I finally getting around to sitting with one of the original members of the RDI hub! I grab a coffee with Owen Ferris of Off Hire Now and ask him to tell me a little about his background and startup journey so far.
‘My background is in manufacturing originally, where there’s a lot of automation and process management and making things as efficient as possible. When I moved into construction (as a safety officer) I saw a lot of wastage, a lot of repetitive tasks and stuff that could be automated. One of those elements was managing regulatory certification of Lifting equipment coming onto the site, which is a bit of a hassle, photocopying crane certs every time. We decide to go to the creators of those and build a software platform to solve the problem for all parties.
We initially built the software in 2009 to enable companies to carry out the inspections on mobile devices, which automatically created the documentation online.
When their clients then want to access that information they can access it online, and then give it to other people as well on site so it remains digital all the time. That created huge efficiencies within the industry, both from elimination of backend admin and sharing of the subsequent certification.
We have customers in the UK, Australia, South Africa and Ireland and a multitude of their clients logging in. We saw a familiar trend with construction endusers logging in using the platform as a defacto asset management system.
We actually won a contract in 2019 with a large UK Utilities company to build out an asset management and compliance platform for them. This was a huge success and they now know where their 100,000 plus pieces of equipment is and when they are due for inspection. They check equipment into locations using a combination of RFID’s and Barcodes.
We came to the RDI hub to scale out this product to other construction contractors.’
How did “Off Hire Now” come into to the picture?
‘When we came into the RDI hub we were sat down and had to look at the data and re-evaluate the entire product offering and if we had any USP’s (Unique Selling Points) .
From speaking with Foremen on sites, they don’t just want to know what equipment they own but also what is on hire. Hire equipment is often brought on to construction sites and is not added to the Asset Register as it is only there for a short time.
We found that there were even bigger inefficiencies emerging from hiring equipment, because often it was forgotten about and left on hire.
Then we came across a few ‘hire horror stories’ as we call them, where equipment has just been unnecessarily kept on hire, costing companies a huge amount of money. So then with the help of the RDI hub we had the confidence to pivot our product and that’s where Off Hire Now came into being.’
‘Off Hire Now is a tool that allows construction contractors to manage their hire equipment, and reduce the costs associated with same.’
You developed the app and you went live with your app in recent weeks. How’s that going for you?
‘Yes, we built an MVP and got it out into our customers hands and then they gave us good feedback on it. So some problems that we thought were only small issues have become bigger that we thought they were and now we’re tailoring to suit those.
An example would be where hire companies charge lots of extras for excessive cleaning or if machinery was damaged. Now we allow companies to take a picture when they’re checking equipment and then again just before they send them back so now they have proof if the equipment came in damaged or wasn’t that dirty and there are no excessive charges.
Having an accurate list of equipment on hire is invaluable to a Foreman or a Project Manager on a Project – and the best thing is that we automatically populate this for them.
We ping them messages just before equipment goes into the next hire period, which gives them the opportunity to offhire before extra charges.
They simply swipe left and we take care of the offhiring admin – a bit like Tinder!
We’ve launched at the moment but we are adding to our product as well. We applied for an IPP, which is an IP partnership with Nimbus in Cork which was an EI sponsored grant. That allowed us to bring telematics into our product, so essentially it means that when hire equipment is being brought onsite, you can fix a sensor onto the hire equipment. Then if that has not been utilized for three days or four days, it can send an alert to the foreman in charge to say ‘it’s not being used, do you still want it?’ So that’s where we are going now with these type of automated prompts.’
Brilliant, real-time notifications saving people money!
‘Yes! The benefit of Off Hire Now is that it keeps project managers and foremen on top of their hire equipment so that they don’t get excessive bills at the end of the month.
We send the notifications via WhatsApp as foremen are used to this medium.’
And who is your customer base for this?
‘Our customer base for Off Hire now is contractors that hire a lot of equipment. Off Hire Now is a stand alone app but it is also integrated in to our Asset Management system “Infoganic”. Therefore a foreman can see what equipment they own and have on hire in the one dashboard.
Incidentally, we can ping an alert if an item of equipment is hired that is already available from within their own stock.’
What other benefits are there from your software?
‘As we migrate hire equipment on to the Asset Management platform, financial controllers can compare apples with apples which gives them hard data on utilization rates of equipment.
This is invaluable when they are making “Hire vs Buy” decisions at year end’.
Do you currently have plans to expand beyond Ireland?
‘Our target market is Ireland and the UK.’
So what are your plans for next 12 months?
‘So the next 12 months is to integrate the IoT and expand the offering and get out there and start selling Off Hire Now!
We made great progress as part of the IPP which used machine learning for adding hire assets to the system automatically so that’s no touch now. – The hire company’s software emails a live hire report daily for each of our customers and it’s automatically extracted. It’s then read and then categorized and then put into the system without a person having to do it. We’re over that hurdle now thanks to the IPP.’
What kind of pricing structure do you have?
‘It’s generally per project or per asset uploaded. We keep it simple’. *laughs*
Eoin, you’re one of the original members of the RDI hub. Can you tell me why you’ve made this your base?
‘Well the RDI is great for me because I’m a local! We do have another office in Tralee but I operate out of the RDI hub now. It’s like an ongoing accelerator program – you can lean on the expertise within in the building if you are unsure about something, you can sit down have a chat with the RDI hub specialists like Niall (Larkin) or Liam (Cronin), but then you have the other companies as well that are in the same kind of space and the same mindset, the same scaling mindset that you can lean on too.’
‘I operate out of the RDI hub now. It’s like an ongoing accelerator program – you can lean on the expertise within in the building if you are unsure about something.’
‘Then of course you have companies like Taxamo (Vertex) who have gone through the whole journey and have exited now, which is which is so great to have and it’s where we want to get to!’ *laughs again*
Second-last question – do you have any tips you’d like to share with anyone on their startup journey?
‘I’m always listening to podcasts, I find them really informative – there are plenty of podcasts available for companies to learn from, one I particularly like is ‘This Week in Startups’ – I’d start with that one.’
Tell us something that others may not know about you?
‘Before I got married, I owned 100 pairs of black socks – which eliminated the repetitive task of matching them!’
Thanks Owen and best of luck with Off Hire Now.
In conversation with Kerry Mac Connell