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March 3-7, 2026

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Dr. Sarah Buchner: Real and Practical Applications of AI in Construction



With apologies to all his other guests, host Taylor White of Ken White Construction welcomes “probably the smartest person” he’s “ever had the chance to interview” to the podcast - the mastermind behind Trunk Tools, Dr. Sarah Buchner. Among her many achievements, Sarah is a Stanford MBA Graduate, holds a PhD in Civil Systems Engineering and Data Science, has been named a Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ honoree, and is, most proudly of all, a carpenter. Today, she and Taylor dive into her fascinating journey from working in the field to becoming a tech entrepreneur and a pioneering CEO who is effectively transforming the construction industry. 

Illuminating the transformative power of integrating advanced AI technology, Sarah details how this cutting-edge approach revolutionizes construction by enhancing efficiency, reducing errors, and tackling the critical challenges of labor shortages and project management inefficiencies. She goes on to unveil the inner workings of Trunk Tools, revealing how the platform utilizes AI to manage vast quantities of construction data, representing a revolution in traditional construction methods, impacting everything from high-rises to infrastructure projects. Delving beyond the technology, Dr. Buchner also offers personal reflections on overcoming adversity, her unwavering entrepreneurial spirit, and her path as a female leader in a male-dominated field. Her conversation with Taylor here today is a compelling narrative of perseverance, innovation, and the power of technology to drive groundbreaking changes in one of the world's most essential industries.


  • Buchner's journey from carpenter to CEO of Trunk Tools
  • The pivotal role of AI in revolutionizing construction practices
  • The development and impact of a health and safety app
  • The crucial roles of education and perseverance in overcoming challenges and achieving success
  • Transition challenges and successes from manual labor to a leadership role
  • Insights into Trunk Tools' use of AI
  • The broader application of AI tools in construction
  • Buchner's reflections on breaking barriers as a female leader in a male-dominated field
  • Her ongoing commitment to innovation in construction technology

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Episode transcript:

Taylor White: That's a success story, and I think that takes a certain person. Are you very disciplined with yourself, or what traits do you have that you think attribute to your success and where you are now as a person?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: I have a huge chip on my shoulder. The chip on my shoulder is so big that it can hardly fit on this video screen. And the chip on my shoulder comes from being a woman in construction in a way. Like, you definitely do not want to be a blonde female carpenter in your teenage years. That makes no sense. Like, you hear everything that “This confines me, whatever, “Everybody's against you.” In my youth, I was told I cannot do certain things over and over again. But I always was like, I just didn't buy it. Just because somebody told me that a woman has no place on a construction site, that didn't mean that I actually believed what they said. And so every time I heard one of these things, I wanted to prove them wrong. So I think there's just an insane drive of building my own path and just going for it.

Taylor White: Welcome back everybody to the CONEXPO/CON-AGG podcast. I am your host, as always, Taylor White. Our podcast is brought to you by our good friends over at Komatsu. With me today, I have somebody who is most likely, probably the smartest person - sorry, everybody else - that I have ever had the chance to interview. Just looking at some briefings, Forbes 30 under 30, Construction Champion, has a PhD in Data Science and Civil Engineering and an MBA from Stanford, is the CEO and founder of Trunk Tools. Today, I am here with Dr. Sarah Buckner. Sarah, thank you.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Thank you. Yeah, I'm blushing. I feel totally hyped. You forgot that I am a carpenter because that's actually what I'm most proud of.

Taylor White: Okay, well, hey, I mean, I would be proud of that, but a lot of this other stuff is very impressive as well. So, yeah, I guess to kind of start things off, I definitely - I mean, I actually spoke about you yesterday to a client. I was on a job site and they were talking about AI and how we can use it in construction. But before we get into all that exciting stuff, I definitely want to figure out who you are and where you come from. You mentioned you're a carpenter. I saw here that since the age of 12 you've been in trades. So how did you get your start and explain that kind of story?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah, I love being in construction, don't get me wrong, but I am in construction completely involuntarily. I grew up in a super poor environment on a farm and eventually we lost the farm and my dad became a carpenter. And when you don't come from a lot of means, it's normal for the kids to start working. So when I was 12, he took me out on my first construction site, just as a carpenter, as a blue-collar worker, and I actually really liked it. I liked it because, A, it was the most money I've ever made. So I think I made like $12 an hour - and that was, like, life-changing back in the days for me. And then B, I liked it because you actually build something that, by the end of the day, you achieve something that you can look at. And not just something you can look at and touch, but also something that helps other people. It was just that people were so grateful when you built a roof for them. When you just build a house and somebody lives in it and it changes somebody's life. It was just amazing. So I really, really liked it. And I started as a carpenter again when I was 12, then was a blue-collar worker for many years, and became a foreman and a super.

I eventually thought I would find my life's calling as a general contractor. So I switched from being an actual tradesperson to a GC. I was a GC for a while and I ran large high-rise projects. And on one of these projects, like a $400-$500 million high-rise, with 600 guys working for me on the job - we had a fatality on the job site. And as much as probably everyone who's listening to this and you had experienced something like that, it was my first and I was just completely floored. How can I be running or managing a team of people where it is so dangerous that someone dies. I couldn't really handle it, and I also decided that that's not how we should live. We were in the 2000s already, and we still had people dying on job sites. And so I decided to build a health and safety app. And so that was my switch from actual construction to construction software. Then I felt like the impact I could have with software is just way bigger and way more fundamental than if I just keep one high-risk project after the other. I just felt like I could actually impact bigger amounts of people. So since then, I've been doing software in the construction industry.

Taylor White: Wow, you summarized your whole life. The podcast is over.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: It's great.

Taylor White: Thanks for coming on, everybody. This-

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Should we talk about American football now?

Taylor White: Yeah, sure, something like that. Okay, so first of all, I do notice that- Unbelievable. Where was your family farm? Where are you from?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: In the countryside? Austria.

Taylor White: Austria. Wow. Okay.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah.

Taylor White: Which is where, geographically on the map?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Next to Germany and Switzerland. Yeah. We definitely have mountains. I started skiing when I was two years old because that's what you do.

Taylor White: Awesome. And then, is your business based in the West now or no?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: No.

Taylor White: So, I did most of the actual construction work in Europe, in several different countries. I did my PhD in Europe, and then I had a startup in Europe. And I just wanted to get into the US economy, mostly because the United States has always been this- I grew up reading about the American Dream as a poor little girl, wondering if there's a better world out there. So the American Dream was something that I strongly believed in, even though I'd never been to America. And so it was clear to me that eventually I wanted to come to the country where supposedly I can live the American Dream. So I came to the US five years ago for Stanford, and that was really my ticket to start another company in this country and to stay here. The company is now headquartered in New York. So I started a company in Silicon Valley and then moved the headquarters to New York just for proximity to customers and clients.

Taylor White: How do you do that trans- What you've done is super impressive. How did you do the transition from, carpenter, then foreman, super looking out for these projects, and then like you said, you grew up poor on a farm, and then go to school. Did you save up to go to school? You have your PhD, you've gone to Stanford. Did you have really good grades and get a scholarship? I mean, that stuff's all super impressive.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah, I mean, that's a little bit funny because I'm always represented as, like, living the American Dream, and I do believe that, but part of it is also the European Dream. And what I mean by that is, the socialist society we have over there actually made it possible for me to go to school for free. I had a phenomenal education that was public. I always went to public school, public university, and did my PhD at a public university. The only degree I ever paid for was Stanford, and that was super expensive, but it was later in my career when I actually made some money before that. But up until then, if you have good grades in Europe, school is pretty much for free.

Taylor White: What drives you to do what you did? I mean, not in a cheesy, cliche podcast answer, but I'm genuinely curious about what in your mind makes you who you are to go out and do the stuff that you're doing and to come from blue-collar trades - my family didn't have much - that's a success story. And I think that takes a certain person. Are you very disciplined with yourself, or what traits do you have that you think attribute to your success and where you are now as a person?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: I have a huge chip on my shoulder. The chip on my shoulder is so big that it can hardly fit on this video screen. And the chip on my shoulder comes from being a) woman in construction in a way. Like, you definitely do not want to be a blonde female carpenter in your teenage years. That makes no sense. Like, you hear everything that this confines me– Whatever. Everybody's against you.

In my youth, I was told I cannot do certain things over and over again. But I always was like, I just didn't buy it. Just because somebody told me that a woman has no place on a construction site, that didn't mean that I actually believed what they said. And so every time I heard one of these things, I wanted to prove them wrong. So I think there's just an insane drive of building my own path and just going for it. And so for me, early on, getting out of the situation that I found myself in, with, like, two choices. There were two solutions: education and hard work. These were two things that my parents actually taught me. My dad only went to elementary school, he did not go to high school. But even though my dad didn't have opportunities and my mom didn't have opportunities, they told me, like, ‘Hey, there is free education. And when you work hard, you'll get somewhere.” So that's just something that I learned early on, and I believe in that until this day. And now, it's just like, I've gotten that far, how far can I go? If you get to a certain point– It's not really much where I am at right now, but the distance traveled means more to me than the point where I'm at. And if I look past at the distance traveled and just do the math of how far will this take me in the future, I think the sky is not even the limit.

Taylor White: Yeah, I resonate with that, definitely. My saying throughout my life was, and now, our company slogan literally is "work harder." And that's kind of like, we really brand with that. Yeah, I have it tattooed on my body. It was my first tattoo. I used to come into the office every day, and I would be out on the job site, and I would always have a sharpie, and I'd write on my forearm, like, "work harder." And then eventually one day, I'm like, “Well, I might as well just get this permanently tattooed.” And it was just kind of like a slap in the face. It'd be like, “Dude, if you're being lazy get the hell up. Let's go. Nothing is handed to you. Let's chase our dreams.” And I, although I think you probably are a very book smart person, I'm not so much. So everyone always tells me, like, "work harder," and I'm like, "or work smarter." Cause that's stupid to say "work harder." And I'm like, “Well, when you're not smart, you can't work smarter. All that's left is work. Working hard.” And I know a lot of people that I went to school with that have a lot of fancy degrees, and they're wasting them. They're not doing anything with them. And I'm like, “Because they have no work ethic.” So I think that those two things go really hand in hand.

And I think with you, because you kind of maybe have both of those. You have the work ethic and you're dialed in on what you want to do, and you're super smart, and you're able to succeed at that. One thing that you were saying. A lot of people always say, like, “Don't try to find success to prove somebody wrong or to prove people wrong. It should be for yourself.” But to me, and I don't agree with it, I think that it is good to have people that I'm like, “Yeah, I'm going to do this just so you can see one day.” Because I'm a human being. That's what it is. I'd be lying if I said that wasn't true. I could kind of get that vibe from you that maybe, I don't know, like you do. Like you said, you have this chip on your shoulder and you've always been told you can't. And you're a woman in construction, so there's got to be some part of you that's doing what you're doing to be like, “Hey, look at me go.”

Taylor White: I mean, it's for sure one part of it. I don't think it's the dominating force. It's not like I'm just trying to prove people wrong. That would be a waste of my lifetime. Ultimately, I need to be doing this for myself. But, yeah, I need to fill my own cup. But I just don't believe that I can't do something. I mean, there are very few things where I don’t think I can achieve those things, and now I'm too old for this or whatever. But I feel if you set your mind to something and you see what steps you need to take to get there, way more stuff is possible than we all believe. And I really enjoy now that I've gotten further in my career and I can be something like a role model for younger people. It's like, “Hey, look at her. She can go from a carpenter to a Silicon Valley tech founder. Maybe I can also go from a baker to owning my own bakery.” It's like, yes. And if all I can do in my life is inspire a few people to think one step further and actually just do it because they see people like me who have done it, that is phenomenal. And that's giving me intrinsic motivation to create a world where people can dream bigger and achieve their full potential.

Taylor White: What was the turning point? What was your first big success where you were like, “Okay, I'm out of Austria, I came up this way and now I'm actually starting to make some money”? And what phase were you at where you're like, “Okay, I think that I can run my own business and I have this kind of entrepreneurial mindset”? When did you kind of figure that out? And when was that when it clicked and it was like, “Okay, here we go”?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: I've always had an entrepreneurial mindset. So there's stories where when I was six years old, I stole a Polaroid camera from my relative and I ran around the local fair and I sold polaroids of pictures. It was just nobody told me to do this. Nobody. I mean, obviously nobody told me to use somebody else's Polaroid. But I was just very– I like your term street smart. I was just like, “How can I make money?” Or I would sit around in front of the grocery store and wait for people to forget that they put a coin into the grocery cart. And that's how I would make money as a child. This wasn't stealing. It was just like, other people leave money behind, and I can just grab it and...

Taylor White: Well, Sarah, that is theft. You're a thief. She's got her PR team in the back.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: This was like over–

Taylor White: I am completely kidding. I get it. Sorry.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: I was wondering as I said that, “Is it not?”  The entrepreneurial spirit was there, I think, when the first time I was managing a smaller team. It was like, "Hey, people who are older are okay with me telling them what to do and telling them where to go." Because it just comes naturally to me. These were the first few moments, and then I think when I really kind of started getting real drive for thinking outside the box was honestly one of the most impactful experiences of my life was when I was a waitress at Munich Oktoberfest. Have you heard about Oktoberfest?

Taylor White: Have I heard about Oktoberfest? I live for Oktoberfest.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: You live for it? Then we should go. I'll take you. So Oktoberfest in Munich– Here’s what happened. There was this TV show that I watched with my mom, and it was like the ten hardest jobs in the world. I went to my mom and said, "Whatever is number one, I’m going to do it" And it turned out, number one was being a waitress at Munich Oktoberfest. And thankfully, I didn't grow up that far from it. I somehow made my way there. Honestly, I faked a resume to get there because I didn't have a background in this. I showed up there and it was the most brutal job of my life. Nothing that I’ve done in construction was as hard as being a waitress in Munich Oktoberfest, because you work 16 hours a day, 16 days in a row. There are no breaks. You start at 8:00 AM and it goes on until midnight. You carry 14 steins of beer, which is 72 pounds. So you're carrying 70 pounds of beer, people are drunk and yelling, blah, blah, blah. The most interesting part about it is you get paid only based on the revenue. There was no hourly rate. There’s nothing. You only get paid if you sold and if you do your job. Only commission and tip. It was purely performance-based. And I made so much money. And I was like, “Oh, that’s how rich people do it.” It’s not like you do it for a few hours, it’s like, “No. Rich people make money based on being smarter and not just necessarily working harder.” And it’s really where I was like– I think I made $20,000 in the two weeks, net, and I was like, “Great.” And I was 18 years old.

Taylor White: I need to be a server at Oktoberfest. I can put on one of– What are they? Lederhosen?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah. The dresses.

Taylor White: I think I’d look pretty good on one, actually.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah, you definitely would. We'll see if you can carry the 14 steins of beer.

Taylor White: That's wild. So do you think that with making that and doing that, was it kind of like, “Okay. Now, I got a kind of taste of success or drive. Okay. This is purely performance based. I got this much because I worked my [expletive] off.” Is that kind of what it was? Like you get back what you put in.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: It was my first job where I wasn't paid per hour. And I was like, “Oh, there’s different compensation models and there’s something where you can profit– This is profit margin in a way. This is how you would own your own business. You are self-employed. And I was like, "Oh, I like self-employed thing. I don’t want the company's success– I want to be the driving seat.” And that was the first time in my life that I was like, “Hey, I’m in the driving seat and I can fundamentally change my outcome.” I could give you 50 more examples, but I remember this was so impactful, which switched my focus of how many hours can I work in a day because that’s the same for everybody versus how much I can make in the hours that I have in a day. 

Taylor White: I like that. It’s almost like I should get my employees here in my company to work performance-based. It's true though, it drives. We're always trying to come up with something here like an employee incentive, like "Hey, guys. If the company is this much more profitable, there’s going to be something for everybody to benefit off that."

Dr. Sarah Buchner: That's one of the products that we have at Trunk Tools. Trunk Perform is an incentive management software for blue-collar workers and tradespeople in general. That’s exactly how it works. “Hey, you finish the most critical– You hang 10 doors instead of 8 doors today, you get paid $20 extra,” and then you get paid out on these debit cards. And so that’s like how our incentive management for the tradespeople that they are incentivized to stay on the most critical tasks.

Taylor White: Yeah. That was a good segue into that. I had no idea.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Everybody just wants to talk about AI.

Taylor White: I know, totally. I get it. We will get to that. But one more thing that I like is– Although I believe Trunk Tools is very impressive, I want to chat about it. I think that you are very impressive and I want to chat to you. Do you think that entrepreneurs are something that are born or made? I like this debate. Is it a gene or something you can learn?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: I have my very own view on this, and I usually have polarizing views. So, to our audience, that’s just me. I’m sorry if I insult anybody. I think the best entrepreneurs I have met are really resilient. And what I mean by that is their threshold for pain is really really high. And that's why they survive entrepreneurship. Kind of the [expletive] that gets thrown against you every single day as an entrepreneur is– You know it, you’re running your own business. It’s brutal. It’s ups and downs and ups and downs all the time, and so you need a really high threshold for pain. People who have that usually have had very messed up childhood or a lot of trauma in their life. Or like some ways they perform their thresholds of pain has gotten really high. So I don't think it's a gene. I think it comes from experiences in your life that shape you towards a way of high resilience, which comes with a very high threshold for pain.

Taylor White: Do you do anything to combat those things that you talked about? For me, I like running. I enjoy running a lot. I do enjoy it. I love running. For me it’s like my time to just zone out and hone out. And I also enjoy– I have a really close friend. I’m not a guy with a lot of friends. Just like being in business, I’m a terrible friend because I don’t get back to people ever. And I enjoy my time with him. What kind of stuff do you do that helps combat those things?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah. No, I'm laughing because I should really run more, exercise more, and it's just a tiny thing. And so many people in my life are like, have you exercised in the last year? And I'm like, no. So I'm a terrible example for that. What I do to stay sane is a lot of therapy. I've been doing therapy since I was 18 and I've never stopped. And this is like, you know, a lot, like, every single week. And then when I started this business, it wasn't my first. When I started this business, I called my therapist and was like, “We're going to double the hours because I know it's going to be a [expletive] show.” So it's just, like, I think what's so hard about entrepreneurship is that you have so many downs, and you can't take them too personally because you just need to suffer through them. But you also can't celebrate the highs too much, because if you celebrate the highs too much, you'll feel the downs too much. So it's a job that makes you really numb. And they say it's lonely at the top but I think it's not just lonely, it's really numb. So I'm very, very numb because of this job. And I think I'm trying to not also, like, overall numb myself too much in the rest of my life. So I think that's where I'm a huge advocate of therapy or coaching or whatever you want to call it to feel better about yourself. I call it therapy because that's what it is.

Taylor White: Yeah. I like that. And I think you would classify me as a classic toxic masculinity of "I don't need therapy", if I'm being honest.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Call it coaching, you know?

Taylor White: No, I know. But, I get told, my wife tells me, “You would benefit from therapy because–” I'm the same. I'm the same as well, though, too. Having a business, I like the way you described it, of being numb and it's true. Sometimes I look back at the last three years and what we've accomplished as a company, and 10-year-old me would be like vibrating. Like, "Holy [expletive], we're doing it." But now me, I'm like, "Okay, great. What's next? That's fantastic. Keep going. Keep pushing.” And then, yeah, you have those crazy lows.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: But, yeah, it's good that you recognize this. So I'm the same and most leaders are the same, that we have to look at the next thing because that's what keeps us going, what makes us better. It's really bad for teams. I had to sit down with my executive team and be like, "We need to learn how to celebrate our wins because the rest of our organization actually needs that." Just because I don't need it and I'm insane enough to just keep going doesn't mean the rest of the team. And so now we're celebrating our wins. And it makes me super uncomfortable because it's against my personality, but here we are.

Taylor White: That's huge. Yeah, I know. Because culture at your business can easily go down the drain if you don't try to, “Hey, we got this big job. Great. That's awesome. How are we going to celebrate that?”

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah. Especially if you scale that fast. We're scaling really fast. The culture is something, me personally, I'm super careful about. We are doubling our engineering team right now. And so adding an overall 56% headcount within a month, it's insane for a company our size.

Taylor White: Okay, so I want to talk about Trunk Tools, and I want to talk about– Because from what I've read, it ties into the labor shortage and enabling desolate– You tell me what it is. I don't want to read something. You can tell I'm reading something. Tell me what Trunk Tools is.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: So Trunk Tools is, as a company, we are people that really, really care about our construction industry. Even our engineers, who don't come from our background, care about construction workers in one way or the other. So that's what we are as a company. We care about the industry. And thankfully, we have enough ties to Silicon Valley and so on, that we can actually get the best tech and a [expletive] ton of money into this industry, which is cool. So what do we do? We build. In easy terms, we build the brain behind construction. We've trained huge AI models specifically for this construction industry and now we can build little AI agents on this brain. What this means is we can have little, almost, assistants that have this big construction brain and that will work for you, but not human assistants, but AI-based assistants. So how does this work? For example, you deploy them on a high rise project, say a $500 million high rise, and we take all the data that sits on your project management platform. First though, like RFIs and schedules and specifications and change orders and drawings. First question to you, Taylor. On a $500 million high rise project, how many pages of documents do you think we get? You want to give it a guess?

Taylor White: Geez. I mean, we're doing a four-story level residential right now in our town. And I mean, we have a book that is like this just from that.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: And that's about a $10 million–

Taylor White: Yeah. Geez. What? 15,000?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah, we got a customer when we launched a year ago, but we got 3.6 million pages of documents. This is completely disgusting. And if you go back in time when we had everything on paper, we did this thought experiment. If you were to print 3.6 million pages and stack it on top of each other, the stack of paper would be 1200 ft, so it's three times as high as the building they're building, just with the amount of paper that they have. And so that's what we're dealing with in construction. The sheer amount of documentation and some owner comes in and is like, "Here is this book of specifications, please build it exactly as I've written down here.” And also, you don't have any time, because I actually want this building to be done in six months from now. And so there's just an insane amount of pressure, way too much data, and way too little clarity within this data. And the data has discrepancies all the time.

So what we do is we take all your data from a construction project, throw it against our brain that we've built, and then the brain is just way more powerful than your brain and my brain together. It’s way more powerful than a hundred of my brain, because it can actually perfectly memorize all these four million pages of documents. Then you can interact with the brain. And one of the tools we have is a co-pilot. You've all heard the term. It's an AI-based co-pilot. When you're on your construction job and you're like, "Hey, what color paint should I use on this wall?" Instead of trying to find this in your documentations or in your drawings, you just text us. You get a phone number and you text, "What color paint should I use in room 212?" And within a few seconds you'll get a response, like, "Hey. This is Benjamin Moore. White, matte, whatever." And you just get a text message with this. We don't need you to download an app. No bull[expletive]. Just text us and oh yeah, it gives you nuts.

Taylor White: Is there a certain size of company– Who are you trying to target with this? Obviously, people who are building high rises or is it just for construction project management, general contractors, or guys? Because I have both guys. We have a construction management business, but we also have an actual construction company. Can both those use this?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yes, right now we have customers from all areas. We have owners, construction managers, we have pCs, and we have the subs. Within those, I would say foremen and up, we haven’t really spread it into the actual trades, because usually they're often the ones who have to read a lot of documentation, but there are other tools in the works for them. So from a size perspective, I would say jobs with $10 million and up make a lot of sense. We have live projects, we have high rises, we have tunnels, we have bridges, we have highways, you name it. It doesn’t really matter because our AI is trained in construction, so it doesn't matter to us if it’s a bridge or it’s a high rise.

Taylor White: So it's project-based then. I cannot use it for our construction company. We work on larger commercial projects, but we also do smaller residential projects like new home construction. We have crews that do foundation, basement digs, septic systems, lock grading, and stuff like that.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: It works on that as well. We also have customers that use it for bidding, customers who use it in their claims department so they can auto-generate or fastly generate claims.

Taylor White: How would someone use it for that stuff? Explain how Trunk Tools on how it would be helpful for my– Because a lot of the people who listen to this listeners have construction companies that are doing commercial or residential construction for site servicing, excavation, that sort of stuff.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah. So the question is how do we use it for– Which part?

Taylor White: How would you use it for a construction company? Not a general contractor that’s looking up building a high rise or they’re building a $50 million tunnel. Like the regular Joe Blow construction company that’s doing lock grading and excavation.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yes, we have a few examples using this in their bidding phase. We have an electrician for example who‘s like. “Hey. I’m supposed to make 10 bids a month and I get like a 500-page book. It’s going to take me way too long time to say what I’m actually bidding for. So I bid like this.” And instead of that, you could just dump all the data in our software and you can interact and be like, “Hey. Are there any specifications around my–” I’m not an electrician, so just the worst example. But concrete, is there any specific concrete in the foundation that is not our standard concrete?" You can ask these questions and the system is going to give you an answer instead of you trying to read through 500-page texts.

Taylor White: That would be handy for us, how I see that. And correct me if I’m wrong. We get a lot of work and sometimes tender packages are very quite extensive. And you could essentially dump this massive 500-page, 1000-page document into it. And for us for excavation, it’ll be like anything about contaminated materials in this. Because as soon as you get contaminated materials, that drives up your cost of construction. Is there any rock? Do we have to remove rocks? Stuff like that.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah. And with you, Taylor, you probably have a list of risk areas or whatever it is that you’re looking for. So you just dump the list against the system, the system automatically responds, “Yeah, well, do this.”

Taylor White: What made you think of doing this? Because you were doing it?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: No, my PhD was about disruptive innovations in construction, and a lot of it is really around AI and natural language processing and all these super fancy terms. But in the days, a lot of the stuff that I have done was trying to make sense of our data in construction. And construction data is super messy. You just explained it. We have 500 pages of something. Most of it is scanned. Sometimes you don’t even get a PDF. Some of it is handwritten. It's all terrible. And in order to use data, historically, you would have to have it structured. That’s why BIM was a big thing. That’s why every big company is like, “Let’s structure our data.And they had some plans to do this and invest in millions of dollars.” And it kind of killed the little guy because you can’t do that with your company, it’s a waste of your money.

What’s really beautiful is now, with generative AI, we don’t need structured data sets anymore. And that’s the big shift over the last 1 or 2 years where the AI itself got so much smarter that it can make sense out of the unstructured data mess. And then it’s really awesome for the smaller companies because now you get the same tools like the Bechtel of this world, because nobody cares about if your data is structured or how your data comes in. I take the most messy data sets in the world. I take pictures of construction sites and the drawings and the scanned drawings, and like, “Whatever.” And how our AI will make sense is most of this and it’s really good for you.

Playing around with data in construction in years? It’s going great. We were super early on the AI stuff and now, it’s like a huge high place and it really helps that it’s a jive right now, but we're lucky with timing. I have to admit that. 

Taylor White: I don’t think you are.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: I believe in grabbing luck when you see it.

Taylor White: Yes. Opportunity lock. I just don’t like the word luck. I hate luck.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Cool.

Taylor White: It’s just I’ve been told that before and I just don’t like luck.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: But I think we were at the right point at the right time. We were really early with large language models and all of this stuff. And then we were really good at executing and right now, we’re like the leading provider in the whole world when it comes to general constructions and it’s just amazing with such a small team too.

Taylor White: What is the plan for Trunk Tools? Where would you like to see Trunk Tools in the next 3-5, 10-15, or 20 years from now?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah. So, maybe where is this going? It’s an industry push. Where is this generator AI stuff going? It's more like these AI agents. We will hear a lot about this in the next one, two, or three years. What that means is that the AI will take over some of the workflows that you hated anyways. So a good one we have right now is you ask us a question and our system says, "Hey, we don't have the answer." And, if we don't know which color to use in a room, the reason for that is it probably should be in the RFI. Somebody in the architect section didn't do their job very well. So we can automatically create a response for the RFI. We can learn from old change orders and create new ones. There's just a lot of automating the really boring parts. Comparing specifications with submittals. Every GC hates it, everybody has to do it. And it’s just something that AI can really do well. So we are working on all of that, automating the boring parts of construction that nobody really wants to do. And really getting construction into a point where people show up to do the parts of their job that they actually want to do and people are safe and people are incentivized in the right way. Where we go as a company is like we are in hyper growth mode right now and things are working really well. We are lucky enough to have investors who really like construction, understand, and support it, so we are leading in the market and I’m not going to give that up.

Taylor White: I got $100 and I'll give you $100. That'll be my investment. That's all I've got.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Cool. I'm happy with that. We can do that.

Taylor White: What about Trunk Perform? You talked about it briefly a while ago. That really interested me. I want to hear about that.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah, it's another one of our tools that is powered by our AI brain. What we've found was– I talked about this, like key purchases are just wrongly incentivized in construction right now. People get paid hourly and that’s great. There are some arguments for why that's great. But when I worked in construction, for me, it was good to drag it out so I can work over time and the project and get 50% more. Because I’m never positively incentivized in any way to get it done, and I’m treated like [expletive], and people yell at me and it's just not a great work environment. We started experimenting with it’s not that companies and owners don't want half the people to participate, you just don’t know how. You don’t have a system to actively do it. And then you throw pizza parties and you give them company t-shirts. And these guys are like, “How many more pizza parties do you really want to have?”

Taylor White: I throw some pretty [expletive] pizza parties.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Invite me to one of them and I might revise the statement.

Taylor White: Oktoberfest style pizza party.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: I come with the full 14 slice-

Taylor White: I want to see that.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: I can show a picture to you. What we realized is when you look at the data for productivity in construction,it’s actually gone down in the last six years. We all know that. And when you also look at the data in construction, you see that 80% of blue-collared workers in construction in the United States of America live paycheck to paycheck. 4 out of 5 people live paycheck to paycheck. And then we think that a company t-shirt is going to do the trick. Like, no. These people would rather have $25 in cash so they can buy some food for their families. It is just very down with what we are doing. And so we wanted to change that and we actually wanted to give people in the field and the ground the chance to participate and to positively influence their personal outcome on this job.

And so what Trunk Perform is doing is you upload your budget and your schedule, you as an owner and as an employer, and then our AI then creates task-based incentives. What that means is if the most critical path is for carpenters to hang more doors, these carpenters will get a text message automatically in the morning saying, "Hey. Hang 10 doors instead of eight today in the same eight hours or 10 hours of time, and by the end of the day, you'll get $20 extra." So the carpenters are motivated. They run around hanging two extra doors at the same time, instantly get paid out of these debit cards and can use this money on the same day on the way home to pay for gas or food or whatever.

And interestingly, because we see some of the data on that aggregated level, over 90% of the money that people spend throughout cards is going towards gas and groceries. That means people really need that cash. And so it’s just something where you actually incentivize people. It's a win-win-win situation. You as an owner get your stuff done faster. You have a positive ROI because you actually stay on schedule and you stay on the budget. The workers can make more money and use the money for their families and for actual necessities and everybody wins.

Taylor White: That's exactly what we're missing. And that’s exactly what I’ve been talking about. I was just in Montana with some guys that own construction company in the states as well, too. And we are all talking about this. How do we show employees that we need and can be more profitable without standing in front of them being like, “We need more profits.” And then I'm rolling around with a Rolex or something like that and they’re like, "Well, fuck you, dude. You're wearing a Rolex." Then this kind of changes that and I like that. How rolled out is this program?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: We have national rollouts in this country so people are using it. People are happy with this and we have a super high NPS score. Our top performers make $2,000 net more a month.

Taylor White: On the business side, how does it get set up? Obviously something is linked to– Like you said, it’s real-time. So at the end of the day, let’s say I tell my guys, “We need 320 feet of pipe laid today. Normally you do 280. So if you do 320, then you all get $35 more at the end of the day.”

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Exactly. So our tool kind of pre-calculates this after you make a positive ROI with this–

Taylor White:  Cool. So it's not just some number pulled out of thin air. It's based on what you’ve priced and your profit margins, your costs and everything like that.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah. And then it’s obviously integrated in your payroll. You gross it up, people are not getting taxed, but everything is legal. I don't want to talk about you or something that I did in the past. I remember when I was a superintendent, I’d go talk about this with my boss. And I was told.  “Make them finish this week. However you’re going to do it, I don’t care.” And so this pretty much legalizing that system or pizza party and Starbucks gift cards and whatever else we do out there, legalizing it and making it more transparent so the workers can actually know, so like, “Hey. If I were to work a little bit harder here today, I get share of the bonus at the end of the day instantly.” It's instant gratification, which is psychologically, especially in the blue-collar world, is really really impactful because that’s more of a personality type that they have..

Taylor White: You might have me sold on this. I like that. That's super smart. No, I mean, seriously, honestly, I love it. I love that. That is exactly– Because like you said, because culture for us is huge. We're heavy on social media and our branding, and we have Camp Day coming up where we go and shoot guns at a property that we own. And, yeah, we do a little bit of skeet shooting, and we have a big bonfire, and everybody stays, and we have beer and we hang out. It's a good day, and it's a work day, and everybody still gets paid, and it's a good time. But you can't do that four times a month, or you can only do so many barbecues at the shop or team company events. I love that because it's a direct incentive, and people love money, and that's essentially what they want more of.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Cash is king. We have known this for hundreds and thousands of years, and now we are pretending just because social media is around, and we have a bunch of Silicon Valley kids telling us that online points are going to do the trick. It's like, no, cash is king. 80% of our people are living paycheck to paycheck. Let's put food on the table, and let's not buy into some bull[expletive] of credit reports.

Taylor White: People want money. People want money. Okay, what's Trunk Text?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Trunk text is the AI product that I told you about. If you don't know what you're supposed to build on a construction site, you text us and we give you an answer instantly. The trunk text tells you what to build, and Trunk Perform helps you to actually want to build it.

Taylor White: Everything is all tied. It's all one brain, the AI brain. And these are just all different stuff that work off that.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah, it's one big Taylor White brain, and then everything works.

Taylor White: Yeah. Well, I don't know if it's as good as me, but–

Dr. Sarah Buchner: We can try to test that.

Taylor White: Game on. I’ll work harder than the AI, not smarter.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Should do that on the podcast - find out what’s faster.

Taylor White: Have you ever seen the show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? It'd be like, are you smarter? You've never seen that? Oh, yeah, that's a good point. That’s really exciting. I love the Trunk Perform. I think that is awesome. I think that you are on a dead set path with trunk tools. It sounds like you are in this crazy growth with it. And I think that tech growth is so much different than construction growth as well too. I complain that we're overhead-heavy. I'm sure your overhead is insane as well. And that's why people need investors and stuff like that.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: We actually hire construction people. I just want to put this out there. We have a lot of former superintendents or PM's or whatever part of our team. Yeah, because we're building for them. I'm not building for some techie, so I need them to be part of our– I think you’re too expensive.

Taylor White: Yeah, you couldn't afford me. That's smart.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: The incentives are going to be there, you know? No. So, like, yeah, we love having them be part of our team. And I would say probably like a third of our company has an actual construction background. People like me come from the field. And then we also try to have a good amount of veterans. I really love veterans in this country.

Taylor White: Well, that's probably what's making you successful at it is because you actually are. You're not just some people that were from Silicon Valley and have never left there. It's like you guys are actually blue-collar people that have grown up doing it and understand it and you're trying to make it a better place.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah, we like Silicon Valley for what it does with invested money and stuff like that. For sales and culture I think Silicon Valley is really beautiful. But in the end, I don't believe that you can build a product for construction if you do not come from the industry. It’s its own little environment. It's very complex, it's very unique. And if you don't actually understand what's going on, you shouldn't be in it.

Taylor White: What's next for Dr. Sarah Buchner? What's next? I know you have Trunk Tools, but what else are you working on? Are you going to run more this year?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Maybe after this conversation because now I feel really guilted into it. Having a company like this is more than a full-time job. So I'm just trying to make this company as successful as possible to actually have a positive impact on our industry. I think what's really cool is generally, AI is the biggest technological change that we will probably experience in our lifetime. I mean, I can't look into the future, but definitely the biggest that we have seen so far. And construction is just built for this technology because of the amounts of data and the amounts of stakeholders that we have and the big mess that it kind of is sometimes. And so it's just, for me, it's super enticing that we are on the top company when it comes to the most significant technological change in one of the biggest industries in the world. And we somehow fell into this opportunity, and I'm just grateful for it, and we're going to crush it.

Taylor White: Yeah, I don't doubt it as well. You definitely made me feel pretty dumb just with how smart you are. But I do believe that you have an insane work ethic, and good for you. Seriously, you're doing an amazing thing there. That’s incredible. You've accomplished. One last thing I need to ask you. You never know what’s going to come out of my mouth. Okay, so I follow this person in Austria on social media. I don't want a language barrier thing to think I'm stalking somebody. But I follow them on Instagram. And around Christmas time, their Santa has these [expletive] horns and they have bells. It's Dumbledorfen or what the heck is the guy's name? It has all these things. Dude, that's messed up. You guys are insane. What is that all about? What is that?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: So it's not Santa, but also interesting because Santa–

Taylor White: It has something to do with Santa, right?

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Yeah. So Santa in Austria is most of the time a blonde angel female, which is called Little Jesus. So we represent Jesus as a woman with blonde hair and wings in a white dress. I look a little bit like the Austrian Santa today. So it's the Austrian Santa that brings the presents. Okay. There's no Santa Claus. And then what we do earlier, December 5th or 6th or something like that is what you're talking about. And you bring the kids to– So there's one person that looks like Santa, and then there's one person that looks like the devil a little bit. And you bring the kids, and you ask the kids if they were good or bad. And then if they were good, Santa gives them a little bit of presents, and if they are not good, there is all the– BDSM stuff pretty much. It is insane and I’ve seen this happen. And the kids actually get beaten up. And I don’t think it’s healthy.

Taylor White: I think it's good, and I think we should bring it over to the western hemisphere.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: It's called Krampus, by the way, if you want to look it up. Yes, Krampus. It's something. I don't know where it perfectly comes from, but we had a history in Austria and that piece survived.

Taylor White: Nice. All right, cool. I just wanted to end on that. I wanted to know about it. I appreciate it. This has been another podcast brought to you by our good friends over at Komatsu. Thank you, Sarah, for coming on today. I appreciate it.

Dr. Sarah Buchner: Thank you so much for having me. You're awesome. Keep crushing it. Bye.

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