3 Construction Software Tools for Very Small Contractors

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Software-as-a-service (SaaS) and a new generation of powerful apps are finally putting sophisticated business tools in the hands of even the smallest mom-and-pop contractors.

Maybe your contracting business is competing directly with much larger organizations with formalized and rigorous business processes that give their customers visibility and predictability. Or maybe you are just trying to match customers’ expectations for Amazon-like ease of doing business. Regardless, now is a great time to be alive.

This is because the business software tools that deliver best-in-class business processes are now affordable to the masses of contractors who need them. Business software can help a small contractor:

  • Present a more professional face to the customer with digital tools on the web and on mobile devices on the job site
  • Increase utilization of employees and equipment
  • Increase total throughput and productivity
  • Achieve project visibility and controls with regard to cost and timeline
  • Schedule work, people and equipment more intelligently
  • Track, manage and make decisions based on profit

Jobber

Job tracking and customer management software for home service businesses. Jobber’s 160K+ home service professionals have served over 12 million households in more than 47 countries and invoiced for over $15 billion in services.

>500 Employees

Edmonton, Alberta Canada

This affordable but powerful software suite addresses the entire quote-to-cash lifecycle starting with customer relationship management (CRM) including online service booking, marketing automation, quoting, scheduling, reporting, job checklists and invoicing. Jobber is growing quickly, doubling in size over the last year. Its customers include sole practitioners to companies with 20 or so employees—which gives them an addressable market of somewhere between five and six million across Canada and the United States.

What venture capital allows a company to do is invest in growth, both in terms of customer acquisition and product development.

“We still believe there is a huge opportunity—and we are not near being done with the product,” Jobber Senior Director of Marketing Nick Keyko said in our debriefing call. “There are a lot more services like consumer project financing that we can embed in our product—capital to help our users maintaining cash flow as they wait to get paid. The core of Jobber is the operations side, but we see a lot more opportunity for technology that has historically only been available to the big and bring the cost way down to the smaller businesses.”

This addition of third-party services and offerings embedded in SaaS software products—a business equivalent of in-app purchases in consumer apps—is interesting for a few reasons. First, it can put valuable services like gap financing for contractors or project financing for customers, in the hands of contractors in the most convenient way.

But the heart of Jobber from a functional standpoint is job scheduling, where they compete most often with Quickbooks Time, formerly Tsheets, which Intuit acquired in 2017 and is not as deep or robust as Jobber.

“Quickbooks is an accounting package, and we do not aspire to replace them for that,” Keyko said. “It is not built for contracting, and you are taking an accounting platform and using it in a way it is not meant to be. It is not exactly the best way to run a business. So what we are trying to do is educate the businesses out there that there is something now built directly for you. It understands how your business works and that it is different from, say, a restaurant or a hair salon.”

This level of sophistication extends all the way up to drip scheduling, which they offer on a client-by-client basis. While a big landscaping or concrete contractor will be on the same job for a number of days, other types of contractors like lawn care or emergency response HVACR contractors may benefit from a dynamic schedule that is updated in real time and “dripped” to field crews or technicians in real time.

“We use intelligent routing to ensure you assign the right employee to a job and that the routings are all correct not only to save you time and gas, but to assign things to the team member who can get there the quickest,” Keyko said. “And then if someone calls and needs something done right away, you can re-route based on that new information.”

This may not deliver the type of artificial intelligence-driven scheduling automation that automates many functions performed by a dispatcher, but still delivers a high level of sophistication to even a mom-and-pop shop.

Who is a Fit for Jobber?

Jobber’s market is broad, and they have identified 40 different subindustries within contracting that their product will address. The software will address the needs of a one-person operation up to a company with several dozen employees.

“Anything where you are servicing a house or small commercial business is a good fit for Jobber,” Keyko said. “A handyman doing some concrete, for instance, can find a solution with Jobber. In terms of the contracting side of the business, contractors tend to use the whole suite. From the front end of winning the job, to strong quoting and estimating. We give contractors the ability to add optional line items in their quotes so they can upsell customers to new features and can pay for Jobber just like that.”

Small operators currently relying on Google Calendar, Microsoft Office or scheduling elements of Quickbooks will likely want to consider Jobber as a way to drive more sophistication in their business processes.

Jobber Pricing

While Jobber delivers functionality designed to give big-company tech and efficiencies to small operators, the price still needs to be within reach of the one-man band contractor.

Another service industry software that shoots further up market from Jobber, Service Titan, may cost several thousand dollars per month. Jobber nets out in the low two-figures per month up to just over $200 per month. At the low end, the Core offering gives contractors the basics they need for quoting, scheduling, invoicing and payments for one user, with additional users available for an upcharge. Connect, the “good” offering in Jobber’s good-better-best product offering, provides more advanced routing and tracking and streamlined customer-facing options including online booking and text messaging—and up to seven users. The Grow option includes everything in the Jobber tool set, including sales and marketing automation to help small companies adopt modern inbound marketing practices that ramp up revenue. This level also enables contractors to generate quotes with optional features, enabling upselling, again, increasing revenue.

Hippo.Build

Hippo.Build helps small and medium-sized (SME) construction companies connect existing siloed software solutions into one single cloud space with the competitive advantage of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

About 15 employees

Bogota, Colombia

Most ERP applications work by consolidating business data in a single, centralized application. What makes Hippo.Build different is that it works more by connecting data and processes from the handful of technologies a contractor already uses, reducing complexity. The company is young—founded in 2021 and at the time of our editorial briefing, employed 15 including between eight and nine developers. But the company is on a fast growth trajectory, and in February of 2022 entered the Y Combinator accelerator. It will use the $500,000 investment from Y Combinator and $250,000 in seed financing to further develop the product.

When we debriefed Hippo.Build CEO Mads Schmidt Petersen in February, he was involved in a lot of the customer-facing work and therefore understood to a large extent the pain points contractors face as they strive for operational excellence in a complex project environment given a limited technology budget. Hippo.Build itself is at that point in its development where its management can relate to the real-life situations faced by contractors that need to balance cash flow and growth priorities.

Improving and growing the product will be the top priority, receiving three quarters of the investment dollars, while a quarter will go into building out a reseller channel, according to Petersen. The company should have no trouble finding willing takers—about 20 percent of its leads are coming from referrals, and the remaining 80 percent are from cold calling. Referral partners include Mercury Bank, a banking stack for startups now building a construction industry customer base.

“We are now at the stage of minimum viable product (MVP),” Petersen said. “We have a growing number of sign-ups in the United States on our waiting list. Next, we will move from MVP to more fully developed product which is sometimes more challenging because then the bugs start appearing. What is working or not working will become more apparent at scale.”

This MVP functional stack includes:

  • ARCOL BIM, a planning and collaboration module that follows BIM methodology
  • Inventory Management
  • Task Management
  • Payroll management
  • Marketplace for services and products the company uses
  • A Planning to Execution Dashboard

There were at the time of our debriefing 29 customers running a beta version of Hippo.Build, with 750 contractors on the global waiting list. The goal, according to Petersen, is to in the intermediate term serve one million contractors worldwide.

The product should be understood in terms of what the product does in its current state and where it will be functionally in a short space of time. Right now, the software is pulling inventory or stock information from the job site through chatbots back into a dashboard. Hippo.Build integrates with project management software to send reminders to on-site staff of tasks that need to be completed and then pulling back into the system a report of the results or productivity. Hippo.Build also handles punch in/punch out of the on-site staff to support payroll.

The inventory management tools help with placing orders before contractors need the material, timing orders and arrival to dovetail material arrival to synchronize with when they are needed on site. Currently, the BIM model is supported directly with the inventory management model, so that in an as-built, a contractor can provide deep information including serial traceability, incept date, amount of time a material or component was on site, and more. While it is not a sophisticated supply chain management application, the inventory module is an alternative to guesstimating on inventory—something that may happen a lot in smaller contracting environments. The tool is normally used to track bigger materials allotments like PVC piping, cement, sand, metal, with guidance on what to track often coming from a product owner.

The software includes a document management system similar to Dropbox or Google Drive that automatically pulls documents in from systems Hippo.Build integrates with.

Task management functionality in Hippo.Build is focused on delegating tasks to workers on a job site with information on what the task entails. At the end of the day, the worker can confirm they have completed the task and upload a photo of their work. The software can accommodate 3D scans, Lidar and other visual evidence and documents, but most users are now just uploading standard JPG photos. Analytics then call out tasks that are on track versus delays, enabling management by exception.

Payroll functionality should have functionality for simple time and work codes, generating a time sheet report for each person at the end of the month with the ability to switch between time codes.

Who is a Fit for Hippo.Build

Small to midsized contractors are a fit, and Hippo.Build may lack the sophistication in its payroll module for a more complex union contractor completing government projects. Hippo.Build is targeting contractors with between $300,000 and $15 million in annual revenue, but as it ramps up in North America, Petersen thinks they will wind up serving mostly contractors with between $2 million and $15 million in revenue.

“We see that bigger contractors have plenty of money,” Petersen said. “They can buy software or have it specially made for them. They don’t have the problems the rest of the market has. Even they are subcontracting to smaller contractors—and for those subcontractors, one mistake can cost them the whole year. So, these smaller contractors buy all kinds of different software from different providers—and that leads to duplicate efforts. We want the kind of customer who realizes they don’t have to pay thousands of dollars per month to Procore while still getting full integration and automation.”

Hippo.Build Pricing

Hippo.Build is priced in three tiers—with the Stand Alone option, contractors can enable an unlimited number of users to try just one tool, including Arcol BIM, Inventory Tracker or Task Manager for a very small monthly subscription. For a few more dollars per month contractors can get access to all three tools. Professional and Enterprise editions are also available. Overall pricing depends on the number of projects a company runs.

Dibbs

Dibbs is a digital marketplace for bidding, buying, and selling products and services targeted at home repair services. The tool delivers a verticalized construction market of homeowners, contractors, suppliers and retailers and also gives a contractor a central place to manage the entire quote-to-cash process, including online payments.

About 15 employees

Newport, Rhode Island

“Quotes, contracts, payments and supplies, all in one place,” a YouTube video touting Dibbs proclaims. This ability to facilitate the quote-to cash lifecycle is what makes Dibbs more than a marketplace, yet more affordable from a fees and percentages standpoint than Angi, formerly Angie’s List. This tool, which is currently rolling out nationwide, may give the small home contractor a system of record that formalizes business processes better than ad hoc approaches they currently may be using.

Before founding Dibbs, CEO Luke Fleury was rehabbing homes, and from that front line vantage point noticed a real gap in the industry that could be filled by transformational technology.

“Bidding is disorganized and time consuming,” Fleury said. “I am not tech savvy at all—but with our co-founders, we came up with the solution of a digital marketplace for service and materials. A project owner can enter a budget and timeline, location, what they need done and upload building plans. And then a seller can bid on that material that is being requested … Contractors so far have really not used technology. Our goal is to get contractors on our site to see how easy it is to source their bids in a more efficient way.”

What sets Dibbs apart from standard online service directories is its inclusion of materials, so construction materials vendors can bid for their portion of the job and coordinate availability of materials on site according to the plan. Co-founder Case Olszewski brought a background in technology and digital customer experiences, augmenting Fleury’s street cred as a residential contractor. A third co-founder, Rob DeSantis, brought board and tech startup experience and helped architect the company. A number of the company’s founders and advisors were founders of Ariba, a procurement software solution now owned by software giant SAP. This focus on digital procurement workflows comes through in the Dibbs functional stack and approach.

While the initial product launch will focus strictly on service and material bidding transactions, the company does have on the roadmap an analytics offering that will give contractors the ability to track bids that are received to do things like determine what an attractive market price for a service or materials expenditure would be in that local market.

By virtue of the way it facilitates transactions, Dibbs will also serve as a contract management solution, and contractors can lay out in the tool payment terms, including up-front and milestone payments and final payment after inspection.

“A lot of these marketplaces are not dealing with materials,” Fleury said. “Our goal is to deal with both residential and commercial, but we’ll do that in phases. If you need to post a roof or a ten-square roof, you can do that just as easily as posting a commercial roof that is 10,000 squares.”

“We are going after the whole market—it is a trillion-dollar market in the United States and $10 trillion globally,” COO and Co-Founder Olszewski said. “We’re starting with residential because that is where Luke has very intimate experience with all the transactions involved. But we have advisors and customers already that are in the commercial space as well as those with experience at the federal level, and how bidding is done there. We are aiming at an end-to-end solution for all bidding in the construction industry.”

The company aimed first to achieve critical mass in its home state of Rhode Island, hitting enough contractors in different disciplines, then Massachusetts, New York and the rest of New England. This will be followed by a multi-phase launch across the United States.

More Than Digitizing the Cow Paths

While many new construction ERP products are highly developed, they do tend to simply digitize existing processes. Where Dibbs has real potential is in its use of digital interactions to essentially re-imagine how value flows and how deals are made in the construction industry.

“If a poster made a post looking for framing materials for five houses, upload the building plan, add the budget and description, then all the suppliers would see that post and bid right on that post,” Fleury said. “I would get multiple suppliers bidding on my post instead of me calling five suppliers and then sifting through my email. If someone made a service post, on the first post they can identify whether materials are provided, and if they are not, the contractor can bid including materials.”

“Once the contractor wins the bid, if no materials are required, they can then post on Dibbs to find the materials,” Olszewski said.

The platform not only makes project and bidding communication easy in a digital setting—users can for instance instant message or Facetime with each other from within the application—but it turns what had been a disparate network of individuals into a community where information can flow more freely than in an offline environment.

“When people are on the site, even if they are new homeowners, they will quickly come to understand what it costs to paint a home,” Fleury said. “They will understand the price for a roof. They’ll see what other people have listed for their budgets. They may look at other project posts and realize they need to make their own posts a little more detailed.”

Dibbs Pricing

Because Dibbs is designed to facilitate service and materials sales, the primary revenue model to start with will be a small transaction fee for both buyers and sellers—similar to Airbnb.

Down the road however, this revenue model will diversify.

“For those who don’t want to transact on Dibbs, we will launch a small monthly fee, about $50 per month,” Fleury said. “It is not like Angi where you pay hundreds of dollars for leads you might not use. Later, once we get really sticky, I could see some advertising revenue or data sharing revenue.”

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