The construction industry is fundamental to society. It literally shapes how we interact with one another, how businesses grow, and how we live and move. However, it’s an industry overwhelmingly associated with delays, spiralling budgets and old-school manual processes.
Contractors tend to still use outdated communication channels, with pen, paper and phone calls continuing to be the main way of sourcing equipment, managing projects and closing deals. At the same time, the supply chain itself runs on credit. It means that when equipment doesn’t show up on time, payments are late and so forth, a huge knock-on effect can be felt.
If a main contractor is not paid on time, the effects trickle down the entire supply chain, affecting subcontractors, suppliers and manufacturers alike. When things don’t go as discussed on the phone, the entire supply chain feels the heat too. To this day, this has been considered the cost of doing business in the construction industry.
On a mission to change this is Neeral Shah, the founder and CEO of YardLink. Launched in 2018, the company is disrupting construction procurement through digital tech. It’s since become a hugely-popular digital marketplace for contractors and construction suppliers across the UK and is fueling a more sustainable outlook for the construction industry.
We caught up with Neeral to learn more.
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey. What has it been like becoming a solo founder?
It all started way before I launched YardLink. Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work for a multinational company based in Hong Kong that provided trade finance for construction buyers across the world. This experience gave me valuable insight into how the supply chain worked. But, more importantly, it showed me the ways it wasn’t working.
The procurement process back then was all manual – contractors would order equipment over the phone or email, and invoices and project costs were tracked in various spreadsheets across different teams. Piecing together the total cost of a project was incredibly manual and time-consuming. I witnessed that many contractors were simply losing track of equipment, struggling to keep projects on time and within budget, and were financially paying the price.
I then came to the UK to work for a fast-growth tech startup, which was like finding the missing piece of the puzzle. I realised the enormous potential of technology in streamlining the construction supply chain – benefiting both contractors and suppliers.
In a way, the intersection of these two experiences was my ‘aha!’ moment. The next step was actually building a digital marketplace that could make construction projects run more efficiently. That’s how YardLink’s journey started.
How has the business evolved over time?
We have evolved a lot since we launched in 2018. Back then, we were the marketplace for equipment rental. Fast forward to today, we’re now the go-to marketplace for all construction procurement needs among suppliers and contractors.
What drove our development and growth was focusing on the availability of equipment across our supply chain. This move allowed us to really boost the size of our network, giving customers unparalleled access to all construction equipment and services across the country.
What sets YardLink apart from the competition?
Our platform makes construction procurement faster and more cost-effective. What makes us unique is we connect contractors with a vetted network of local suppliers across equipment rental, bulk materials, fuel and construction waste management.
The construction industry’s supply chain alone is worth $1TN. Yet, today, it’s still the second least digitised industry in the world, and planning is incredibly complex.
For instance, subcontractors could require equipment or materials on site within 24 hours. Yet the current supply chain hasn’t been built to meet this level of demand, hence the lack of trust, late payments and delays that are often associated with the industry.
In contrast, we connect construction buyers and suppliers in one place, making it possible for projects to get the equipment rental, materials and services they need within seconds.
How is this model making construction more sustainable?
We’re taking the ‘local, but everywhere’ concept to construction sites in every corner of the UK.
During the past four years, we’ve built a robust nationwide supplier network we’re incredibly proud of. We have over 650 highly vetted suppliers of tools, equipment, bulk materials, fuel, waste management and beyond. This extensive reach enables projects across the country to be connected with local suppliers.
95% of the products our platform delivers are within 15 miles of each project, which is groundbreaking in this industry and has a tangible impact on the environment. Having a localised supply chain reduces the average distance travelled for each delivery, dramatically reducing carbon output on each journey. Ultimately, we want our model to be a solid, scalable vehicle for sustainable change.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge has been getting the industry to trust in digital processes. Construction is the second least digitised industry globally, so, in short, we’re dealing with a very traditional industry with very traditional methods. Naturally, these circumstances can make onboarding new customers to a digital platform slightly more challenging. The migration from pen and paper to digital processes has to be easy and intuitive – but we were aware of this right from the start.
We design and build everything around our customers, making sure the technology works in the background so they can get what they need when they need it. Focusing on the user experience has been instrumental in gaining the industry’s trust in digital processes.
What are your long-term plans?
Today we serve over 3,000 construction SMEs and facilitate deliveries of equipment, materials, fuel and waste management services to over 10,000 projects across the country. The next few years will see us boost these numbers with more highly vetted suppliers, which should enable every construction project to be locally sourced and have a tangible impact on the environment.
In the medium to long term, we will expand internationally and expect the model to be fully integrated into the procurement process of an increasing number of contractors, ultimately transforming supply chain management.
Construction is often associated with old-fashioned management styles. How have you approached this at YardLink?
To really transform things in construction, you have to make an effort to establish a team that’s as multidisciplinary and cross-functional as possible. This mindset has led us to build a team that comes from a wide mix of industries, from construction to eCommerce, which has enabled us to define our own culture and bring best practices from all of our unique experiences.
Truth be told, we’re a business that is constantly learning, experimenting with new management concepts and iterating to get the best from our team. Today, we’re guided by our six cultural values: build trust; be bold; be curious; empower others; care deeply; and own it.