Cracking User Segmentation in a Fragmented Market

Navigating Fragmented Markets and Achieving Product-Market Fit Through User Segmentation





Fast facts:

Ideation began in 2018, at the tail end of the Zell Entrepreneurship Program. The founders began working full-time on FIRMUS in 2019.
FIRMUS raised a total of $6 million to date as part of their seed round with support from the Israel Innovation Authority.
The company has a team of 15 employees with headquarters in Israel.
Currently operating in the US with customers from the top 20 general contractors in the US.
Table of content

How FIRMUS Began

Construction is a traditional industry that has been around for years, mostly unchanged. It involves the planning, design, construction, and management of buildings and infrastructure. In recent years, the industry has been increasingly adopting new technologies to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and increase the speed of construction. Shir Abecasis, founder of FIRMUS, always had a passion for technology. She started coding at an early age and worked as a Data Scientist and Software Engineer in the elite 8200 unit in the IDF. As an aspiring entrepreneur, she had a desire to make a significant impact, aiming to establish a company that could revolutionize a major market. Her interest in the construction industry began during her studies at the Zell Program, where she discovered how fragmented the market was. When she learned that approximately 10 percent of construction costs are attributed to design-induced rework, construction costs estimates tend to vary in 5%-30% because of design ambiguities, and almost a quarter of all claims in construction originated from incomplete design, Shir became determined to tackle the challenge of mitigating design related risks during preconstruction stages.

Thus, FIRMUS was born and today it is revolutionizing design risk mitigation in construction by analyzing construction documents using advanced AI technologies. It uncovers and manages mitigation of otherwise undetectable design issues and offers a pioneering solution to an unattended industry problem. Discovering those issues early has a significant impact on the bidding and building processes, saving time and money for contractors. FIRMUS is fast growing and is already serving leading construction companies across the United States.

Navigating Uncertainty to Launch an MVP

After identifying the problem, Shir and the FIRMUS team launched a website, offering a high-level description of the value they were proposing. At this point they were still uncertain of the exact solution so they kept their vision vague and used the website to understand what the customers might want. The website gathered interest from many construction companies who shared their vision, so the FIRMUS team converted them into design partners in order to gather detailed insights on relevant challenges they were facing. Eventually, FIRMUS onboarded six design partners, all from a similar user segment - Project Executives and Preconstruction Managers from the top 400 in the US (mid to large-sized construction companies with 500M to 5B in annual revenues and 500 to 2000 employees). ​​The partners shared some common challenges and the team used this information to create an initial product.

Cracking User Segmentation

When the FIRMUS team attempted to bring their product to the market, they struggled to identify the correct target audience because of all the varied feedback they got from Project Managers within their design partnerships. “We understood that we have a problem with the user persona because, when one Project Manager told us, that's amazing, that's exactly what I need and another would say, this is not helpful for us at all,” Shir said. She realized that in trying to satisfy everyone, she ended up with a product for no one. Their MVP was too general to provide enough value to a specific audience. 

Shir recognized that the market was very fragmented and that there was still much to understand about all the different segments. Once the problem was understood, the team at FIRMUS worked to map the market more accurately, they interviewed over 40 customers and prospects, understanding each specific job, responsibility, pains and needs.

The result was a multi-dimensional matrix in the form of a map of different market segments and their specific needs. “We created a formula that tells us, for example, a Project Manager in a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) contract, in residential, working on a certain stage of the design, cares about X specific checks” Shir, said. In total they created seven different formulas and segments. Shir knew from past experience that creating a product for all of them would not be feasible nor draw in sufficient engagement. 

The FIRMUS team knew they were on the right track when they were able to talk to sub-segments within their target audience and tailor their message and offering to make the sales process more efficient and effective (resulting in signing the first substantial enterprise agreements and achieving a month of sale cycle from lead to agreement). Knowing how challenging it is to understand the fragmented construction industry, FIRMUS’ construction advisor commented after this research: "Well, you nailed it!". The FIRMUS team was now closer than ever to product market fit.

The One Metric that Matters

Shir defined product market fit by measuring one metric that matters (OMTM). She defined the metric as the percentage of projects each of her customers scanned with the FIRMUS solution and set the goal of at least 75 percent. Once FIRMUS customers were scanning 100 percent of their projects she realized she had reached product market fit.

Since reaching product-market fit, FIRMUS’ next challenge is maintaining it. Shir and her team employ the "RICE" methodology to ensure growing user engagement. They evaluate potential new features by considering four criteria: Reachability, Impact, Confidence, and Effort. Today FIRMUS has a pool of over 2000 features that users are asking for, or checks from mistakes they’ve found. “For each feature we ask ourselves, for how many users this is relevant, how impactful it is for each use and how confident we are in our answers” Shir said. Finally they evaluate the effort for developing each feature, and how fast they can get it to market. The highest ranking feature is selected. This approach helps them prioritize which features to develop and implement.

Shir’s Tricks of the Trade

Shir went through a long process of four and a half years until she achieved product market fit. During this journey, she gained a lot of learnings, including: 

-   Be confident: 

Confidence is key when entering a new industry. Four years ago, Shir  was uncertain and relied on others to guide her. However, she mentioned that she recently made the shift to believing that even though she does not have a background in construction, she can still become an expert and provide valuable insights to those in the industry. To be successful, it's important to have confidence in yourself, ask the right questions, and use logical thinking skills.

-   User segmentation is the key to product market fit, especially in fragmented industries:  

Shir highlights the importance of finding the right user segment and prioritizing based on the scope you define. Not trying to solve the problems of every user was a game changer for her.

-   The art of interviewing users: 

Avoid leading questions. Before creating a structured approach, Shir would often find herself unconsciously putting words in the customer's mouths. This is a common trap when you don't have a clear set of questions to focus on without influencing the answers. However, when Shir was researching FIRMUS’ user persona and product market fit, not only did she used a clear set of questions, but she prepared a structure allowing design partners, customers, and prospects to draw their own maps of changing needs, stages, and processes. Creating a template for this map in advance, with several dropdown menus showing examples of possible answers, Shir was giving her prospects a framework which on the one hand, gave them the freedom to express themselves but on the other hand, kept them focused on what was important for FIRMUS to understand and encouraged them to think more deeply and come up with things they never thought about before having the opportunity to see their thoughts and processes mapped out this way. She would then take all of those maps offline, to find similarities, differences, or abnormalities and explain herself the differences with her own assumptions at first and then with another set of open questions to prospects, that can qualify or disqualify her assumptions.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the reasons that Shir decided to enter the construction industry? What are the pros and cons?
  2. Why did Shir create a landing page MVP? Do you think it was the right MVP for her?
  3. What do you think about the timing of FIRMUS’ MVP and User segmentation? What is another order you think it could have been done?
  4. What are the main reasons that cracking user segmentation took 4.5 years for FIRMUS? In hindsight are there any resources or methodologies that could speed the process?


  2. Harel Meshulam is no longer a part of FIRMUS.
  9. A guaranteed maximum price (also known as GMP) contract is a cost-type contract, such that the contractor is compensated for actual costs incurred plus a fixed fee, limited to a maximum price.  
  10. The “One Metric That Matters” (OMTM) is the single most important number to your objective. Once defined, every task or activity should be focused on improving this figure over a certain period.