Founder of TradesMarket Myles Condon lays bare the struggles that led to the major pivot of his startup
Note: TradesMarket has undergone a name and URL change, now known as Buiilt.
Failure is often associated with words such as bankruptcy, insolvency, deterioration, decay, insufficiency and negligence. As such, failing can elicit negative feelings such as anger, disappointment, regret, shame and worthlessness. Too many people today are inherently fearful of failure. It is no surprise then that so many entrepreneurs are unwilling to publicise their failures – at least not until they’ve experienced success. Founder of TradesMarket, Myles Condon, on the other hand, doesn’t shy away from admitting his startup was a failure prior to pivoting.
In November 2011, Condon founded his now defunct company TradeReview.com.au. At the time, the site was an online directory. It was built in the spirit of Google, but focused on the trades sector, employing a unique algorithm to rank tradies in its search results.
“We would use client rankings in an algorithm to promote the best tradesmen to the top of search results. Over time, this would weed out the inferior tradesmen and support the best ones with more opportunities and work, allowing them to grow their businesses and foster in the new generation of quality,” Condon explains.
He admits, however, that the execution of his business plan and model was “handled poorly”.
“[W]e chalked this iteration of the business up to a failure,” he says. “However, we did get some valuable feedback, which started to alter my vision of what the business should be.”
Condon also candidly speaks about the co-founder split he went through earlier this year. Though Australians tend to be quite tight lipped about it, there have been plenty of co-founder breakups – a recent example being Melbourne-based FitTech startup BodyWise that lost its co-founder and lead developer.
Condon’s story is similar to that of Shoe String Media’s Founder Mat Beeche who was left unhappy and financially burdened following a co-founder breakup last year. Reflecting on his circumstances, Condon says he was worried that it would “ruin the business”, especially because his co-founder had control over the domain name and used this as leverage to force Condon’s hand in buying his share of the company.
“I was unaware of what he valued his stake at, but in the end we settled on what was still a reasonable sum. This was a challenge both for the business and for me personally, since I had put so much energy into the business over the past two years – it was another knock back I didn’t need,” says Condon.
He moved back in with his parents for a few months, and helped them renovate the house they’d recently bought. Fortunately, this helped Condon find the money to purchase his co-founder’s shares.
But what led to the split, Condon explains, is the fact that his co-founder was in charge of the development of TradeReview.com.au and “failed to deliver sufficiently”. Condon had forecasted a shorter timeframe from day one of development to launch, than the nearly-two-years it took for the site to be built. And of course, the longer the site took to build, the more costly it was.
“I simply couldn’t allow him to control development again, [so] I learnt PHP over the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014,” says Condon.
He admits that one of the biggest mistakes he made – one that is more common amongst startups than what meets the eye – is not establishing a co-founder and shareholder agreement. In a previous interview with Startup Daily, LawPath Co-Founder Damien Andreasen spoke of how informal startup co-founders can be when it comes to setting parameters around what each party will bring to the table. One of the most common issues he had noticed among co-founders is ambiguity around business shares.
Having experienced an unpleasant co-founder split, Condon is always advising others of the importance of establishing a formal structured agreement in the pre-startup phase.
“I now tell everyone I speak to that you need to be clear on expectations with co-founders and to have the agreement written in such a way that it is performance-based. Only when the co-founder delivers do they receive their share of the business,” says Condon.
But like a true entrepreneur, Condon was not put off by the failure of his business, nor other obstacles that interfered in his plans. He embraced failure as a learning experience.
Frustration as inspiration
The idea for building his own startup spawned from frustration, when Condon was working in his father’s home building company and was disappointed with the inefficiencies that became apparent.
“[W]e were constantly let down by contractors and suppliers. Over a few years of working in the industry, I became more aware of the inefficiencies that existed throughout it and decided I wanted to do something to help improve it,” he says.
But the final straw came at the end of 2011, when Condon and his father had to find a new plasterer to complete a heritage renovation in Sydney’s North Shore. Normally, they would have used a contractor that they knew well. He had worked for Condon’s father many times before and always delivered a high standard of work, whilst also being reasonably priced.
As it turned out, he had left the industry due to the difficulty of finding a steady stream of reliable work. He’d found a job as a public servant as the pay was higher.
“So just like that, the industry lost a quality tradesman with huge experience and no-one to pass that knowledge down to,” Condon explains.
After all the checks that they could possibly perform, they hired a contractor they felt would be trustworthy.
“We did our normal ring-around and found a few plasterers. We narrowed the list down to two, had them quote the project, provide their insurance details and undertook other quality checks,” says Condon.
“In the end, we decided on one over the other because he was on site doing his own work, whereas his competitor supervised the work from an office off-site.”
But the contractor they hired was a major let-down. He had sent inferior tradesmen to complete the project and did not supervise the work well enough.
“This was infuriating since he had sold himself on false premises to win the work. More so, he was the epitome of the problem that had driven our regular contractor out of the industry,” Condon laments.
But it was from this experience that he found inspiration to create a solution. Though the first iteration didn’t go so well, towards the end of 2013, Condon and his other co-founder Jarred Flanigan decided to pivot their business model and renamed the company to tradesmarket.
A new beginning
In an attempt to create a more efficient home building industry, tradesmarket was designed to work more as a client-side project manager that has some influence over who wins the work. In an effort to educate the public, tradesmarket also provides advice and support throughout the client’s project to help them understand the complexities involved in building.
“By working with a client throughout the project, in its entirety, we can help to: scope the project; obtain quotes from each required contractor; advise the client on the most suitable contractors; assist in the management of the contractors; provide building advice and tips; determine and rectify any defects; review invoices submitted prior to payment; and assist the client’s understanding in the legislation surrounding home building and a range of other areas,” Condon explains.
So how does it work exactly? Those who are looking to renovate their home submit a brief via tradesmarket.com.au. tradesmarket then assesses the brief and gathers more information if needed such as photos and sketches. The brief is broken into “packages” that are scopes of work or lists of materials. The packages are sent out to tradesmarket’s networks for tendering. The client receives all their quotes online and selects the one that they want to proceed with, for each package. tradesmarket assists in organising the correct contracts for the job and the work is executed. But the startup doesn’t just leave it at that. tradesmarket also monitors the progress of each package and the project as a whole, assisting with management and coordination. Lastly, tradesmarket assists in identifying defects and having them remedied prior to the contractor receiving payment.
Condon is fully cognisant of the fact that there are other businesses that connect clients to tradies – for example, Bookmarc, hiPages Group and Oneflare, which recently acquired an online renovations community, Renovate Forum. The strength in Condon’s offering lies in the fact that they work along side the client and essentially adopt their project as if it were their own.
“We are a much more holistic service than any other offering out there … The client has peace of mind that they have someone next to them, that has vast experience in home building whilst still being involved in their own project,” he says.
“It does not matter what stage of the project a client is in, or how big or small the project is, we partner with each of our clients to work toward the common outcome.”
Condon also stresses that tradesmarket has the advantage of being well-versed in the renovations industry. A major part of tradesmarket’s inbound marketing efforts is on creating Building Guides for projects like renovating a bathroom.
“We can help clients to understand from a very early stage what is involved and what they should expect. These guides provide tips and advice that only people experienced in these types of projects would be privy to, and we offer them for free to prove to clients we know what we’re doing,” says Condon.
He adds that tradesmarket is essentially a project management company that happens to use a digital marketplace business model.
When it comes to generating revenue, Condon explains that tradesmarket is completely free to use by clients, but they charge a fee to each contractor that successfully completes a project. Contractors can can receive job leads and submit quotes free of charge.
The business has been bootstrapped to date, though Condon is open to the prospect of raising funds once a product-market fit is established. He doesn’t want funding to distract them at this stage of the business, when time could be better spent on generating traction.
“We also don’t want to be in a place where we are desperate for funding – we would rather have some leverage when looking for funding and it be for use in growing the business. This will come through having traction in the market,” says Condon.
Although Condon has faced some major challenges throughout his startup journey, another big learning he has taken from the failure of TradeReview.com.au is “do not reinvent the wheel”.
“There are so many amazing design frameworks out there – like Envato – that suit the purpose of a startup perfectly. Whilst you are in startup mode you don’t want to waste time or money creating something that is ever so slightly different to something that already exists,” Condon adds.
“Obviously if you are a company who focuses on design as being a major selling point this may not hold true.”
Condon remains modest about his proudest achievement – the submission of tradesmarket’s first-ever client brief.
“The idea that someone wants to use a service that you have created from literally nothing is quite empowering and will drive you through all of the crap that comes with it,” says Condon.
For the remainder of 2014, Condon and Flanigan will be focused on a small geographic niche – namely, Sydney – to determine the best ways to deliver their service.
“We are really hands on in dealing with clients at this stage. It is much a learning process for us, as it is for them,” says Condon.
Once they have further systemised the business, the co-founders will focus on scaling their solution and expanding into other major cities in Australia as well as New Zealand.