#88: How Bilt Uses 3-D Instructions to Enrich Lives

“…Bilt’s greatest usage by just sheer volume, happens literally on Christmas Eve and early, early in the wee hours of Christmas morning. And, you know, parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles there, you know, put the kids to bed and -okay, now let’s go and assemble this in a bike and a play set and whatever, and expect it to be a very frustrating experience.”

Nate Henderson, CEO of Bilt, turned a problem into an opportunity.

With millions of users and partnerships with top brands like Apple, Weber, and the United States Air Force, Nate’s team is redefining traditional instructions through interactive 3D guidance. Here are three key takeaways from our discussion:

Nate emphasized the importance of creating enriching experiences that not only empower users but also improve their perception of the brands they engage with. 

One significant challenge in the manufacturing industry today is the talent shortage. Nate’s company tackles this head-on by offering a unique, hands-on learning experience tailored for Generation Y and Generation Z. 

Looking ahead, Nate shared his excitement about the potential of Apple Vision Pro in creating fully immersive environments for training and entertainment. He believes this cutting-edge technology will soon become the preeminent tool for training and enablement, eventually leading to extended reality through smaller, more accessible headsets or glasses.

About Nate Henderson

Nate Henderson is chairman and CEO of BILT Incorporated, a SaaS company he co-founded in 2015. Under his leadership, BILT has grown from an idea to improve assembly instructions into a user experience revolution fundamentally changing the way professional technicians and consumers interact with the brands and products they buy. 

BILT’s 3D Intelligent Instructions® transform paper manuals and videos into fully manipulable immersive guides. Hundreds of brands and manufacturers deliver next-generation training on BILT for the assembly, installation, and maintenance of thousands of products. 

BILT is proven to reduce errors, rework, and calls to support while improving efficiency, productivity, and user sentiment. The award-winning BILT app is available worldwide in 12 languages on iOS, Android, Microsoft, and now visionOS for Apple Vision Pro.

Prior to BILT, Nate spent 17 years at SAP where he filled various roles in product management, consulting, sales, and innovation programs. He graduated from Brigham Young University with a BS in manufacturing engineering technology and the Thunderbird School of Global Management with an MBA in international business. 


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Note: this was generated by AI and only lightly edited.

Mark Slatin:
I am so excited to have on my show as a guest, Nate Henderson, who is chairman and CEO of Built Incorporated, a SaaS company he co-founded in 2015. Under his leadership, Bilt has grown from an idea to improve assembly instructions into a user experience revolution. fundamentally changing the way professional technicians and consumers interact with the brands and products they buy. Nate, welcome to the show.

Nate Henderson: Thank you, Mark. Good to be here.

Mark Slatin: Excellent. So fill in the blanks for me, if you will, on how Bilt got its origins and where you are today.

Nate Henderson: Yeah. The origins actually go back to 2012 and a good friend of mine kind of coming with a problem set of, hey, why is it that we can go to the movie theater and see all this CGI stuff, et cetera, that’s not real and yet we have paper instructions. And so as we got looking at it, we said, with the With the advances in 3D capabilities, smartphones, data plans that allow you to just download more data, a number of things like that, we saw an opportunity here to completely revolutionize that with cutting edge tech and business process. And so we created these 3D guided interactive instructions. essentially really, really got the business going in 2015, 2016. And, uh, today we have millions and millions of users in almost every country of the world. You know, we represent hundreds of brands and, uh, thousands and thousands of products.

Mark Slatin: Hmm. What a great story. And, and I wonder if when you set out, did you set out to be a market disruptor?

Nate Henderson: Not at all. Um, I actually took a page out of, out of Peter Thiel’s playbook. Uh, he would use one to start a PayPal and then was one of the main investors in Facebook and YouTube and some of these other LinkedIn. And, uh, you know, he makes the point, don’t set out to, uh, to, uh, disrupt. And I thought, well, that makes a lot of sense. That’s actually not a great mission to, to, to just try to go and disrupt something. we were really trying to focus on creating something that would enrich people’s lives. So that when, when they use built instructions, they came away feeling uplifted, empowered, more capable, more, more enabled. And so at the end of that, there should be a personal list of satisfaction and accomplishment. But also it should impact what they think of the brand that is provided. you know, these things, whether it’s, you know, Weber grills or, or in the end, you know, us as well, it should be something that lifts everyone in the, in the process.

Mark Slatin: So, when you say lifts everyone, in the class that I teach at MSU, Michigan State, one of the people that we referred to in the course is Joe Pine, who talks, he wrote the Experience Economy book, and he’s on my show, and he is now talking about really transforming lives of customers. And the students in the class push back on that and say, Yeah, we can’t push, we can’t change people’s, we can’t transform people’s lives by the products or services we sell. What do you say to that?

Nate Henderson: Well, I would disagree with that. And I’ll say that from very personal experience here. Certainly, everyone has their agency, if you will, and can choose. But throughout the day, we have many, many experiences that impact us. Some impact us without us doing anything, but others are part of the you know, the tasks we do, whether it’s homework for a student or, you know, parking somewhere, etc. Our lives are made up of hundreds and sometimes thousands of experiences throughout the day. And I would say, take the opportunity to solve just one of them and then let others go in and solve those as well. I mean, case in point, a fun but extreme example. Bilt’s greatest usage by just sheer volume happens literally on Christmas Eve and early, early in the wee hours of Christmas morning. And parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles there put the kids to bed and, okay, now let’s go and assemble this and a bike and a play set and whatever, and expecting it to be a very frustrating experience. And yet for us, the most common feedback that we get, sometimes feedback that’s sent to us at two or three in the morning, it says, wow, I did that so much faster than I thought that was actually an enjoyable experience. You saved my marriage. And that’s life enriching. We may not cover the rest of the 23 hours of the day. But we have made that sliver in time meaningful and memorable and life enriching. So yeah, anyone can do it.

Mark Slatin: And as someone who has done it the hard way and used the paper instructions to build something like a Weber grill, I can tell you that creates a tremendous amount of stress, especially if you’re, you know, you’ve got the pressure of Christmas Eve and you’re trying to maybe put together a bicycle or something like that, a game for a kid. There’s a lot of pressure. One of the things you share with me with some of the brands that you work with, some of the Home Depot, Private Label, and I think Wayland Furniture, and even Apple.

Nate Henderson: Yeah, so we have a partnership with Apple. Any of your listeners that have experienced the new Apple Vision Pro, we were a launch partner there. And so if you go into that app store and see what we’ve created there, that’s now taking it to a whole new level and really represents you know, is a peek into what the future of these things will be like. But that piece of it applies especially to like pros, you know, professionals, technicians, when they need a lot of training up front, then something like an Apple Vision Pro is just a remarkable piece of hardware combined with what we create to allow that training to be so much more memorable and immersive and make someone successful faster. Yeah. Weber grills, for example, we do pretty much every Weber grill sold in the world. Solo stove. We have hundreds and hundreds of consumer brands, but also when you think of more of on the industrial side, Siemens creates a lot of electrical products and we’re a big player there. The United States Air Force, right? There’s a lot of things that need assembly, setup, maintenance, repair, installation in that world as well. And this same type of experience can enrich the life of an airman that’s been trained or needs to be reminded of how to do something complex.

Mark Slatin: For any business to thrive, effective communication is key, not just for success, but for maintaining a healthy, respectful work environment. And that’s where Service Skills comes in, a proven e-learning platform that’s transforming organizations through micro learning modules. Think about it. Are your customer service interactions up to par? How inclusive and collaborative is your workplace? Service Skills offers hundreds of courses on everything from customer satisfaction and team building to management and respectful workplace practices. Validated by millions, these courses empower your staff to excel and communicate effectively, enhancing both personal and company-wide success. And the best part? It’s all available at your fingertips with affordable pricing and flexible options that fit your organization’s needs. elevate your team skills, boost workplace respect, and foster a culture of diversity and inclusion. Join the ranks of satisfied clients who’ve seen tangible results in performance and communication. Nate, if you would paint a picture for the audience of how the experience might look. So typically I’d pull my grill out of the box and I’d have a paper black and white sketch of what the grid looks like and a thousand pieces. And then I go grab a beer, you know, tell me how this experience is different.

Nate Henderson: Well, on that same paper and on the box, you will find that in the example that you use Weber, Weber has many call outs, including when you purchase it. Uh, on the product information page, they have call outs on them that say, essentially, if you want to make your life better, just, just download the free built app and go through the assembly. Uh, there, it will take care of your registration of the product. It will save your warranty information. Updates can be pushed to you. You know, you can, you can look at the parts, you can look at tools, et cetera. But so when you, when you go in there, it’s always free, whether You know, you’re doing a DIY project or a pro related task. It’s free and you can either grab a QR code or you can search for it, grab the product. And now you’re looking at a fully 3D guided set of instructions. that you can interact with. It’ll take you step by step. It’s multi-language. So BILT comes in 12 different languages today. And so in addition to that, you have an always current set of instructions. We update them in real time. Anytime there are changes or feedback that needs to come back to the brand, we take feedback in the process. So these are, these are, these are beautiful 3d instructions that, uh, that we have, you know, perfected in the process as we create them and validate them with the brand. But you’re also getting these other things like, you know, it’s, uh, uh, instead of having that file cabinet in your house, you now have a digital one, which is built. And as there are updates, we can update these things from there.

Mark Slatin: Well, that’s great to think about. Not only do I not have to go hunt and pack for the instructions when I originally got that item, but it’s all available to me and it’s updated, which is one of the most frustrating things when you’ve got instructions, but they don’t match up with your product and you think you’re losing your mind because there is no red button on this thing. You know, where is the red button? You spend a half an hour and you’re looking for it. So obviously there are huge advantages including enriching your all the way to enriching your life from this from the customer standpoint. Tell me about the benefits from the company standpoint. What is the big deal if you’re a CEO or a CFO of a manufacturing company for example?

Nate Henderson: Yeah, so if you’re a manufacturing company, the first challenge that you have today is actually talent. There is a massive shortage in most Western countries of skilled labor. And part of what you have to recognize is if we’re going to pull in generation, Y and Generation Z into this workforce, you have to recognize that they have grown up learning in a very different way than, you know, those of us older people did. That was, you know, peer books and occasionally some pictures. Well, there’s the complete reverse. YouTube, you know, Instagram, et cetera. These were the primary learning tools, and they’re not bad, per se. It’s just a very, very different approach. And so for a CEO of a manufacturing company, recognize that you should be using a built experience as you attract and try to acquire and bring in talent to show them that you’re going to enable them in a very unique way that they are far more comfortable with. But the added benefit is having this, they’re going to learn faster. Quality is better as they are able to do more jobs at a higher level of quality. Now they’re worth more to you because they’re impacting your business to a greater degree. And you can turn around and pay them more, which means they’re more likely to stay with you. They’re more likely to continue to grow and make your customers successful. So this has impacts all along that value chain, all the way from how you recruit, how you train and enable, all the way to the tools that you give them when they’re on the job site. They may not need much. But oftentimes it’s just, Hey, I just need to go back to these two or three steps. Hey, what was the way that that works? And they can just pull up their own smartphone and they can look at it, interact with it. Okay. That’s what I needed.

Mark Slatin: Off and running. I imagine also from the customer standpoint, from the, from the company standpoint, happy customers, they, that, you know, I wonder like if people have trouble getting something built, something like a Weber grill, it could go back. They could just return it and say, I’m giving up on that.

Nate Henderson: Exactly. So depending on the type of product, you’re avoiding a lot of returns, especially in today’s world of buying things online. I mean, you have some retail locations that the return rates on consumer durable goods are like between 12 and 26%. I mean, consumers don’t realize how much is added to the price to account for the fact that sometimes one fourth of all items are returned. And there can be different reasons for that, but difficulty of assembly, installation, you know, setup is certainly a significant piece of that. So yes, you can diminish that a lot, but, you know, customer support costs, you can diminish those tremendously. I mean, I visited a brand here a couple of months ago that is now 10 times larger as a company than they were the year that we started with them back, back in 2019, but they’ve not added a single additional customer support person in that time because their, their experience is built. It is built. And so it’s allowed them to scale in a very unique way because they just don’t have the customer support costs, but also. We grab feedback. We that there’s, there’s anonymous analytics that we can gather to help the brand understand how they can create better products. And that has long-term effects in, in just creating very, very good products.

Mark Slatin: So, um, I’m also thinking Nate about cycles that happen in the market in general and how. they might impact a business like yours, or how your solution might impact your customers. And I was thinking in particular about COVID, where the world shut down for a while. What kind of an impact did it have on your business?

Nate Henderson: Well, a very, very unexpected one. I mean, when COVID first hit, of course, we were all trying to ask the questions of what’s going to happen tomorrow. And so it was, you know, nobody was doing anything. And then all of a sudden, you know, six, eight weeks into it, now everybody’s at home thinking about all these home projects. And there was a massive spike in demand, usage. Retailers and the manufacturers recognized this. And so we had an explosion of just demand for what we do across the board. And as we came off that COVID cycle and the trillions of dollars that were just put into the economy, now people have bought everything from home, now they wanted to go travel, et cetera. Certainly, you see a downturn in it. But with our largest customers, they continue to just expand what they do with us. Even though the last three years for Consumer Durables have not been good years at all. I mean, this has been a stretch now lasting more than about 30 months that is one of the most difficult in memory for Consumer Durables, especially coming off of the high that they had. We have a lot of staying power because, and consumers absolutely love what we create.

Mark Slatin: I love it. And what comes to mind for me is how do you distinguish the offering that you have from others? And you mentioned earlier, so what comes to mind is YouTube. And there are companies that use, I had a sprinkler system issue and so the manufacturer of the sprinkler has U-tubes that it looks like they put out themselves. So what do you offer your customers to differentiate from just other solutions that are out there?

Nate Henderson: Well, you’re correct. YouTube is the largest substitute. And look, I love YouTube. YouTube is great for so many different things. I mean, what an amazing environment where just everything video is in one common place. So I’m a big supporter. There are certain downsides to just the model of what makes YouTube successful. Everything is user-generated content. for the most part, which means when you go look for a set of guidance or instructions, you may find guidance from 200 people, or in some places, thousands of different people. The one that’s going to show up on top is the one that has been used the most, but that may be a six or seven-year-old video. Well, the product could have changed five or six times since then, and it may not be the official instructions. Oftentimes, brands will go out and say, hey, I’m going to create my own video. But you, you’ve got a battle to get up there to the top, to the ones that are, that are historically been there and you don’t have any right to pull the others down. Right? So it’s, it’s, it’s kind of the wild, wild West, unless you’re willing to spend a lot of money to have yours boosted and make sure that it shows up on top, which again, that just increases the cost of it. But the other thing is, you know, if you think about it, video itself, To shoot a really high quality video takes effort. It takes a lot of effort. You’ve got post-editing that needs to be done. Well, what happens when your product has a change? Needs an update, which, I mean, I can tell you, we work with hundreds of brands that when a product first launches, you can have updates that need to be done in the next two weeks, clarifications on something. Hey, focus on this, emphasize this, et cetera. There’s a batch that was wrong. Call this or something. Are you going to reshoot the video? You got to get the actor back in here, whoever it was, you splice it in, in there. The long-term cost of creating a video is actually quite high if you’re going to keep it current. Whereas, whereas with built, we can change even the slightest thing and push that update out literally within a matter of a few hours. And it hasn’t changed the overall piece. And then to add to it, what about localization language? So every time you shoot that video. Now you’ve got to do retranslation of these things, whereas we turn those into some things that are just, it’s an afterthought. Oh, okay, there’s an update that’s needed. Just change it and put it out and push it out. So it’s a more modern, dynamic way to think of your products and kind of the dynamic nature of their life.

Mark Slatin: Yeah, and I also imagine, like if you’re depending on YouTube, you’re depending on Joe at home who said, I’m going to show someone how to install this product versus an approach that you may have honed over the years that says, this is the way we ought to teach instructions.

Nate Henderson: That’s right. And you know, these are the official instructions stamped and validated by the actual manufacturer. So we do this in very tight partnership. But yeah, over the years now that we’ve done thousands and thousands of products are used by millions and millions of people. We’ve just developed a lot of unique best practices and next practices for what does it take Given the varying qualities of products that are out there, what does it take to create a life enriching experience? And that’s frankly some secret sauce that we have.

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Mark Slatin: Well, you’ve done such an amazing job of improving the experience for all the brands that you work with. What takeaways or what strategies do you think are transferable across businesses that you have learned that you might be willing to share with others?

Nate Henderson: Yeah, thank you. Yeah, I can think of a couple of things, and I will tell you, we have seen this here, but as I interact with CEOs, I am amazed and frankly comforted It makes me very, very optimistic when I see teams and CEOs that are very deliberate about the same thing of enriching people’s lives, trying to do things that actually make a difference in people’s lives. It seems like a simple thing, but it’s actually a huge thing. When you consistently reinforce that in the KPIs that you set, and sometimes even at the compensation level, what you push out, how you measure success, That’s a really, really important one. And that’s a foundational one. And it’s so important because with your teams, that’s something that people can actually grasp onto. I mean, our instruction designers and others, I don’t have to be in the room. And I know if a bad experience happens, I know what others in the room will say. They’ll say, you know, that’s not a life enriching experience. And it puts people on the same page as to what success looks like. You may not be able to measure it in its in its nth degree, but it sets a fairly high standard that everybody looks to and you’re in a far better world when you do that. I think it provides more meaning in people’s workday because you’re actually doing something that matters. Second thing I would say is you got to find ways of measuring or at least providing feedback loops in it. That helps the brands that you serve, but it also helps your team better understand what they’re doing. It’s not an easy thing to do all the time to establish feedback loops that are current and relevant that you can translate and understand, but it’s so critical that you provide feedback loops. I think another thing is you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and really understand where the friction is in that experience, not just once, but continually. When we started built, for the first two and a half years, we did nothing but study. We went into professional environments. We, in some cases, went in people’s homes. We would take a certain faucet and we would go out on Facebook. Hey, we’re looking for 20 or 30 people that are willing to install this faucet at home. We just want to watch how you do it. Give us feedback. Well, after doing that with so many products and so many people, we started to learn where the friction was. And I think any problem worth solving, you got to be willing to roll up your sleeves and invite your team members to find ways of getting their fingers dirty in that problem. You got to be close to it. And you have to provide mechanisms of staying very close to it. So you understand, are you really helping people with what they do?

Mark Slatin: Yeah, that is awesome. So I got enriching lives and measuring what success looks like, having a kind of a common language around that, measure and provide feedback loops, and roll up your sleeves and understand where the friction is in the experience.

Nate Henderson: Yep. And, and be able to, again, with the feedback loops, make sure that your business is set up in such a way that you’re constantly there. It can’t be an occasional visit to the friction. The friction is something you need to embrace that you need to know that everybody needs to be very, very, very comfortable with. And, and, and that helps everyone also have a sense of purpose of what’s our mission. Um, I mean, I mentioned earlier, you know, Christmas Eve, we love We love kicking out just the, uh, the, uh, the notes to our team members on our, on our all company chat of just reviews that come in. And so that’s, you know, people know the products that they’ve worked on and so forth. And, and it’s quite exhilarating to see which ones you’re successful with and then the others that are not. Okay. We huddle back and where are the places that we need to make, uh, make improvements. So we tell people as we’re recruiting them, this is, this is software and it’s tech, but this is a bit blue collar. We’re willing to feel the pain of others so that they don’t have to feel it themselves.

Mark Slatin: So it reminds me, number two, that you shared about this idea of the feedback loop. It’s just so critical. When I worked at the bank, we had a feedback loop for the voice of the customer program, the platform we used. And if somebody gave us a bad score, it would create an alert. It would go to that manager. And the idea would be that person knew how to address the issue, and it would become a case. But we also have the complaints department, which sounds like a joke, but we really did have the complaints department and formed a cross-functional team of people to look at things a bit more macro. So we looked at trends and what was happening across the enterprise and what were some of the common things. If it happened once to somebody, it could have been an aberration, but if it happened you know, over and we have our tentacles out there understanding, getting our kind of pulse on what was going on, we had a much better way to prioritize what needed to be addressed first. Does that make sense to you?

Nate Henderson: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s, and that’s, you know, being close enough to it, to understand what are those things that are statistical anomalies, but what are the other things that are systemic issues and they’re, they’re always going to be there. right, that there are always going to be things that you can improve. And it’s having a method of understanding those, embracing them, and then solving them.

Mark Slatin: So Nate, you mentioned Apple’s new product, Vision Raven Pro. I was going to say that, but I didn’t want to get it wrong. So and I know when we talked earlier or last time you and I talked, you were pretty darn excited about that product. So tell us what makes you so excited about that product and how does that category of product link maybe to where your business is going to be headed in the future?

Nate Henderson: So I think what Apple has done so very well, again, headsets and those types of things are not new. They’ve been around for, in some cases, 15 or almost 20 years. Especially the last five or six years, you’ve seen a lot of other brands come out with these things. But what Apple has done that is so unique is, first off, it is a completely hands-free experience. When you put one on, you’re doing a setup, so it understands your hands and where they’re at, and it can see them anywhere. anywhere in your forward environment, but you are truly guiding it with your eyes and just the ability to navigate with your eyes at a hyper-accurate level and then just interact with things in your hands. Now you can speak to it. And with the incredible fidelity that they have in the screens that are there, we have created things and then put them on that on Apple Vision Pro that if you put the real and the built version of it next to each other, you have to kind of pause for a second to tell which one is real. And why is that important? The more real something is, the more likely we are to use it, right? The more comfortable, the more longevity it has. But this fully immersive environment, you know, when you think of the learning process, we only remember a small percentage of what we read, a slightly higher percentage of what we listen to. Right. A larger percentage of what we see. But when you combine all of these things together in an interactive experience that, that adjusts according to your interaction with it. The learning curve, the memory capture in there is much, much higher. And so I think you’re going to start seeing tasks that require training. I think Apple Vision Pro over the next five or six years is going to be the preeminent tool that we use for that type of training, training enablement, et cetera, especially for technicians. That’s going to be the preeminent tool that is used. And then together with the ecosystem, I’ll admit that it’s incredible to watch a movie on that. If you haven’t had the opportunity to do it, it is unbelievable. But you start to get a glimpse of what this extended reality can be. And as these headsets get smaller and smaller and someday just become a pair of glasses, you start to look at it and say, wow, Iron Man was actually not that far off. The ability to just bring the right information in the right place is something that can actually enrich someone’s life in a unique way and just make us all better, more informed, more capable at what we do.

Mark Slatin: Love it. Love it. Nate, so fascinating. So much to learn. So many great gems. We get to land the plane. I’d like to ask you one final question, which I asked my guest, which is, What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Nate Henderson: Enjoy the journey more. Life has great, great purpose. It’s so much more about the journey. It’s so much more about people. The greatest thing we can all do is just enrich the lives of others around us. And that’s service. And that’s where our greatest meaning comes from. Just focus so much more on the journey. All these other things will take care of themselves if you focus on those.