Why don't tradespeople use more tech?
Sort It wants to sort it
Some startups have grand plan to change the world at a macro level, while others pick a niche and serve it well. Today’s startup falls into the latter category, with a tight focus on the needs of a significant market: tradespeople. Scroll down to read all about Sort It.
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Sort It wants to bring the independent construction trades into the 2020s
I’ve often wished tradespeople would use a bit more tech. Imagine getting an alert when your gardener was five minutes away, so you could be ready to let them through to the back of the house. Or if there was a quick and reliable way to communicate with your painter that wasn’t a maddeningly haphazard game of luck in which there’s a 50% chance they’ve decided to ghost you.
Yes, I speak from experience.
But one new startup from London has a plan to help tradespeople and their customers with a particularly time-consuming task. Sort It AI has built a tool that can cost up a construction project in seconds, a task that can normally take as long as six weeks.
Other similar tools exist, but this offering is aimed squarely at independent tradespeople working on construction projects - a market served by surprisingly few dedicated software tools.
An underserved market
Sort It co-founder and CEO Simeon Gow says tradespeople tend to launch their own businesses after having learned their skills in college, or on the job as an apprentice and then building up experience with another contractor. Either way, they’re generally not trained to cost up jobs.
And Gow says Sort It’s research found that after a busy day working on site, tradespeople end up costing up prospective jobs late in the evening, which means it’s an error-prone process that can take much longer than their customers would like.
The startup’s solution is a web app that allows a contractor to upload a floor plan as a PDF or image file. The proprietary tech then recognises all the elements of plan, such as doors and windows, and provides an instant costing estimate.
This estimate is currently based on a price database that Sort It updates manually, but they plan to move into real-time pricing at a later date by working with a third-party data provider. If there are specific requirements for the project that aren’t reflected in the floorplan, or if there are any errors, the costing can be manually tweaked.
Building from the ground up
Gow says he grew up with an interest in construction because his parents converted a derelict farm into a holiday complex. After stints labouring, he gained a BTech in Design and Construction and a degree in civil engineering, followed by a career in construction design and IT consulting for the industry.
He co-founded Sort It late last year with developers Robert Blankson (CTO) and Alex Ferrao (head of UI/UX). Blankson is a senior software engineer at Hudl, while Ferrao has a background in building software for the non-for-profit sector.
Sort It is preparing to launch its MVP in private beta this month with around 40 test users before a commercial launch in the autumn. It’s currently offering a £2.99 pre-order price but Gow says standard pricing will be a £30 subscription to cost five projects per month, or pay-as-you-go for £10 per project.
I can imagine many investors would urge Sort It to drop the per-project pricing and focus on the subscription as a way of boosting recurring revenue, but Gow says some contractors see the subscription as beyond their needs - they might only cost one project per month.
SaaS subscriptions aren’t a good fit for everyone in this particular market, and forcing them into a commitment could be a turn off - at least for now.
Gow says Sort It is exploring support for advertising that would be displayed before the results of the costing, allowing the startup to offer a free tier. Again, investors might wince at the idea of a freemium offering in a B2B SaaS product in 2022, but this is a market that doesn’t use a lot of tech, and the conventions might have to be different here, at least at first.
Indeed, while there are already similar tools aimed more at office-based use by a wider range of workers in the construction industry, such as Kreo and Togal, Gow sees the mindset of the construction industry as the biggest competition Sort It faces, especially because the startup is targeting independent contractors.
“[Other similar software] is more office based. We are coming in from the trades’ perspective. We're not looking to do any sort of bottom-down approach [Gow later clarified he meant top-down]. Our key differentiator is that we're bottom-up. We come in at the level of the trades and we work upwards.
“Although we're B2B, to our consumers it's going to feel B2C, because they own their own small businesses. One of the things that people care about the most is their money. It's one of the hardest things to sell into and gain trust.”
Tackling the dinosaur
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