In 1977, Tracy Young’s parents escaped Vietnam on a boat that reached Malaysia and was picked up by the coast guards. The boat contained around 300 refugees who were trying to escape the Vietnam war. By a stroke of luck, Tracy Young’s parents and older sister, who was less than 1 year old at that time, managed to immigrate to the United States.
As the daughter of Chinese-Vietnamese refugees of war, Tracy Young was the first in her family to be born in the United States, where she grew up watching her parents work multiple jobs to make ends meet. As Young shared with me from her office in the mission district of San Francisco, her family roots and upbringing was very important to her and it imbued in her a strong sense of work ethnic and determination. Young’s mother was a hardworking business women who gave her sound business advice, “Spend less than you make”, which have served Young well in her career.
Today, Young is the co-founder and CEO of PlanGrid, a construction management software application company that operates like a Google Doc for blueprints. The company has secured more than $62 million in funding from groups including Sequoia, Founders Fund, 500 Startups, Box, Northgate, Spectrum 28, and Tenaya Capital. PlanGrid is used on more than 500,000 projects around the world, including Hudson Yards in NYC, Levi’s Stadium, NVIDIA’s new headquarters, the $150 million Highway 99 Realignment Project in Fresno, California, and many others.
PlanGrid was founded in 2011, when Young and her co-founders realized how difficult it was to physically ship paper out to every single field workers on construction jobsites and to constantly update information. Young had started her career as a construction engineer, after majoring in construction management at Sacramento State University, and was shocked by how inefficient the construction industry was. It was heavy, cumbersome and expensive and version control of construction data is a huge problem.
At that point in time, it became obvious to Young and her team that they needed to do something about it, and hence PlanGrid was born. Initially, PlanGrid’s software allowed everyone involved with a construction project the ability to view blueprints on their iPad through a simple interface that even the least tech-savvy workers could use. Today, clients of PlanGrid uses the software to share plans, markups, photos and reports with their entire project team, and even allowing users to collaborate while offline, which is important as Wi-Fi signals can often be unreliable at construction sites.
Young’s personal story is one that is inspiring to any aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to start a company. As a female leader in two male-dominated industries, technology and construction, Young shared that she never felt a difference because of her gender. She shared that there will always be naysayers who are out to bring you down. However, Young believes that by being respectful, working hard, and building a great team, one can get the job done and deliver.
Young has now built a successful business in the construction industry, and her team has no plans to slow down. Tens of thousands of contractors, owners, and architects use PlanGrid to finish their projects on time and under budget. Today, PlanGrid has over 300 employees based around the world and paying customers in over 72 countries. There is still plenty of room to grow in the United States, where paper is still used in the majority of today’s construction projects, but there is also a lot of opportunity to grow globally.
Author’s note: This is a series of articles featuring 1st generation and 2nd generation entrepreneurs in United States to showcase their immigrant story and how they worked hard to start their businesses. The author himself is an immigrant entrepreneur who moved to the United States from Singapore.