Site plots high noon for ‘cowboys’

Internet start-up capitalises on consumer distrust of ‘cowboys’ – with Website of vetted trades people

Internet start-up HIrevolution.com (www.hirevolution.com) is hoping to capitalise on the demand for reliable tradesmen and builders with the launch of a match-making site next February.

The company, which has already raised over &£1m and is hoping to raise several million more to fund an aggressive advertising and marketing campaign to back the launch, is insisting there is a proven demand for a Website which offers consumers a “cowboy-free” list of selected trades people.

The planned launch of the site comes despite the failed launch of a similar service by the AA in 1995. The AA’s scheme, which attempted to act as matchmaker between members and a panel of electricians, roofers and plumbers vetted by the AA, was abandoned last year when the association sold the vestige of the business to Aon Risk Services, as part of a wider rationalisation of its services.

At the time, a spokesman said take-up of the scheme had been very low and commented “there’s no demand for a particular service, so there’s no point wasting resources on it.”

However, HIrevolution director Kim Rehfeld, who has founded the company alongside fellow director Adam Burdess, says evidence from the US proves an online resources of vetted building contractors, plumbers, and other trades people will work.

The venture’s business model is based on the success of US sites such as Improvenet (www.improve net.com) which, according to Rehfeld, is estimated to bring $3.5bn-worth of business a year to trades people.

Rehfeld says: “We will be supplying consumers with four or more recommended contractors for a particular project. Contractors will be subject to continual appraisal and screening, based on initial references, and ongoing feedback from customers.

“The contractors will benefit from being delivered ready-to-buy customers on a plate.”

Currently, the value of the UK DIY market is being artificially inflated by consumers’ lack of trust in the building sector, says Rehfeld. “Cowboy builders have created an enormous problem of trust in home improvements, and thousands of quality professionals have been tarred with the same brush.”

Trades people will initially be offered free listings subject to vetting during the launch phase, then subject to a &£50 one-off registration fee on joining after the launch phase. The site operators plan to charge a “nominal” percentage of the project fee, of between one and two per cent.

The company is funded by international venture capital firm Atlas Venture and Sussex Place Partners (SPP), a London Business School investment vehicle.

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