Dublin brothers Ciarán and Niall Brennan have developed an app to help builders manage project costs, and now they‘re banking on the digitisation of the construction sector to fuel demand for it.
The Brennans set up Livecosts.com in early 2018 after returning home from Australia, where they had run a Perth-based construction business for seven years.
Originally from Raheny, they had learned from their experience running Pyro Designs that managing costs could be a major headache for both building contractors and surveyors.
“Like most companies, we struggled to see exactly where we were winning and losing money. The information was difficult to get to,” Ciarán Brennan, commercial director at Livecosts.com, said.
“We couldn’t find anything off-the-shelf that fixed the problem for us, but Niall is quite ‘techie’, so he was able to build us a system to help manage project costs.”
The system allowed them to price projects, order and track materials, and automate invoices.
Upon returning to Dublin, the brothers set about commercialising the technology for the wider construction sector. Trading initially as PaidAde, they commissioned outsourced developers to build the system.
“That was a big early lesson for us,” Ciarán said. “In construction, if you outsource a plumbing project, and the plumber gives you a finish date, nine times out of ten, he’ll finish on that date. He’ll lose money if he doesn’t. If you outsource a tech project, nine times out of ten the developer won’t finish on the agreed date. It’s just a bit slower as an industry.”
“That forced our hand, because we realised if we can't hold people to deadlines, it’s going to be really difficult for us to run our business. We decided to bring development in-house and that’s worked out well for us.”
Since its launch in October 2019, Livecosts.com has picked up customers in the Irish market, including Cascade Group, Dyno-Rod and Darby & Associates, the chartered quantity surveyors.
“On a monthly basis, we would manage on average €14 million-worth of new projects for customers,” Ciarán said.
“The initial response was positive, and the reason is that a lot of the guys we deal with hadn’t seen invoice-scanning technology before. They were all using accounting software. They were pretty up to date with technology, so it wasn’t as if we were introducing them to a whole new concept. We were giving them a little plug-in. We’re like the little cherry on top of the accounting software.”
The Brennans plan to expand overseas in Britain and Australia. They closed the second tranche of a €500,000 funding round before Christmas. Sources included private investors and Enterprise Ireland (EI), the state agency.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has brought construction activity in Ireland to a halt for now, Brennan was relatively confident about the future.
“I had a call with one of our investors the other day and he said: ‘Don’t panic and, if you’re going to panic, make sure you panic slow.‘ I feel that the government is doing everything it can to manage the Covid-19 pandemic right now,” he said.
“In terms of the construction industry, I think they will need to present a stimulus package that will incentivise house-building to continue. If they don’t, there will be too much fear in the market and that will slow down activity, which we really need given the housing crisis.”
Livecosts.com is based at the Learning and Innovation Centre at the Institute of Technology in Blanchardstown in Dublin and employs six people. It is a high potential start-up client of Enterprise Ireland.
“With EI, you're dealing with a wealth of knowledge and experience. We work closely with Michelle O’Grady, who is our development advisor. She’s like a member of the team,” Ciarán said.