Notes on the growth of ACAEngine

This post was first published as a Linkedin Pulse article by Jon McFarlane. View other Pulse articles here.

Last month William Le from our team relocated from Sydney to Hong Kong to lead our efforts in the Asian market. In this short time we have delivered ACAEngine to a large insurance company for visitor management and building access control, started scoping our first major residential project and established a delivery and hosting partnership with two of the leaders in the Asian market.

Our aim now is to replicate this success in cities all over the world. Right now we have active projects in major cities such as London and New York- but also a few scattered in smaller cities such as Milan, Istanbul and Ho Chi Minh. This is thanks to some of our multinational clients- managing the solution centrally and rolling it out to their global offices.

How do we manage this with a relatively small team? Well there are a few things working in our favour.

Scalable product from day one.

Our software was designed to scale from the get go. Many startups are following the “lean” methodology- basically releasing the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and constantly playing catch up. This means they focus on features that they can sell right away. Our first project was a single system- it would have been easy for us to ignore scale as the client didn’t need it. But we took the time (while living on 2 min noodles) to get it right before releasing. Having the technical co-founder that I do, he would not of had it any other way. Eight years later, scale is still at the heart of what we do. We are a couple of months away from a new version that can scale even further. We even built our own open-source framework so we are not held back by Ruby on Rails limitations. Our current offering is as scalable as our clients need right now, so again we are ignoring the MVP method and releasing something that will be scalable for another eight years- while our competitors are yet to catch up to our day one.

Software has no borders

The building industry has historically been very hardware focused when it comes to technology. As we are 100% software based, international business is pretty straight forward. Even when we work on projects in our own city- we are doing it remotely. From a technical point of view we do not care where the server is located, the process is the same.

Instagram famously had just 13 staff when they were acquired for $1B. We are not running that lean, but it shows how a small team can have big results when all they focus on is software. This is one of the main driving factors behind our internal shift of delivering our projects directly; to working through partners so we can focus on product and not spend half our day in project meetings.

Furthermore, many of our elements and tools are open source. This means we have external developers contributing to some elements of our stack. And any partner or developer can get up to speed very quickly with our documented APIs.

The open source model also allows clients to set up their own demo or Proof of Concept as they can download and setup ACAEngine without us. If you are not using it commercially, you do not need a commercial license. This works really well for us as resourcing POCs is hard even for the largest IT companies. Also, not needing us helps our clients validate the platform so this turns out to be a successful way to run a POC.


Projects require local resources- so we lean on partnerships to enable this. There are two core areas for our delivery partnerships:

  1. Designing, scoping and building UX

  2. IT services and integration.

As an API based platform, ACAEngine UX can be completely customised for the job. Companies that typically sell product can struggle to get their head around this. So we also provide templates for a number typical requirements such as a workplace app, room booking interfaces and visitor kiosk (to name a few).

Creative agencies are best suited to scope and design UX as they already work with and understand platform. Our message is not too far off their typical web projects: “We’re Wordpress and you're engaged to build the website on top” is the simplified analogy. "Wordpress for buildings".   

IT services are simple: we need a VM (maybe a few), client side Auth, a network and domains with SSL. Our challenge is these two areas, UX and IT, might not be covered by the same partner. Personally, I spend a lot of my time travelling and meeting with potential partners to close these gaps so the client can engage one partner and have both areas covered. 

So what next for ACAEngine?

We are going to establish more partnerships- not going to go nuts with it rather be selective and focus on capabilities. We are launching new products Q2 this year (a SaaS offering and our own building Analytics platform) and we are using our existing projects in new markets as a base to grow sales in those regions. It will be a busy year for us- but I guess it has never been quiet. It’s always just a new set of challenges- but we have a motivated team that thrive on it.

It you are interested in my personal experience as we do all this I've started a personal blog here:

Jon McFarlane, co-founder ACA