employees Tools to Excel
Drew believes it’s important to encourage his employees’ education, happiness and success.
“My take is, give your people a good environment, give them the tools they need, and they’re going to be happy. Give them opportunity for growth and there’s no reason to leave.”
He likes to consider people’s potential and says Foundational Builders will give workers the mentorship and training they need to meet their goals.
“We are recruiting talented people from Stanford University and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to be a part of our company and have an internal continuing education program,” Drew says. “For example, project managers and superintendents can choose from an array of areas to enhance their growth, including leadership, management, project management and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) safety.”
He says he will invest in “anything that is going to enhance their knowledge or how they interact with their teammates.”
And teamwork is crucial at Foundational Builders.
“Foundational Builders was founded by Andrew with the belief that a successful building is determined by its foundation,” John says. “We deliver our best team to meet a common goal —deliver on time and under budget—creating a solid foundation for the project.”
Drew says the team-centered culture is built on trust and respect, and that he listens to everyone’s input on projects and issues. He says that when he trusts people but holds them accountable and encourages them, they typically reach to his high expectations.
John and Drew like to make sports analogies and believe strongly in the idea that good teammates help raise each other up and therefore make the organization stronger.
“It’s like Kobe Bryant,” Drew says. “He made everybody around him better. I have a certain level where you need to be, and they all work to get to that level because I’m not going down. They’re coming up.”