SmartBuilder and Woobius close down

smartBuilder-logoLate last month I learned that Dublin, Ireland-based Android mobile construction application developer SmartBuilder was closing down. A brief message to me from founder and CEO Peter Daly explained “Despite the promise of the new app we have been unable to source additional funding.” It appears that the company’s May 2014 effort to rename and reposition itself as a US-based Software-as-a-Service application provider, Plan2Finish, ran out of money and time. Peter is now looking to extract some value from the business’s assets (and you can still download the Plan2Finish app from Play Store for a free month’s trial).

WoobiusWoobius, one of the later arrivals on the UK SaaS construction collaboration scene (in April 2009), also appears to have closed down: the website is no longer available, and there have been three applications for the company to be struck off. This comes as little surprise: architect, company founder and serial entrepreneur Bob Leung has moved on, establishing three other businesses and in late 2013 he began applying some of his ‘simple collaboration’ learning as head of user experience and strategy at Copenhagen-based start-up Geniebelt (February 2014 post), which won $0.5m funding in November 2013.

Looking back

In the early days of UK SaaS construction collaboration (c.1999-2001), there were lots of doom-sayers suggesting that most of the start-ups would quickly fold, but collaboration proved more resilient than other online B2B ventures in the construction sector (several online marketplaces died slow lingering deaths, for example; there was, I think, just one notable UK-marketed ‘extranet’ casualty in those early years: an Israeli-founded venture called iScraper). This does not mean that they were all equally successful, however. To use a UK football analogy, a “Premier League” of leading providers gradually emerged, while there is also a “Championship” level tier of providers who support loyal long-term customers, but who compete at a product and price level below that of their more successful rivals.

The success of some of these ‘Premier League’ providers also attracted new overseas partners: Business Collaborator began its absorption into Netherlands-based Unit4 in 2008, BIW was acquired by Germany’s Conject in December 2010, and 4Projects was acquired by US ERP vendor Viewpoint in February 2013. Arguably only Asite remains as a major independent UK-owned vendor of SaaS construction collaboration. Outside the UK, other major SaaS independent pure plays include Germany’s Think Project!, Australia’s Aconex and US players such as e-Builder, but no single vendor yet dominates the global SaaS collaboration market (post).

Of course, SmartBuilder wasn’t a SaaS collaboration vendor – it had a SaaS back-end platform, but it was primarily a mobile tool for managing site-based quality management processes. This remains a highly competitive but still quite early stage market (notwithstanding the 10-year involvement, dating back to pre-smartphone days, of Mobile Computing Solutions Priority1 – post). Some of the ‘Premier League’ SaaS vendors have mobile tools in their portfolio, either home-grown or acquired (Conject, for example, bought France’s Wapp6 at the turn of the year), and there may be more M&A activity in this area as SaaS vendors look for strong mobile toolsets that complement their existing SaaS offerings.

Woobius made a virtue of its simplicity, was attractively priced and, designed by architects for architects, won some designer adoption but failed to grow as a platform for use by contractors and other supply chain members. It also faced competition from other lower-priced and SME-oriented entrants to the UK collaboration market (businesses such as Collabor8online and CloudsUK – June 2013 post), and faltered as the key man moved on to other ventures (I have long underlined the importance of a stable and committed management team). Despite interest from potential buyers, a sale could not be agreed by the remaining shareholders, and so its eventual demise comes as little surprise.

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4 pings

    • Bob Robertson on 17 July 2014 at 1:14 pm

    Hello Paul,

    Interesting premier league analogy. If it were the premier league, in what order do you think the top four would look like? Also, wouldn’t league entry criteria need to be established with the different systems offering different products? Document collaboration is the common denominator but I think that would be unflattering to compare 4projects to conject or Asite as they have products (NEC for instance) functionality which sets them apart from bread and butter document workflow management.

    1. Glib response, of course: “it depends.” To me, our Premier league champions should have both a strong product suite and a road-map that meets identified future needs.

      Document collaboration, as you suggest, has become commoditised, but the vendors have strengths in different, complementary areas. I have long regarded Conject (disclosure: I once worked for BIW, as was) as having a strong position with its project financial cost control functionality, and the NEC-licensed content provider status also helped differentiate them.

      However, 4Projects also had NEC-approved contract management (other vendors provide NEC toolsets too), and if you were looking at future functionality roadmap, 4Projects’ BIM functionality delivered an edge. Mobile is also a key competitive differentiator. Conject upped its game when it acquired Wapp6 at the start of the year, but – at least in the UK – the current industry focus isn’t mobile, it’s BIM, so you need to have a strong proposition in this area. Asite has been building a strong position in both mobile and BIM, and also has experience in e-commerce transaction processing that neither Conject nor 4Projects manage.

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