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From a Founder: Launching and Scaling a Sustainable Construction Business

Brothers Jamie and Daniel Pobjoy built successful careers in construction before they made the conscious choice to pivot their work and focus on a more sustainable approach to home-building. The end result of this shift is MillBuilt, their modular home-building company based in Victoria, Australia. 

Leveraging over fifteen years of industry experience and their own in-depth research on sustainable factory materials and processes, the brothers are scaling their business with expansions that include the recent launch of their Squarespace website. Daniel recently reflected on the unique ways that their modular approach reduces environmental impact in their work, and how MillBuilt’s online presence helps potential clients find their work.

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Squarespace: What inspired you to launch your business?

Daniel Pobjoy: After working in the construction industry for 15 years we saw a lot of issues with how we build houses in Australia. We wanted to pursue a better way, particularly in terms of creating a building that was more sustainable — a building with a lower carbon footprint now and into the future. We extensively researched modular construction completed offsite in a factory, and found it to offer many benefits.

In a factory the building is out of the elements, so there are no weather delays or damaged materials. We can easily control the waste in terms of having an extensive recycling program set up. Excess materials are just used on the next project. We are also able to buy in bulk, reducing the embodied energy of those materials. We hope to get a lifecycle analysis carried out on our buildings. This will allow us to quantify the home's environmental impact, and from this we can continue to refine our buildings to limit their footprint.

One of the biggest impacts on the environment is the sheer size of our buildings. On average Australia produces some of the largest freestanding houses in the world. This certainly doesn’t correlate with a well functioning, practical or sustainable building. We want to educate consumers that smaller homes can actually be more liveable. Particular in terms of heating and cooling, reduced clutter, cleaning and a general sense of being more cosy. Through clever design our aim is to reduce dead space. Dead space is the areas of the house that are not really utilised and yet we have to clean, heat and cool these areas. By eliminating these areas you create a home that is far more practical and functions far more efficiently. There’s a bit of a tiny house movement at the moment. We are certainly not in this market, but we wanted to meet somewhere in the middle.

SQSP: What was the first step you took to make it a reality?

DP: Research. We needed to understand everything we could about modular construction, particularly in terms of how the buildings transport and move. Ultimately we wanted to find a method of construction whereby we could almost completely finish a house in a factory and then transport it to its site to find it in the exact same condition as when it left the factory.

SQSP: In every entrepreneurial endeavor, there are unexpected risks and challenges. What was the biggest risk you took? 

DP: After 15 years in the industry, I feel like I’ve had to go back to the start to pursue a new direction. We’ve gone down a completely different path — instead of building for clients and creating custom homes, we’re basically saying here’s a product and if you like it then it’s yours and if you don’t then we’re not the company for you. It’s risky as we are severely narrowing our market. But by limiting our range and flexibility we are able to keep quality higher, construction times faster, the carbon footprint lower and costs down. The thought pattern behind this was that if you know a house design functions incredibly well, then why does there need to be constant experimentation with customisation. We’ve had to really back ourselves and stick by our philosophy as we truly believe it is a better way to build.

SQSP: What surprised you the most?

DP: The power of a website and an online presence. As a registered builder I never had to advertise as I solely relied on word of mouth. With our new business we needed to reach a whole new market and hence the investment in the website. We’ve been inundated with enquiries that have far exceeded our expectations.

SQSP: After a challenging day, week, or month, what keeps you motivated?

DP: Family, particularly my little boy who teaches me so much, and the belief that we are doing something better. Ultimately trying to create a building that’s far more sustainable.

SQSP: How has your online presence contributed to your business success?

DP: Our online presence has contributed as it showcases our portfolio of products in a succinct and dynamic way. The contact form is an easy way that potential clients can contact the company (we are onsite a lot) and we can then discuss the designs by referring to the website.

SQSP: How do you see your online presence evolving in the future?

DP: I believe we will develop our Squarespace website as the business develops.

We will feature our build projects in more detail and also begin to blog regularly. We see Instagram as a simple way to drive traffic to the website.

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