My recent live-blog post about Tradeshift wondered whether there might be an opportunity for SME firms in the architecture, engineering and construction sectors to expand their adoption of online platforms, perhaps even integrating project delivery processes with the associated financial transactions. It seems one business in the United States is already starting to do this:

I was contacted by the Florida-based company‘s co-founder, and president Brian Javeline, who told me more about its Business-to-Business-to-Consumer (B-2-B-2-C) model and how it is targeting very small to medium-sized contractors in the US home repair and remodelling sector (of course, home repair, extension and refurbishment will be a growth sector with house-building still suffering the after-effects of the credit crunch).

What stood out to me when I looked at MyOnlineToolbox was that, in addition to providing SaaS-based business tools for managing SME transactions and information exchanges between companies and their customers (both other businesses and household customers), it was also looking at advertising revenues. Brian confirmed that the latter could be highly targeted, so that product manufacturers, for example, could target specific geographic localities and specific types of audience (say, contractors or home-owners). Given that the basic two-user product is free (the premium option is US$89/month, for three users), I expect many SME users will be happy for their site to carry some advertising (they may even see good opportunities to advertise themselves).

MyOnlineToolbox’s core functionality appears to relate to exchange of estimates, RFQs, orders, approvals, messages, notes and invoices (I couldn’t find any reference to collaboration on design drawings or other design information, so I guess this lies outside the current scope of the platform; the focus is therefore on business processes rather than design). Depending on the customer requirement, contractors can print out hard copies of their business documents, or use fax, email or online processes.

There is an emphasis on sharing and recommendation, Brian says: “The more a customer shares the product with his private network of peers, the more efficient the product becomes.” He continues:

MyOnlineToolbox users share job leads easily with other MyOnlineToolbox users as well as non-users. The system automatically detects a non-user communication and takes the non-user through a marketing message to solicit them to join the community. Plus, each piece of correspondence sent to a non-user will have a suggestion message highlighting a feature of the system that would be of benefit to the correspondence receiver. The beauty is that the non-user must become a MyOnlineToolbox user to get his job information.

“We want contractors to think of MyOnlineToolbox with three focuses 1) obtaining more work, 2) managing existing jobs, and 3) getting paid more efficiently.”

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