As it is with many industries, staying competitive in construction means bringing supplies from overseas. And importing materials may keep costs down, but it heightens risk.
It’s more difficult to be at the source, verify the integrity of the manufacturing process, and there are endless possibilities for problems en route to the destination. It can be a disorganized and chaotic process.
This is why Shane Hodgkins co-founded Matrak, a company that offers cloud-based materials and progress tracking software that allows companies to track and share information on manufacturing, shipping, installation, and defects for construction projects.
On this edition of UpTech Report, Shane discusses the challenges of building a tech startup in a space that is historically low-tech and how it’s also created tremendous opportunities.
More information: https://info.matrak.com/home-page
Shane is Matrak’s Co-Founder & CEO. After tracking windows from overseas on large projects, Shane and his brother co-founded Matrak. Shane has over a decade’s experience managing teams of software testers, developers, data investigators, and technical support analysts. A full-stack web developer, Shane also has an intense love for all things AI and has been playing with neural networks for most of his life.
Matrak offers end-to-end supply chain visibility for manufacturing, construction and building teams. A global construction tracking network, Matrak was designed specifically to support and simplify the complexities of moving and tracking materials from manufacture to install and everywhere in between.
Matrak gives users the power to track and manage complex material interactions through a single source of truth application, creating a global digital network that helps create collaboration and connection in construction.
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!
Shane Hodgkins 0:00
We wanted to create a platform that any small company could use to be able to track all of their materials. But the problem with that is that a lot of these companies have not really had a lot of tech.
Alexander Ferguson 0:17
Welcome, everyone to UpTech Report. This is our apply tech series UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of video at teraleap.io. Today, I’m very excited to be joined by Shane Hoskins, based in Melbourne, Australia. He’s the co founder and CEO of Matrak. Welcome, Shane, good to have you on.
Shane Hodgkins 0:35
Yeah, thank you so much, it’s great to be.
Alexander Ferguson 0:37
Now your product is a cloud based materials and progress tracking software. So for those out there, if you’re involved with supply chain management, in construction, however, that may be, this might be an intriguing platform you want to check out. Now on on your site chain, you state end to end supply chain visibility, I’m assuming in construction, dive in a little bit deeper, what was the problem that you initially saw and set out to solve?
Shane Hodgkins 1:02
So essentially, the problem is, especially in Australia, supply chains have become extremely global very quickly, to the point where for a lot of large construction companies, you can’t actually compete unless you’re getting large portions of your build coming from overseas and finding the best overseas procurement location is like most company’s competitive advantage. But the flip side of that is that it means that there’s a lot of extra risk being won by all of the people in the supply chain, because suddenly you’re dealing with people that are in different time zones, it’s harder to visit to make sure that the quality is correct. And so it just makes it really, really hard for everyone to stay on the same page. And so for us, basically, what we found was that if we could make a really lightweight solution that is suitable for any individual player in that supply chain, and something that they wouldn’t choose to use themselves to track their own materials, then we could actually link them all up to create this network so that you get this end to end visibility as materials flow through the network.
Alexander Ferguson 1:58
Yeah, as we come become more global having assets all over the place, and if it’s not digital, it becomes really hard to track. And that’s effectively what you guys are able to solve. I’m excited to, to hear more about that, as well as the journey that you’ve been on these past few years. When When did it begin? When did you start the company
Shane Hodgkins 2:14
that we we first did very initial, like one page document that we took to a builder and said, Hey, would this be useful in about 2013. But we only started working full time, once we had a number of customers, and that was in 2017. And so we’ve grown from just the two of us to begin with up to about 31 staff at the moment.
Alexander Ferguson 2:35
Gotcha. And three years ago, four years ago, starting this full time getting into it. I’m excited to hear about that journey. So stick around for part two of our discussion, but to give it a taste, if you could no one thing that you know now, what would you say to yourself three years ago, four years ago,
Shane Hodgkins 2:53
um, probably that like to just be as open about the stuff that you’re working on as you can, I think a lot of founders and myself in particular was like worried about owner, if someone knows about the idea, suddenly they’re gonna compete with us. And it’s like this big risk. But actually, people want to get on board and they want to support you. And so you have to actually tell people what you’re working for them to be able to help out. I love that
Alexander Ferguson 3:15
tip, don’t be afraid to just share and talk about it. It’s a lot harder to implement than just have an idea. So stick around for part two to hear more of that discussion. But let’s dive a bit deeper into the technology and your product. The began with have a lot of paper documents you mentioned with the construction company that you’re involved with, I think is your family. Right? You’re involved. And you saw the problem. What was the beginning of it using I guess, machine learning your brother? Right?
Shane Hodgkins 3:43
Yeah, 100%. So um, so essentially, we wanted to create a platform that any small company could use to be able to track all of their materials. But the problem with that is that a lot of these companies have not really had a lot of tech that they’ve been exposed to in the construction space up until recently until you had smartphones on job sites, which was only like sort of 10 years ago that they became ubiquitous. They just couldn’t really access hair. And the other flipside of that, too, though, is that people don’t have a lot of time to invest in unknown technologies. They’ve been doing something the same way for 30 years, 40 years. And so you really need to make it super easy for people to get into onto the system. So one of the first things that we built which allowed us to really get in with a lot of these customers was machine learning tool that’s able to identify specific materials from the 2d construction drawings because the paper drawings are the ones that everybody has universally so if we can find those materials, then as soon as you give us the drawings, we can tell you what you need to do on your project, which automatically creates a lot of value for these small companies. But it also means they can get on the system without having to manually type in every single you know, your every door, every piece of metal that they’re having to track for the project.
Alexander Ferguson 4:55
So many parts I mean, there’s no way that someone could manually enter data data manual data entry would not make sense.
Shane Hodgkins 5:01
Well, to be honest, though, that’s how they’re doing it like mostly in excel at the moment, that’s the only way that they can keep track of it, it’ll be like 10s of 1000s of rows long. And if there’s a single typo somewhere, then it means that when something gets to the actual construction site that don’t have the right part, and it can delay every single subsequent training costs, like literally millions of dollars, so
Alexander Ferguson 5:21
So walk me through a use case, then of someone using your software, are they effectively starting with just taking a picture of a, an invoice list and it comes in your system? Walk me through the steps?
Shane Hodgkins 5:32
Yeah, totally. So once a company wins a job, they’ll generally have essentially the the drawings, the plan of what needs to be, you know, manufactured or built. And so for a typical company, which might be for instance, a supplier, once they’ve got those final versions of the drawings, they upload them to our system, and then we actually do what’s called a takeoff. So we identify all of the materials on that on those drawings, and give them a full list of everything that they need to order, manufacture, inspect all of that stuff. And we actually make it interactive and visual on the drawing. So suddenly, instead of having a floor plan, that’s just black and white, you can actually say, the gray ones have been installed, the red ones have been damaged, all of the gray ones haven’t been shipped yet. So it means that they can get this immediate snapshot of where their projects are and how I’m some progressing.
Alexander Ferguson 6:21
Can you share any companies that are using it right now and how it’s done in kind of their workflow?
Shane Hodgkins 6:29
Yeah, so um, so we’re working with, like, we’re based around in Australia, mostly. So um, most of our customers are a lot of the biggest builders in Australia, a lot of suppliers here. So some of the companies like Hutchinson builders and hickory and iKON, which your Australian audience will probably recommend I recognize, as well as mace we’re working with in the UK, who is a very major builder there. But one of our largest sectors, probably about 30% of our customers are actually based in China. So many of the biggest manufacturers in the world companies like Uillean, upon Votan home, are all using the system as well, which is pretty cool.
Alexander Ferguson 7:07
Are your plans and desires to continue expand more globally?
Shane Hodgkins 7:11
Yeah, so um, so we’ve got some of the space in China at the moment, but we’re expanding that team out. And we’ve also come January COVID. Willing, we’ve got someone that’s actually setting up a new office over there as well. Because the the time zones are a bit of a killer otherwise, unless you put someone on the ground.
Alexander Ferguson 7:31
For the global environment, you mentioned, specifically Australia, because there’s so much of a need for shipments coming in and out of for the global distribution. Do you see that the same everywhere? Or is it different based on locale? So your solution? Do you see it serving the same need?
Shane Hodgkins 7:51
Yeah, so um, it is, it is definitely different in a lot of different markets, the way the construction work. So for instance, especially in Europe, in the UK, they have used a lot more digital tools for a longer period of time, but they and they’re more likely to be getting materials from places that speak similar languages to them. But they do still have a lot of restrictions around often because of language barriers, not necessarily being able to purchase from the cheapest of the best quality place that’s nearby. And so what we’re really hoping is that a lot of the sort of lessons that we’re learning in Australia that is magnet like really, really efficient in terms of actually running these projects, I think that we can sort of facilitate, especially with, we’re picking up more and more clients in other parts of Southeast Asia. And so it’s really giving companies more of a choice about who they want to work with, rather than just having to be restricted to the one person that they’ve known for 30 years. And so that’s the only one that they tend to go with.
Alexander Ferguson 8:47
What are you most excited about feature wise that you guys are rolling out and working on that you can share?
Shane Hodgkins 8:53
I’m sorry about stuff. It is so much fun. I to be honest, probably the biggest one at the moment. And it’s not gonna sound super exciting. But we’ve got we basically have rebuilt the system in React. And it’s absolutely gorgeous. And so we’ve just got a currently a beta testers using the new mobile app. And yeah, it’s it’s such a step change from what it was previously, just in terms of usability and everything. And yeah, so it sounds really nice. But there’s like something really special when you’re using a system and you get those little like, cues of excitement just from the way that little animations work and things like that. So I’m really excited for that one to be out.
Alexander Ferguson 9:32
There’s a standard of where we expect things to be as consumers. When you get to the b2b world it can lag behind of the interfaces are a little dated. So when you can match the consumer feel and environment which you’re regularly using on iPhone or Android. In the b2b world. It is it is exciting.
Shane Hodgkins 9:54
Totally and to be honest, it’s one of the biggest areas it’s like such a focus for us because so many of the biggest players in the country structure and tech space have been around for decades, you know, a lot of them are from like the late 80s, and things like that. And so being able to actually have something that’s really modern uses, like actual modern consumer facing set of interfaces and things. It just really helps a lot, especially when you’re dealing with people that are all around the world and have different levels of sanitec expertise, that really intuitive interface makes a big difference.
Alexander Ferguson 10:24
Do you see that as maybe a winning play for you, or game changer in the essence of if you are having to have your employees use that application regularly, if it is very consumer friendly mentality, it’s actually more readily adoptable and a better growth strategy for you guys.
Shane Hodgkins 10:44
100%. Yeah, and especially as we’re working on bigger and bigger projects with more and more companies and things, it just means from like a training and onboarding perspective, it’s so much more scalable, if people can just see it and get it, rather than needing a huge user manual that’s like, please click this menu, and then click on that button, you know, so, yeah,
Alexander Ferguson 11:01
I like that mentality. If it requires a big user manual to learn how to use it, it may not be the best application rollout to your employees. For those who are involved in supply chain, and construction company, or along that supply chain, any words of wisdom that you can share for their job, their role, what they have to do it day in, day out? Anything you can share?
Shane Hodgkins 11:28
Yeah, so um, it was kind of the big learning for us. But I think it applies to anyone, regardless of whether you’re using a system or not, is that you’re, you’re it’s really hard to force when you put hundreds of companies on a single project, it’s so hard to force them to use tech. And even if you try to force them to use tech, often, then it’s going to be like malicious compliance, you’ll be chasing them to update things, and it’ll take more time than it solves. But if you can find a system that the companies themselves want to use, not just with you, but with any project that they’re on, then you can actually just tap into that data that they’re going to be updating for their own benefit anyway. And so that’s kind of how you get a better system. And so whatever tech people are looking at, I think that that’s probably the key thing that’s not really been done yet in the industry, but seems to be a real game changer.
Alexander Ferguson 12:14
For you the business model, each party was involved with a paying per seat per per license. How does that work?
Shane Hodgkins 12:21
Yeah, so um, so basically, we see biggest competitors Excel. So what we serve basically, for a monthly subscription, any company along that supply chain can can use metric for an unlimited number of projects and for all of the users in the company, basically the same as you would with Excel. So they just don’t have to think about it, and they can use it across the board. And then they can just link up with other companies to create that sort of intimate network,
Alexander Ferguson 12:47
any integrations plan with other applications or software that they do use or would use.
Shane Hodgkins 12:53
So basically, we’ve got our own API’s that we’ve built, which use Graph QL, which is amazing, I only recently found out about it, and it’s ridiculous how it works. But um, essentially, that means that customers can start integrated into any of their own back office systems. So we’ve got a few of our customers that have a feeding directly into their ERP systems. We’ve got some that just push the data straight into Google Sheets, so they can do their own graphs and charts and stuff on Amazon. Yeah, so it’s pretty cool.
Alexander Ferguson 13:22
And and circling back to some of your underlying technology, you’re using machine learning, right? To effectively take these images and pull it in? Is it? Are you just using like an open source machine learning mentality? How have you guys modified it? How’s it to you guys?
Shane Hodgkins 13:35
It’s a, that’s a really good question. Because there’s so much amazing sort of object recognition stuff that you can do at the moment. And so when we first started trying, we were using a lot of off the shelf tech, but what we found is that for building materials, drawings, it’s actually really difficult because you basically got, you’re looking for black and white rectangles in a sea of black and white rectangles, you know, so it’s so hard to figure out what you’re meant to be looking at. And so we actually developed and actually got a patent for our own approach, which, which is pretty cool. And so we’ve seen a lot of successes with that.
Alexander Ferguson 14:11
I’m very intrigued and of how do you recognize lots of black triangles and lots of black triangles?
Shane Hodgkins 14:18
Yeah, totally. So um, basically, without getting too technical, basically imagines a whole bunch of different layers or glosses of types of data based on this relationship. So of, of the few red rectangles that it says and then it’s able to sort of sum all of them up to be able to come up with a conclusion at the end, so it’s actually pretty amazing. To check out it’s quite fun. I feel
Alexander Ferguson 14:47
like anyone who’s into machine learning developers out there would be fascinated with that problem itself. Everyone else in supply chain construction be like yeah, okay, that’s cool. But it’s the story of how of how it’s really changing the way We do business, the way we work, simplifying our lives, so we don’t have to do as much manual entry. And it sounds like that’s where you guys are are set to do is make people’s lives easier, hopefully using using technology. Awesome. So just last question, where do you see the company like five years from now.
Shane Hodgkins 15:20
So I’d say we really see ourselves as being that sort of underlying infrastructure that allows companies to track supply chain similar to what you would say with sort of telephone, telecommunications infrastructure or global financial infrastructure. And so for us, it’s kind of providing that backbone that companies can rely on and then they can use that data for whatever other purposes or with any other sort of systems or integrations that they choose to. But that’s kind of how we see ourselves as a company.
Alexander Ferguson 15:44
Got it? Well, thank you so much for sharing your insight for those who want to learn more about their platform. Go to matrak.com
Shane Hodgkins 15:53
Alexander Ferguson 15:56
Got it, and there is a free trial so that you can kind of take it for a test drive. Yeah, test drives are always good. Stick around for part two of our discussion that we’ll be able to learn a bit more about Shaw. Shane’s history and how he got to where he is today, I’m sure there’s a few bumps along the road, that you can share some of that insights. Again, our sponsor for today is TeraLeap. If your company wants to find out how to better leverage the power of video to increase sales and marketing results, head over to TeraLeap.io and learn about the new product customer stories. Thanks again everyone, and we’ll see you next time. That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech report.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you subscribe to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.