There are entrepreneurs who identify a problem in a marketplace and recognize an opportunity—and then there are those who feel that problem personally and need a solution.
Sean McCreanor was one of those people. He started a construction company in Australia and was unable to find a software product that would offer the mobility and functionality he needed. So he founded his own tech startup, Assignar, which offers a project management solution specially tailored for the construction industry.
On this edition of UpTech Report, Sean talks about the ways in which this software addresses the particular needs of the construction industry and he discusses the challenges of selling a tech product in a marketplace that’s often twenty years behind the times.
More information: https://www.assignar.com/au/
Sean McCreanor is the CEO and Co-Founder of Assignar, a cloud-based construction operations company. He is a technologist at heart and is passionate about helping construction implement & leverage technology.
Sean started his career in IT in the late 90s. After starting a specialist IT firm with some colleagues and then successfully exiting that business in 2005, Sean went on to co-found (and still owns) a specialty civil & rail sub-contracting business that now has over 80 pieces of heavy equipment and over 250 workers across 4 states. After an exhaustive search for an operations platform in 2014, Sean McCreanor developed Assignar for his railway subcontracting business with co-founder Marko Tomic.
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
Sean McCreanor 0:00
As an owner of a company, I care about the utilization of the equipment I care about who’s operating it, is it being maintained? Do I have the right team supporting those crews? And you know, with data, we can start to provide those insights.
Alexander Ferguson 0:20
Sean, I’m excited to be able to chat with you today to begin, share, what is Assignar in five seconds very brief.
Sean McCreanor 0:28
We’re an operations platform for construction contractors.
Alexander Ferguson 0:32
I love straight to the point, this concept of why you developed it talking about the problem, and how did you come to realize the problem itself that existed?
Sean McCreanor 0:42
Yeah, well, I experienced the problem in my own construction business back in Australia. So I’m a tech guy that started a construction business, I had an exit in the mid 2000s, I won’t go into the long detail of my background, unless, of course you want to. But I ended up starting a construction company and with a with a friend of mine. And we just found that there wasn’t a lot of software that was born in the cloud had mobility first and would really solve like operational business problems. So after searching the market, not being able to find a modern platform, we we built one
Alexander Ferguson 1:21
of the best stories is when you yourself, feel the pain, and you’re like, Alright, I need to I need to solve it. So it’s interesting, though, I haven’t heard much folks who started construction, then go to tech.
Sean McCreanor 1:31
Yeah, that’s what I get told that all the time. Actually, most people go from construction to tech, not tech to construction,
Alexander Ferguson 1:39
has been six years ago. So we said mid 2014, that you started this, how has you have you seen the overall use of technology, then advanced just in the last three years is the big shift?
Sean McCreanor 1:49
Oh, yeah, yeah. It’s really interesting, because when we first started out, we had to describe what the cloud was to a lot of our customers. And honestly, because they had a server in the office, they had QuickBooks, or they had like their accounting system on it, that was probably it. QuickBooks and Xero. And some of these other sort of, you know, small to medium size, accounting systems educated a lot of our customers for us, as did smartphones, you know, if you look on a job site, you’ll see workers that have the same smartphones as everyone else. And they were very, very fast to adopt that. So we saw a bit of a shift happen there. So we have less conversations about what the cloud is now. But what’s really interesting about like construction, specifically, is because they’ve been such laggards in adopting technology, they’re almost skipping generations of tech. Like they’re literally jumping from a spreadsheet system or manual system that they started using in the 90s. Now they’re jumping straight into the cloud. And so that’s really nice. You know, when I get asked, like, Who do we compete with? Nine out of 10 times, it’s literally Microsoft Excel. It’s a whiteboard. It’s a manual process. Yeah. So I mean, there’s some, there’s some good and some bad in that, you know, it’s great that they’re able to, like skip an entire generation of, you know, tech, I guess.
Alexander Ferguson 3:19
So let’s walk through some use cases, examples of how you’ve helped some of your clients.
Sean McCreanor 3:24
Yeah. So a lot of contractors, you know, particularly where they’ve got a lot of heavy equipment, like you can see in the background there, that sits on their balance sheet. And they have operators for the equipment, they have crews that support the operation of the machinery. And they’re generally working on a lot of projects all at the same time. And generally, they can be geographically spread out over a few miles, or it could be, you know, different states, that type of thing. So we really helped them get visibility into scheduling, planning, managing those projects, managing those crews, managing the equipment, helping them manage safety, doing it all remote. Now, you know, it’s relevant in the COVID world. You know, quite often, like the office was always disconnected from the field, but they could drive out to the project site. Now with COVID. They can’t even do that a lot of the time. So we really kind of enabled the field, as well as provide the office the connectivity that they they need to get to the projects,
Alexander Ferguson 4:24
data definitely changes the game, then because then you can infer a lot of ideas and thoughts for them to realize, like, Wow, that’s great suggestion you can act on, but you’re all you’re both helping them give suggestions or how to view the data, but also capture the data. Tell me how are you capturing all that data
Sean McCreanor 4:41
for them? Yeah, so there’s, there’s mobile apps. So we have, you know, iPads and you know, tablets, phones, that type of thing. And we we kind of answer. Well, we don’t ask them questions that we already know the answers to. So like a really simple example is if I’m working on The i 25 Upgrade here in Denver, Colorado, I shouldn’t need to ask the workers like, What project are they on, because I know that I’ve got a geo fence. I’ve done some scheduling and planning. I also know that you’re operating unit number six, it’s a 25 ton excavator, and I know who the crew is. So we make it like really seamless, frictionless, like effortless, I guess, from a data collection. And when you do that, you get really good quality data that maybe you do need the answers from, because I’m getting, I’m not asking 30 questions, I’m only asking five questions that I don’t know the answers to. So that’s been, that’s been a huge game changer for our customers, like they really get, you know, really powerful, meaningful data and insights into their business. But we also help them with all those sort of, I would say, like less project related flows. You know, if you look at the machines in the background there, that’s probably a million bucks worth of equipment in those two machines, all set up. So as an owner of a company, I care about the utilization of the equipment I care about who’s operating it, is it being maintained? Do I have the right team supporting those crews, and you know, with data, we can start to provide those insights, that big excavator breaks down a hell of a lot. So you should probably think about, you know, replacing it, for example. And so they’re the sort of insights that they can get, in the old days, you would go by a manual process, a gut feel, or maybe a conversation with someone in the shop about whether that units should be retired or not. And so now, contractors are understanding that, like, let’s use data to actually make those decisions.
Alexander Ferguson 6:42
Data definitely change changes the game, your gut feel, but you can make informed decisions, good decisions.
Sean McCreanor 6:48
Yeah. And I think that, like back to my earlier point, around contractors, skipping generations of technology, if, you know, there are oldest legacy systems that, you know, have been around since the 80s, or the 90s. And they just can’t surface they’re very rigid workflows. They don’t let you capture that level of data, let alone like interpret or surface insights about it. So I definitely think there’s a there’s a there’s a shift. That’s, that’s that’s happening, we know with contractors and you know, they’re they’re saying great things about, you know, the visibility they now have and forward look into the future because of that data.
Alexander Ferguson 7:27
What’s your your business models, a monthly SAS yearly SAS? How’s it work number seats?
Sean McCreanor 7:33
Yeah, yeah. So aside SAS, we, we license it based on the number of workers that they have, generally, they’ve got 50 to 500 employees were sort of selling into, I guess, sort of the small to mid market sort of band, generally, their annual contracts. Some of them pay us, you know, monthly, quarterly annually. We’ve got a few multi year deals as well. But generally, it’s a it’s a 12 month contract.
Alexander Ferguson 8:00
And looking forward, what’s Where do you see the company in the near term? Next year? So where are you? Where’s your head at? And also long term? next five years?
Sean McCreanor 8:09
Yeah. So in the short term, I mean, I’m Australian, but I live in, in Denver, Colorado. So we, we started out down there, we have customers in Australia, New Zealand, we launched into the US a couple of years ago, we have customers here and in in Canada as well. I think, you know, if I was to get to, you know, October, November end of 21. We’re also in the UK, you know, we’ve spun up a little business over there. And I think we’re sort of, you know, continuing to expand our reach across North America, as well. We’ve got customers and opportunities in other markets, but we sort of been really focused on just executing really well, and sort of replicating what we did in, you know, in launching in the US, which was start small, start to build up a little bit of a brand, get some great customer stories really solve the, the problem set for them, and then you know, kind of look elsewhere. Five years from now, you know, our goal, my goal was to sort of bring industry into the 21st century, I guess, when it comes to, you know, adopting technology, I think, you know, our mission is to help them keep building, you can see that in the background as well, because that’s what contractors are really good at. Technology’s not the center of the universe for them. They make money by winning more projects and executing on them really, really well. So you know, if we can continue to make it easy to use, frictionless, effortless, they’ll keep building they’ll grow their business, and I’ll be so from a product perspective, that’s our focus. And I think that’ll help us ultimately to answer your question, become the standard. You know, that’s our goal for our profile of industry. The contractors we sell to I you know, I want to become the I want us to become the standard You know, for industry?
Alexander Ferguson 10:03
Where can people go to learn more? And what’s a good first step for them that they can take?
Sean McCreanor 10:08
Yeah, I mean, we’ve got a lot of content on our site, there’s a couple of short demos that they can go and take a look. But generally, I actually would recommend that they go read some reviews on from contractors, like don’t hear it from us hear it from the voice of the customer. I’m really, really proud of what we do like with with the customer success team and how we engage we, we become a part of their business. Most of those reviews don’t talk about how great your product is, they talk about the experience that they have, and ultimately how we were a part of their business and help move the needle for them. Start there, go watch a product demo and have a look and see if there’s any, you know, kind of pain points that we can help solve for and reach out we’d love to show you the platform and see if we can help.
Alexander Ferguson 10:56
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