Innovator: Roger Krulak

Apr 23, 2023

CEO of FullStack Modular (Brooklyn, NY), a leader in the design, manufacture, and construction of mid- and high-rise modular buildings in urban environments.

By Liisa Andreassen

Krulak gives a strong nod to his overall impatient personality as the main inspiration for his interest in modular construction. He grew up in the construction and development industry and spent most of his life in construction, but was always frustrated by the level of inefficiency and wasted time, money, and space traditional construction required.

In 2008, he spearheaded the first R&D project for Modular Construction which led to the subsequent development of a factory and business to build the tallest volumetric modular building in the world. In 2014, he was also the recipient of the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award for his work on the formulation of a high-rise modular process and for being an innovation leader.

In 2016, he acquired a business from Forest City Ratner Companies – a 100,000 square-foot factory along with 85,000 square feet of storage in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As proof of concept, FullStack Modular built at its factory in Brooklyn the largest modular building in the world. With technology, proprietary IP, and approved manufacturer status in New York City, FSM can build high-rise buildings faster and more cost-effectively than conventional construction. Today, the company is focused on the $63 billion market that consists of multi-family, lodging, student housing, and affordable housing.

“We know what we do well,” Krulak says. “We’ve organized the company to serve these major vertical markets and we’re excited about our future.”

Constructing a new paradigm. Krulak shares that the conventional build process has an incredible amount of downtime.

“It’s slow and clumsy,” he says. “On the other hand, the modular design, manufacture, construct process is incredibly efficient and there’s very little waste. And, it’s no secret that there’s a global housing crisis. There’s an unlimited need for high quality housing. It’s in the news everywhere. The modular process addresses this deficiency and the market is unlimited.”

What can be more limiting is the time it takes for adoption and necessary shift in thinking about this kind of construction. This process requires all stakeholders to get on board and agree.

“Getting clients to trust you takes time,” he says. “Our industry is notoriously distrustful and as a result, the premise is distrust. We have to invite them to look in the window. Explain the process. Educate. It’s a paradigm shift.”

But it’s one that he’s devoted to making happen. Currently, he says that he spends about 60 percent of his time on the business and 40 percent in the business, but he wants those numbers to flip. He’s a self-proclaimed “roll your sleeves up” kind of guy and enjoys building a team and then letting them do what they’re good at doing.

One of his favorite quotes is, “You can never afford to hire the second-best person for any job.”

So, what’s he doing to ensure FSM attracts the best and brightest? Krulak says that people who choose to work at FSM have the ability to make a big impact – to be part of the change. And outside of leadership positions, working in the factories poses a unique opportunity for people who may be tired of working in traditional construction jobs. These factories are ergonomically designed, safe, warm, and environmentally-friendly.

“I’ve learned over time that it’s important to listen and to make time to analyze what you’re doing,” he says. “Building a team that’s willing to lead rather than waiting to be told what to do is so important. I strongly believe that if you micromanage people, you lose opportunities.”

Krulak says that he’s working to diversify the leadership team. He admits it’s a bit one-sided now and is making a concerted effort to shift that dynamic. The current lack of employees has posed a bit of a challenge in this area, but he’s getting the word out as he actively lectures, networks, and encourages all those who come in his path to spread the word.

Over the years, Krulak has taught classes at Harvard, Yale, and MIT. His company also collaborates with New York University’s robotics group to create improved processes and analytic tools.

“Bringing different voices to the table is the key to successful collaboration,” he says. “Personally, I think women should run the world.”

And speaking of women, Krulak says his wife is one of the most business-savvy people he knows. And while it’s somewhat inevitable that work will come up while he’s at home, he does make a conscious effort to put the phone down.

“I don’t particularly like to talk about work when I’m home,” he says. “If I’m going for a bike ride, I want to go for a bike ride.”

He attributes this developing mindset to his toddler.

“I like to think about how my behavior today will have an impact on him tomorrow,” he says.

Pursuing modular projects. One of FSM’s most exciting projects right now is constructing a modular treehouse hotel. The company is collaborating with Synergy Modular and Starwood Capital Group to help them launch their Treehouse hotel brand. They’re building the first fully modular treehouse hotel in Sunnyvale, California – in the heart of Silicon Valley. Production began in February 2023 at its West Coast factory in Portland, Oregon.

This six-story, 143-room hotel will span more than 86,000 square feet and uses offsite manufacturing methods that dramatically reduce environmental impact and waste. FSM’s approach to building fully integrated projects faster, with less neighborhood disruption, coupled with the higher quality, lower cost, and smaller carbon footprint, made FSM the ideal partner for this environmentally-conscious treehouse lifestyle brand.

From the facade, hallways, and elevator shafts to the stairwells and hotel room finishes, the hotel is 100 percent modular from the foundation to the rooftop. Technology-driven and sustainable, FSM is changing the construction cycle by providing up to 20 percent cost savings and is up to 50 percent faster than a conventional building of the same type, with greater time and cost certainty – as well as 67 percent less waste.

FSM has also recently entered into a strategic alliance with Saudi Arabian Baytur Construction Company to pursue Vision 2030 opportunities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“Partnering with Saudi Baytur will enable us to be a one-stop shop for modular design, manufacture, and construction in the Saudi Arabian region, seamlessly solving the region’s hospitality needs,” Krulak shares.

Vision 2030 includes large-scale hospitality and urban tourism development initiatives designed to elevate Saudi Arabia’s cultural and historical heritage, improve the quality of services for its visitors, and enrich the visitor experience.

“Modular construction is a significant value proposition for the future of building in the cities that surround us,” Krulak says. “And, we’re working to pave the way.” 

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