How Tablets Are Transforming A Vital Group Of Businesses: Tradies

Clinton Cowin / TradiePad

Two Australian plumbers will next year embark on the first external capital raising round for an IT services start-up that selects and rolls out tablet applications for tradespeople and their businesses.

The duo launched TradiePad two years ago. Clinton Cowin was working as a plumber in co-founder David Robbins’ Northern Beaches-based Waste Deep Plumbing, at the time.

Neither had any formal IT training – Robbins described himself as a “dinosaur when it comes to technology”, while Cowin became a plumber at age 24 after having worked in hospitality, retail, as a ski instructor and digital photographer.

But when Cowin was forced to put down his tools for two months due to a skiing injury in mid-2011, they saw it as an opportunity to have him address pain points in Waste Deep Plumbing from his couch.

“Dave and I were working in the plumbing business and knew that there were paper bottlenecks. We were always looking at ways of doing things electronically,” Cowin told Business Insider Australia.

“I had basic computer skills – nothing formal – but necessity was the mother of invention.”

Cowin, now managing director of TradiePad, rolled out first-generation iPad devices to Waste Deep Plumbing’s three trucks and spent weeks selecting and configuring a suitable combination of applications.

The first TradiePad suite comprised Google Apps and invoicing software Invoice2go. Cowin and Robbins said they had rid the business of bottlenecks within six months.

“We started to get interest from other tradies, so I went from full-time plumbing to a couple of days a week, then working full-time on TradiePad [in November 2011],” he said.

The suite has since undergone a series of changes, and now includes various applications for managing building plans, accounting add-ons, timesheets, job management and document management.

TradiePad now has raised $200,000 from friends, family “a couple of external investors” and the two founders. It has 8 full-time employees, with Robbins planning to join, full time, “shortly”.

It has a total of 140 clients, including 3 enterprises with 100 employees or more, 5-10 sole traders, about 90 small businesses of 2-10 employees. About 8 in 10 TradiePad clients use Apple devices; others use Windows and Android tablets.

Cowin said the company’s current client base was “a drop in the ocean” with about 340,000 trades and services business registered in Australia. TradiePad is aiming to turnover $2 million a year by the end of 2014, with the founders aiming for a buy-out in the long term.

“There’s a holistic view that comes with TradiePad: we want to change people’s perceptions of tradies,” Robbins said.

“There’s a certain stigma attached to tradies – they turn up late, they’re a bit shabby with invoicing,” Cowin explained.

“But that’s because we haven’t had the tools that other businesses have had for decades. They had typewriters and computers so we were two steps behind.”

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