Why I started MyBuilder.com


Exactly eight years ago, on the 16th of July 2004, I had an intense dream. It felt so real that it jarred me awake at 3am. It was one of those dreams that didn't feel like a dream at all... but that was the only explanation for why I found myself bolt upright in bed at 3:00 in the morning sitting next to my sleeping wife. It was the strangest dream I've ever had, mainly because it made so much sense. It was an idea... in fact a good idea (for once!). My heart was racing. I tried to wake my wife up to tell her the good news but was met with a barrage of profanities. Undeterred (if a little offended), I ran downstairs to write it all down.

Back in 2004, I was living in Bristol, working as a stonemason and trying to support my growing family. I had learned the trade informally while living in Southern France and working for a German builder and mason. I was relatively inexperienced, but my work was good. I specialised in building random rubble walls and arches. Before that, I was an artist... but that's another story.

[caption id="attachment_5735" align="aligncenter" width="855"]Working in the Ardeche Before MyBuilder - working in the Ardeche[/caption]

Life was hard. I had to adjust to living in a new country (my wife is English). I had to learn a new language (Bristolian). I had to adjust to a new way of working (self-employed). I was a new father and wasn't getting much sleep.  We had another one on the way and the doctors told us the baby had a health problem that they didn't fully understand. I was going from one subcontracting job to the next and not getting paid very well. We weren't making ends meet and were begging and borrowing from our parents. One of the jobs I worked on was a 2 1/2 hour drive each way. The cost of diesel alone meant that my take home was little more than minimum wage. Another job I worked on saw the main contractor go bust and I was out two weeks of pay. I remember hearing that my wife rang up and gave them hell. They were lucky she didn't show up in person.

So this idea that hit me like a bolt of lightning really did feel like it came from above. The idea was, of course, MyBuilder.com. In my dream, I had created the matchmaking process, trade profiles, the feedback mechanism... pretty much everything that is core to the site today. I can't explain why I had the dream. It obviously related to what I was doing at the time, but I wasn't interested in starting a web business and I'd never seen any sort of website like this before. If someone would have told me the day before that I was about to start a web business, I'd say: "Sorry, you got the wrong guy". It was literally the last thing I would imagine that I'd do and I certainly didn't know how to go about doing it.

So I can't explain why I had that dream, but I can explain why I decided to pursue my business idea.

[caption id="attachment_5736" align="aligncenter" width="690"]Starting MyBuilder.com Starting out[/caption]

Firstly, it was special because it was my own idea. I've always valued original ideas and despise copying other people. There's no way I would have pursued it if I had found a website like MyBuilder that already existed. The ironic thing is that my insistence to be original was a severe handicap when it came to convincing people to invest in my business. I thought that there was no point in doing something that has already been done, whereas investors wanted proof of concept in an existing business - basically, something I could copy. I was eventually able to dig up some other businesses that were similar enough, but while it placated investors, it demotivated me. I got over this by completely ignoring competitors and that's still the way I operate today.

Secondly, I believed in the idea very deeply. I knew that we needed something like MyBuilder. Tradesmen need a better way to get work and homeowners need a better way to find the right tradesman. I very much felt that the industry was broken in the UK. What I loved about it was also the source of its problems: self-employment. Why tradesmen in the UK became self-employed is another story, but the end result is that tradesmen who just want to get on with their trade find themselves having to run businesses. And from the homeowner point of view, there are so many white van men to choose from, it seems impossible to tell one from the other. And after the job is done and they've been paid, the fear is that they'll just disappear into the fog.

The reason that my idea made so much sense to me is that it promised to solve the biggest problems in the industry: matchmaking and accountability.

Tradesmen don't know where the work is and homeowners don't know where the right tradesmen are. Why was I driving down to Dorset when I knew there was plenty of work for me in Bristol (somewhere)? Why were homeowners complaining that they can't find any available tradesmen when all the guys I knew, who were top notch, complained that they couldn't find enough private work? This kind of matchmaking is exactly what the internet is great at.

[caption id="attachment_5737" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Building the team at Silicon Milk Roundabout Building the team at a recruitment fair[/caption]

The lack of trust between homeowners and tradesmen is a result of a lack of accountability, pure and simple. In the 'old days' we hired tradesmen and building firms in our local community because everyone knew everyone. You knew the local plumber, builder, carpenter and the gossiping community dealt with reputations. Life is dramatically different for many of us today. I live on a street of about 50 households and depressingly, I know only two of my neighbours by their first names. The feedback system, pioneered by eBay, brings the accountability of a community back into our lives. Being able to see what previous customers say, regardless of where they lived or which social circles they were in, was a powerful, exciting concept.

Whenever times were tough and I wanted to quit, somehow I would find myself back to that day in 2004, still getting excited about my dream and still convinced that this was the way forward. What stopped me from giving up, even in the face of many hopeless situations, was my conviction and the knowledge that if I didn't make this happen, someone else would. I wasn't about to let someone else take my idea and run with it.

22 Comments

  1. what a fascinating story, I'm so happy we choose to go with you at my builder without this I think we would of gone under in all honesty I know we would of gone. and the feedback system is the key and has defiantly paid of. We know where not the cheapest but people want a good job doing and no come backs and our feedback gives them confidence in us and our work. we are doing really well on my-builder and would like to thank you for setting this up as we don't know what we would of done without it. Thanks Stiled Home Improvements Ltd

  2. I sincerely wish you all the very best its because of your "dream" and then the determination to see that dream through to reality that many builders in the uk can find that much needed work. In a word SUPERB.

  3. Your feedback system has helped all genuine tradesmen,it cuts out the cowboys who are now left with adverts in local papers with no accountability, ,set up a new business on the strength of your site which touch wood seems to be taking off and giving me extra work during these hard economic times, I like to give credit when its due so thumbs up to mybuilder.
    regards
    Joseph

  4. This site is amazing and making a huge difference to my monthly income. Every bit of positive feedback is not only good for business but great for morale. I only wish I'd thought of this idea!

    Ross
    RAC Plumbing & Heating

  5. Good story,real people behind.5+

    Good luck guys.

  6. Mybuilder.com has been a revelation for me personally, after literally grafting my a&&e off on building sites for the last 15years I was desperate for a way out and something to keep me focused on my trade, mybuilder.com has provided me with both of these and gave me inspiration to explore new opportunities and progress my business as much as possible. I truly am grateful because it has given me and my business a new lease of life. Thank you.

    Ryan

    RB Plastering Damp-proofing & Refurbishment.

  7. thanks for doing it

  8. It's a great story! mybuilder has made a massive difference to my buissness - long may it continue, thank you!

  9. You have to act on a lead as soon as possible, don't let it go cold or you lose the job and someone else nabs it! I find going in with good rates and good feedback and also not forgetting doing a top notch job speaks volumes. I do find a lot of people just enjoy getting jobs priced up for the fun of it sometimes but I think the good outweighs the bad for my trade maybe not all. Thanks my mybuilder been a big help through 2012

  10. The story is great and the concept is good, the reality is not so rosy for trademen! The fee structure for jobs is erratic to say the least, the customer service team are poor to useless and pass the buck on any issue that is flagged up for them to look into/resolve. Overall the site layout is marginally better than some of the others in this genre, but other platforms have more sensible and consistent pricing structures and the ability to ask questions before the shortlist fee stage. It could be so much better, and I have offered a lot of suggestions, but these comments seem to get ignored? yet we keep hearing of so called improvements that never materialise? Was so much better when you were only charged when you won the job, getting charged just to be shortlisted with a 20-30% of getting the job is far from ideal. Needs a radical overhaul!

  11. It's a great site - it has helped me find tradesmen that have time on their hands and have supplied quotes for me quickly.

    One question - some people when giving feedback say that we can contact them if we need further information. How is this possible? Or is it not possible?

  12. When I first joined I only used to pay for jobs when I won them. Now I get short listed for so many jobs and hardly win any of them. I think like most company's growing you have got greedy.

  13. Thanks for the comments everyone. It means a lot to me that we can play a small part in helping your businesses through tough times. I do recognise that our system doesn't work for everyone. Hearing that some tradesmen on MyBuilder are unsuccessful upsets me, but the reality is that nothing can provide work for every tradesman. It's competitive out there, particularly in these difficult times and some tradesmen are going to be more successful at the expense of other tradesmen. Having said that, we can improve MyBuilder and your comments and feedback are valuable and well received. I think about these issues all the time and I recognise a couple of you by name because of your previous comments along similar lines. My biggest priority at the moment is finding ways to get more, higher quality jobs posted on the site. What I mean by 'higher quality' is people who are committed to hiring a tradesman or builder (not just thinking about it). It's not an easy problem to solve, but it is the top priority and we are determined to succeed. We need to consider all ideas and in fact, this will be a good topic for our next online trade meeting.

  14. I do find it frustrating when you cant ask the customer questions prior to going for the lead,,you use to be able too..some of the leads I go for I price blind as they are 40-50 miles away which is uneconomical to travel to just to quote, so some of the leads posted I don't go for as there's not enough information. ie: cove lounge. whats the good of that??..what size is the lounge and what size, contour coving do you want....??

    I priced on coving job blind and it worked out fine apart from when I'd finished the lady asked me when was I coming back to decorate!...it was worked out in the end between us,,but if I could have asked relevant questions prior it would have been much easier.

    I seriously think this needs to be changed.

    Kind regards.

  15. First of all great story!!
    But I must agree with the other comments regarding the shortlisting fee.. Why why why did you put this in to place? I was doing great without the system in place and was winning around 7 out of 10 jobs that I showed interest in .. Now every time I want to show interest in a job I have to pay around £8.00 on average every time and half the time they are dud..+ all the builders have to pay a membership fee! I think you need to change the system or you might find builders looking else where
    Houston Roofing

  16. Like everything in life the site is not perfect.
    I can!t see how Peter can keep the time waister customers from using the site.
    I do however ,wonder why we cannot ask the potential client more information about a job when it is lacking

  17. I like how it's explained, best put into practice, i do think the era ing. Potential of Mybuilder has greatly outweighed the support and cost to us the tradesman. Even though there are means to earn and obtain leads, the job posters are not fully aware of the implications of costs to us and many don't get the information to look at our profiles before choosing. Making most leads a first come first served rather than your dream of matching contractors to jobs.
    Kevin
    Dec build builders

  18. Why do we have to pay a fee if we're invited to a job? We have no way of sending a message to ascertain if the person looking for a quote is genuine or is a timewaster by inviting a certain number of tradesmen.

    If we show an interest in a job we can send a message and find out some details without being charged, unless we are shortlisted by the individual.

  19. I must admit I did like the old days best and for some unknown reason was winning more jobs without the shortlist fee? Its now costing me a fortune in shortlist fees and dealing with time wasters when they cancel the appointment before I get time to quote come on Ryan get back into your dream mode and do some thing about this. and by the way I have to say your adverts are pants and think you should invest all this money your now making from our shortlist fees into decent prime time adverts instead of letting the competition reap all of the rewards.

  20. I am fairly new on here having come from rated people i thought this was a better system. however after spending money to be shortlisted with no returns i am now considering using rated people again . at least the jobs i paid for i got most, with this system as said you pay and take a very slim chance . not good at all. the answer in my eyes why this system has changed is mybuilder probably makes more money doing it this way good for them bad for the tradesmen buying the leads, it needs all the trademen to get together and not use the sitee for a month or two , watch the system change then.....

  21. I agree with a lot of the comments , there are good parts but the system is far from perfect . I have had issues about the fees and the amount of customers that don't return calls or respond to e-mails, let alone give you the chance to put a quote in,a total waste of my time and more importantly my money. I have raised the issue several times with " The Team" only to be fobbed with waffle or have parts of the website speak cut and pasted. As said in my previous messages if I am going to be charged to be short listed for a job then the customer should have to give me a reasonable amount of time to contact them and then get my quote done , if they don't you should refund the fee .

  22. It’s not always the builder. There are also a lot of time-wasting and non-paying customers out there too. Tradesmen are hard working people and deserve more credibility and respect from customers, who think we are only out there to rip them off. They’ll say "while you’re here could you just do that” and want something for nothing but you can’t go to your supermarket and not pay for your shopping, can you?

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