- Incentives for their renovation services include guarantees, warranties and insurance
- ‘Happiness Guarantee’ to discourage offline customer-designer communication
Tan Yong Meng aims to reshape the renovation and design sector, from initial design right through to the final built product. This is an ambitious goal for the 28 year old whose first construction job was building a dog kennel, while he was in his first year of university.
Such was his interest that the founder and chief executive officer of Build Easy wasn’t about to wait four years to launch his company on graduation. Instead, he took a hands-on approach to learning the renovation industry while still pursuing a tertiary education.
“I’ve always enjoyed seeing the process of a completed house built from scratch,” he says. Drawing knowledge and inspiration from a six-month long internship at a construction company, Tan set up his first company with his partner and mentor. The company gradually evolved into a design and build company, with its speciality rooted in tearing down old houses, redesigning and rebuilding.
The catalyst for Tan however, came in 2015 when a failed project resulted in losses from uncollected payments and bad project management. He was left saddled with debts to his suppliers.
This made him realise the need for a better system within the renovation industry. While such challenges are capable of breaking the spirit of most young entrepreneurs, Tan soldiered on with renewed vision and started his second company, Build Easy, in April 2016.
A recipient of the CIP150 grant from Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd, a fund which focuses on helping promising tech startups, Build Easy started off with free online design templates. The idea was to enable homeowners to draw up their own renovation plans that Tan would carry out. However, he has since pivoted to launch a platform to connect freelance designers to homeowners, while still providing renovation services.
Explaining the pivot, Tan shares, “When pre-designed templates were being offered, we still received lots of requests for further customisation which slowed down our processes and end-to-end fulfilment. To improve efficiency, we believe sourcing more designers to meet the customers’ needs will in turn create more renovation opportunities for us, enabling greater income generation.”
He adds that the template model may be more suited to the Western market where a do-it-yourself approach is more dominant compared to the Asian market.
This raises the question of how the company controls the customer from opting for another renovator instead using Build Easy’s services. Tan acknowledges the challenge. But, rather than placing restrictions on the customer, Tan decided to allow for flexibility by breaking down the process into two clear stages.
The first stage entails the design process where the homeowner connects with the freelance designer for a customised design. Upon completion of this stage, the homeowner can choose to move on to renovation with Build Easy in the second stage. If the customer chooses otherwise, they only pay the design fee of which Build Easy receives a cut.
Furthermore, Build Easy provides incentives in the form of guarantees to encourage customers to employ its renovation services. For instance, it will guarantee that every project will be delivered in eight weeks. Otherwise, the company will pay the customer’s rent. Additionally, the company will also provide warranties that are dependent on the job cost.
Every project will also be backed by Kurnia Insurance in the event of fire and theft during the period of renovation. Tan shares that theft of bathroom fittings and lights are quite common during the renovation period.
Comparing his company to Recommend.my which connects customers to design companies, Tan states, “We connect homeowners to freelance designers instead because we feel design companies would cost at least 50% higher.” In terms of competitor platforms offering similar freelance interior designers, Tan shares that Furmingo deploys a similar concept but focuses mainly on providing furniture.
In terms of its designers, Tan emphasises Build Easy’s “stringent and strict” onboarding processes to ensure quality control. The startup ensures thorough checks are carried out and trial projects are given to potential designers before finally taking them on board.
The biggest challenge for such platforms is to prevent interaction between the designers and customers outside of Build Easy’s in-built messaging platform. Tan acknowledges that it may happen. However, he has formulated an interesting plan called the happiness guarantee to discourage offline customer-designer communication.
In short, the happiness guarantee means that the customer need not pay if they are unhappy with the service rendered. However, in order for this to happen, proof of discrepancy between both parties is essential. Thus, customers and designers must liaise with one another on the platform to allow for monitoring.
With Virtual Reality (VR) touted as a useful sales tool for the property sector, Build Easy has recently launched its VR service targeting developers who can leverage on VR showrooms based on actual unit size that will allow developers to market their property to potential customers who cannot visit the physical showroom. It has already locked in its first customer here.
“At the end of the day, if a property portal or developer wants to work with startups, they may be wary of the risk to their brand from any mistake the startups make,” he says. And this explains Build Easy’s efforts to ensure robust internal controls. “All these processes make our growth slower, but controls are important for us to really deliver a perfect solution” Tan says.