Cove.Tool co-founders (l to r): Daniel Chopson, Sandeep Ahuja, Patrick Chopson
courtesy cove.tool Cove.Tool co-founders (l to r): Daniel Chopson, Sandeep Ahuja, Patrick Chopson

This is part one in a short series covering the entrepreneurial journey of Sandeep Ahuja from architectural designer to tech company CEO. Read part two here.

I started Cove.tool with my business and life partner Patrick Chopson, AIA, in 2017. After working at firms for a combined 14 years, we understood the impact of buildings on the environment. I didn’t want to provide what some clients called “Lamborghini sustainability”—strategies to reduce embodied and operational energy tacked onto the end of the design process. I wanted to integrate sustainability from start to finish.

Four years later, our company and product have helped architects and designers offset 28 million metric tons of carbon emissions (assuming a typical building life of 10 years). Most exciting? Nearly 80% of that total (22.3 million metric tons) was from this year alone, thanks to our growth in the number of users and projects.

To hit many of the targets laid out in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the design industry will need to reduce its carbon contribution exponentially. Through automation and data-driven design, our company has helped 15,000 architects and engineers conduct energy models, daylight analyses, and cost optimizations on more than 22,000 projects. But until every single project is optimized for carbon, our job is not done.

Moreover, we’re not the only designers with entrepreneurial ambitions. Many architects have ideas for startups churning in their minds. This is the story of how we became the founders of a tech company.

My family moved to a new country every four years because my father was a diplomat. Regardless of the country and climate zone in which we lived, from cold Russia to hot Saudi Arabia, the buildings looked generally the same to me and I wondered why. This curiosity led me to study architecture.

I spearheaded the internal energy lab of a large architecture firm, which provided me experience not only in building design but also in sustainability consulting. I helped our clients optimize their building performance—but I also wanted to help other design firms without the resources to build their own in-house consulting team.

As graduate students at Georgia Tech College of Design, Patrick and I had designed a net-zero energy residence, which won a U.S. Department of Energy Award. With that project and our combined firm experience, we decided to start out on our own.

Cove.Tool office, August 2019
courtesy cove.tool Cove.Tool office, August 2019
Cove.Tool office, July 2021
courtesy cove.tool Cove.Tool office, July 2021

In 2015, we quit our jobs and established Pattern R+D, a consulting practice to make sustainable design accessible to companies of all sizes and disciplines. Our clients included architects, mechanical engineers, contractors, and owners. Initially, we didn’t have funding or a ton of connections in the industry. To make our business work, we supported our company through the money we earned teaching part-time at Kennesaw State University, just northwest of Atlanta.

Back then, few outside services were available to architecture firms seeking to make their projects competitive in the market by conducting daylight, carbon, and energy analyses, reducing overall construction cost, and hitting performance targets. Even though large firms had in-house analysis teams, they often had more projects than their teams could handle, providing a big opportunity for our company to step in and work on medium- and high-profile projects.

We developed technology to efficiently assess both the first cost and lifecycle cost of projects. Our business was successful almost immediately because we were providing a unique service to our clients—and fulfilling an unmet need in the industry. With high customer demand, our revenue grew exponentially each year. By early 2017, our nine-person firm had the capacity to take on about 50 projects a year. A promising start, but we were still far from our goal of integrating sustainable design practices into every project.

To conduct our evaluation, we would import projects from different design tools and manually redraw the building models to run each type of analysis, such as daylighting, carbon emissions, and energy consumption. Then we had to meticulously connect the analyses from the disparate evaluation programs. Altogether, these processes required more than two weeks to complete. On top of these analyses, we ran additional proprietary scripts, which added more time to the workflow. To make our system more efficient and affordable, we needed to automate our process.

In 2017, we brought in our third co-founder, Daniel Chopson, who is also Patrick’s brother. He believed in our mission enough to leave his job as a software engineer building an accounting app for a tech company and help us create a data-driven design app. We named it Cove.tool because we designed the software to calculate cost versus energy across building projects. At the same time, Patrick and I ramped down Pattern R+D to focus on the task at hand: helping any firm with a new construction or renovation project to reduce carbon emissions and first cost through data.

Cove.Tool co-founders (l to r): Daniel Chopson, Sandeep Ahuja, Patrick Chopson, June 2019
courtesy cove.tool Cove.Tool co-founders (l to r): Daniel Chopson, Sandeep Ahuja, Patrick Chopson, June 2019
Cove.Tool team, October 2021
courtesy cove.tool Cove.Tool team, October 2021

Next up: Developing and beta-testing a product...