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Innovation often comes from personal need – and for construction software company LiveCosts, this was certainly the case.
A spell in Australia running their own small construction business gave brothers Ciaran and Niall Brennan an insight into one of the major issues for smaller construction companies today. “We really struggled to see where we won and lost money on our projects,” he explains. “We essentially decided to design our own system to overcome this issue; we built this quite well and ended up selling the construction business, with the intention of pursuing what we perceived as a bigger opportunity in the industry.”
With the help of Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund (CSF), Ciaran and Niall developed their cost-tracking software into a real solution for small and medium-sized businesses in the sector. “Ninety per cent of the companies that we first meet are using Excel spreadsheets to track costs,” says Ciaran.
“The top end of the industry uses very sophisticated technology to track costs; these systems are expensive but they can afford them. Coins is a great example of a construction software company that has been around for a very long time. The smaller end of the sector simply can’t afford these systems, and they end up using accounting systems and Excel. These require a lot of manual entry, which is open to error. There also tends to be some duplication of information.
“Our system streamlines that whole process and give the company a clear idea of where they stand at any given time on a project”. says Ciaran.
“In essence, we’ve made sophisticated technology available to small and medium-sized businesses. We offer an affordable alternative to costly solutions like Coins.”
Availing of help
When the brothers recognised that their system had the potential to disrupt the construction software industry in Ireland, their first port of call was Enterprise Ireland and their New Frontiers programme, which led into their application for the CSF. Interestingly, they were the first company to embark on Phase 1 of the New Frontiers programme remotely, as they were still in Australia when they began the programme.
“The New Frontiers scheme gave us our first taste of the Irish start-up scene,” says Ciaran. “It gave us six months to evaluate if we had something or not. The programme really challenged us to ask those questions and see if the idea could become a viable business. The business was then officially launched in January 2018.”
From then on, plans for the business accelerated. “We applied for the CSF in April 2018. We had actually applied for it twice before, but the feedback we got was to complete the New Frontiers programme first.
“Applying really makes you think about what milestones are important to you, and what you are likely to achieve with the resources available to you.”
The questions asked help you focus on what you want to achieve over the next 12 months and further, and how you’re going to achieve this with or without CSF funding.”
The funding from the CSF, alongside another investment, allowed LiveCosts to develop their software, and turn their fledgling prototype into a real business. In essence, the CSF allowed LiveCosts to become an ambitious and viable company. LiveCosts now have clients in Ireland, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. “The funding also allowed Niall to come onboard to work alongside me, so we could develop the business side further too.”
Creating opportunities from challenges
Receiving the funding from the CSF came just before a challenging time for every industry – Covid-19 and Brexit. Being able to build their business just before these two issues allowed the company to overcome the obstacles and even see the opportunities that come from such huge challenges.
Thankfully for LiveCosts, the impact of Covid-19 was not as hard as for other companies. “Essential construction continued during lockdown so our customers were still operating,” says Ciaran. “Our role is to tell companies if they are making money or not. A lot of companies in the current climate are very worried about their projects given the current uncertainty; we help to give them clarity around this issue, so interest levels and new customers have stayed high during the pandemic.
“Our system takes away the manual effort and creates savings – we’re selling efficiency, and this is what people want. We also work through cloud-based systems. A lot of people got caught when lockdown hit as they couldn’t access on-site systems, so our system is a solution for them.”
Brexit, however, was another story. “Brexit has created a problem around the supply of materials. There’s also issues around the fluctuation of prices for materials on projects that have already been awarded. In addition, there are delays in the supply of materials, particularly those coming from Asia. Any impact on construction projects is going to have an impact on us. If it slows down projects, it slows down decision times on getting us involved on projects. I see these as big challenges for the business and the sector in the future.”
But out of issues come new opportunities, and Ciaran sees a big future for the company. “We’ve seen a huge shift in procurement and how we buy materials in the construction industry. Covid-19 has accelerated this; we’ve been looking at ecommerce and how it can work in construction. Our biggest opportunity is to capitalise on the work we’ve done to date, and the head start we have in that particular area, to make this happen. We’ve started to connect some of the big brands to make buying materials a far more efficient process.
“Construction is quite a complicated industry, it relies heavily on credit, so something like Amazon would not work. Specifications would be another complexity. Someone will eventually come along and figure this out, and we believe that this will happen from someone within the industry who understands these complexities. We believe the answer is a digital procurement system, and this is what we are working to achieve.”