The boom in cloud software has attracted developers hoping to cash in on success stories such as Xero, the New Zealand-born cloud accounting program that notched up 150,000 customers in six years.
But not all software moguls in the making know how to code. Dan Pollard, a plumber for over 20 years, took a community education course in 2008 to work out how to use a computer. Two years later he hired developers to create an app for tradesmen and two years after that job management app Fergus was born.
For Pollard, writing software is not just about making money. “The trades culture is still very sex, drugs and rock and roll. It needs to come into the 21st century,” Pollard said. “They need to learn to be more professional but I don’t think they know how to do it . Someone in the industry needs to help them do that.”
The New Zealand-based Fergus has seven staff and over 100 companies as customers, half of which were in Australia. The software worked best with a minimum five staff and the biggest customer had 35 site workers and 15 office staff.
By adopting Fergus a trades business could increase their percentage charge-out rate from 75-85 percent to 95 percent, Pollard claimed.
“In a 40-hour week a tradesman will be charging up to 28 hours and we take that up to 38 hours. If you put another 10 hours on the week at $85 an hour that’s $850 per tradesman per week that they’re charging out,” Pollard said.
Fergus app was suitable for any trade using labour and materials. The cloud software was used by electricians, HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning), plumbers, drain unblocking firms, locksmiths and treecare companies.
Builders were the slowest to take up job management software because they were the worst at understanding the need for systems, Pollard said.
Trades companies moving to Fergus typically suffered more “short-term pain” in the learning stages than generalist programs such as GeoOP and iTrade, Pollard said. “But after three months we’ve solved all the problems” with running the business, he added.
“GeoOP and iTrade are easy to learn and you can use them after a couple of weeks but they don’t solve all the problems. Because they are trying to do all things for all men they do nothing properly,” Pollard said.
Pollard claimed he had picked up trades companies from other cloud job management programs because they lacked specific features such as three pricing levels for costs, retail and trade, Pollard said.
Although the company was still in startup phase and not yet profitable, sales are outstripping Fergus’ ability to onboard them. The software developer was recording training and help videos to reduce the pressure on support staff.
Like many New Zealand software companies Fergus planned to tackle the Australian market first. “There are a million tradespeople between Australia and New Zealand. The demand for job management is just colossal,” Pollard said.
Fergus has features expected of a job management app such as GPS tracking through an iPhone app, integration with Google Maps, calendar syncing and invoicing. The app integrated with Xero for its accounting platform.
The difference was that Fergus was built with the input of a veteran tradesman and business owner, Pollard said. “I can see the entire process from start to finish, from the customer to the supplier to the accountant to the plumber to the business owner. I can see how people want to use the software from all those points of view.
“But you can only get that experience if you’ve spent 20 years as a tradesman and 15 years running a business to know how to put that together,” Pollard said.
Fergus has reporting tools that show which team members are the most profitable and the cost of the business per hour. A tradesman can use the app to have terms of trade accepted before work starts and view a complete job history to help resolve disputes.
“I’m still passionate about tradesmen and I want to professionalise the industry. If tradesmen want to be respected then they need to learn to behave professionally,” Pollard said.
Image credit: Fergus app