2,358 crowdsourcing and crowdfunding sites
Crowdsourcing platforms are increasingly becoming more specialized to fit the exact need of their customers. Crowd creativity and crowd labor platforms, in particular, are a good example of this: platforms that tap into the crowd's creative juices come up with everything from t-shirt designs to slogans. One platform that launched only two months ago, Archability, aims to help clients looking for architecture and design solutions, and to provide a project marketplace for skilled professionals. We caught up with the platform’s founder and CEO, Livingstone Mukasa, to discuss the motivations behind his platform and why now, more than ever, it can become an essential service for thousands of individuals.
Anton Root, Crowdsourcing.org: To start off, could you just tell us a little bit about yourself and Archability?
Livingstone Mukasa, Archability founder and CEO: I launched the platform in April, at a technology conference for startups called DEMO. But Archability is actually a project very long in the making. Over ten years ago, I felt the need for some kind of unique portal that could connect people with architectural skills to a whole range of projects that might be out there. What initially led to this idea was my having been laid off from my very first professional architectural position. In the interim period, between the time that I had been laid off to when I got my next professional job, I found myself doing all kinds of odd jobs here and there. In my opinion, I wouldn’t have been doing those jobs, had I found a way to market myself a little more, or have access to projects that would require skills that I possessed. That’s what initially lit the light bulb.
Several years passed, I went on to work at various other places, and it wasn’t until five years ago, when I was doing consulting work, that I found myself with projects that were larger in scope than what I could deliver. I needed to outsource some components of those projects to people to help me meet my deadlines. At the same time, I needed to find additional projects to keep myself busy. That’s what reminded me of this idea I had years earlier. I scoured and searched the internet, and I found a number of freelancing websites. But I didn’t find that one place that was exclusive to architectural projects. I knew for a fact that there were many people like me, both on the side of people with skills looking for work and side of people with projects looking for talent. And that’s what led me to embark on this journey of creating a website that people could use to source and outsource architecturally related work.
Why do you think now is a good time to launch a platform that connects architects looking for work with people needing their services?
To clarify, it’s not exclusively just for architects. It’s for anybody with architectural services. So you could have licensed architects, people who are not licensed but have architectural skills, or people who are well versed in certain architectural technologies. It also caters to interior designers, and people who are renderers or illustrators. So, everyone under the building and design umbrella.
But to answer your question, the past few years have been brutal for the building industry. When the housing market collapsed, it took down with it a lot of conventional employment opportunities for people with this background and these skills. We saw architectural firms lose significant revenue. The same applies to interior design firms. As a result, they started to cut back on their staffing. We saw massive layoffs. At the same time, schools were still churning out people with these skills, but the market could not absorb them well enough.
This doesn’t mean that the services that they offer are not needed. I’ve noticed that there are a number of one-off projects out there that people have that require this kind of talent, without necessarily having to walk into a conventional firm or practice. For example, you can have a homeowner who wants a port or a deck added to his or her house, and they would like somebody to design it for them. Archability is a great place to source that kind of talent. Or, you can have somebody who wants to make a slight modification or addition to their house and they need a full plan drawn up so they could present it to the town planning committee for approval. Archability is a place where they could quickly get that done.
So there are all kinds of small, medium, and large-scale projects out there that still require people with architectural skills. The timing seemed appropriate given the relatively large numbers of unemployed or underemployed people with architectural service skills looking for work. Some of them may be employed, but their hours have been cut down, and they’re looking to earn a little money on the side. We also have new graduates coming out of school facing a very, very tough marketplace. Here’s a website for them to improve on their skills, and earn some clients, as well as money, making them even more marketable by the time that the job market swings back to where it was. So the timing seemed very, very appropriate to help the needs of those who are specifically looking for work, as well as the needs of those who previously felt these services were a little inaccessible.
It seems like there needs to be a decent amount of face-to-face contact between the clients and contractors for more sophisticated projects. How do you mitigate the challenges that arise from doing this remotely?
Yes, that’s a very good question. Archability isn’t a replacement of the conventional client-architect relationship. It is a supplement to that. Of course that face-to-face time is invaluable to a client and to the architect to understand the scope of the project and to help the architect best deliver the solution for their client. So Archability isn’t really for projects that require that face-to-face time and building of a relationship. For example, if somebody wanted a house from scratch, this is probably is not the best place for them to source that work. But, if somebody needed the components of that process, then this would certainly help.
A quick example: a developer has a big project that they’re looking to market and they need a really good 3D animation of their project, showing a walk-through. They would already possess many of the design elements of that project, and we’re a place where they could tap into the huge talent pool of animators and renderers that’s out there, to bring the animation and the rendering. So it’s a component of that design process, but it is not the complete design process.
At the same time, the website helps firms as well, with business-to-business transactions. In some cases, a firm might be a little short staffed in certain talent areas. Archability is a place where they could put up components of projects that they’re already working on and outsource them to other firms or freelancers to help them meet their deadlines.
Do you have plans to create a location-specific service for your platform in the future?
As far as being location-specific, when a client on the platform is posting a project, they have the option to specify the exact geographical limits from where they want their proposals to come from. If a particular project has an absolute need for geographic specificity, the platform adheres to that, allowing only professionals within a certain area to bid on that project. In the future, yes, it is an avenue we would like to explore even deeper and provide additional tools to help clients get the best talents available.
I just wanted to ask a little bit about how many clients and designers you currently have and where are they based. Could you briefly talk about that?
We’ve just been open to the public now for about two months. We are still growing with our registrations, trying to teach people about the services we are offering. As far as total registrations, we are almost at 700. The vast majority of those are professionals. We had between 60 and 65 people who have completed their profiles, the last time I checked. The biggest challenge now is to get the projects coming in. That’s what we believe will convert many of the registrants to having full profiles. Right now, there seem to be a lot of people in the holding pattern, waiting for the work to arrive before they make themselves more visible on the platform.
So the challenge for us right now is reaching out to the general public, letting them know, “Hey, this is what we’re providing. We’ve got people waiting to help you with your projects. This is how you can post, this is how easy the process is. This is where your projects belong.” Once that word is spread out fairly extensively, then we expect to see a huge boost in activity and people signing up.
You touched on this a little, but could you talk a little about what your goals for the platform are, looking into the future?
Yes, there is a lot of room for growth, this is definitely iteration 1.0. We hope to roll additional features that would allow, for example, tools to collaborate on a project. So an entire company could have different logins for different people, enabling them to work as a group on one project. The same would apply to clients, too. We could have a client that is essentially a team of people. The area that we want to push this towards is the business-to-business area, where there is tremendous potential.
We would like to add in other tools, as well, like the ability to do video conferences within the platform. Interactive boards as well, where clients and the contractors could work in real time, as far as sketching ideas, or helping to explain the particulars in real time. So overall, we’re looking to get this to be a fully integrated and interactive working platform for the delivery of architectural projects, not only between person and person, but also between person and company, or company and company.
Those all sound like great features, what is the timeline for them being rolled out?
We’re in the process of building some of these features; they’re being tested at the moment. They will be rolled out slowly, one by one. As is the nature of this business, some of them might change, depending on what the market demand is. We’re very open to consumer needs, so if a user comes to us and says, “You know, what would really help me out is if you allowed me to be able to do this.” We will be very, very glad to entertain those types of requests. Most of these features will be consumer driven. Some we have in the works already, and we will allow people to play around with them, give us feedback. Others will be rolled out as the site grows.
Right now, the goal is to gain a significant market acceptance. We don’t want the platform to be too complicated for the end user, particularly if a good deal of the target market is people who are new to these services. The projects they’re dealing with might be complicated enough, without having to deal with a big, complex website. The other thing we’re hoping to roll out is an additional layer of registration that will be subscription based. Many of these additional features will be under that layer of registration. So those looking to do more with the platform will be able to access these better tools. And those who want a very streamlined, quick, and easy process would have essentially what is currently available.
Could you quickly talk about your business model? I saw that you take 10 percent commission on all the transactions, but I also noticed that you have some other features. Could you elaborate on those?
Sure, the standard revenue stream is the 10 percent commission on the payments received by the contractor. We make our money when they make their money. Other than that, the website is free to use. The posting process is 100 percent free, as is the bidding process. There are some value added fees. For example, if a client wanted to feature their project, they could get it to stand out more from the other listings. On the contractor side, if they wanted their proposals to have a little more visibility, that is possible and there is a fee for that.
The other revenue stream from contractors is if they choose to have their credentials verified. That’s a very important point. We encourage complete and comprehensive profiles, particularly when it comes to the portfolio and their credentials. These services are really dependent on the person’s ability to deliver, and clients need to know that this person has the right training and the skills. So if they claim to have certain degrees or certifications, we charge for them to have verified each one of the credentials that they provide on their profile. They do so by paying a small fee, which helps us use third-party verification services to verify those credentials. That verified button on their profile carries a lot of weight. It helps clients feel a little more comfortable with a person’s skills, and feel more assured that they will get a certain level of service, rather than a person who doesn’t list as many certifications, or doesn’t have that verification button. So we hope that it’s something that people will use quite a bit.
Getting close to wrapping up here, I just wanted to ask what your favorite project has been of the ones you’ve seen on the platform.
We haven’t had a lot, it’s still growing as far as the user base. But a while ago, there was a college student who needed to hand in an assignment, but she was sick. She could not deliver it. She had done the rough draft, and she needed somebody to finish it up. After a little back-and-forth correspondence, the student put up project and was able to find somebody to help complete her assignment. That enabled her to get a passing grade at the end of the semester.
That was interesting. It’s a project that I didn’t see coming, and it was good to see someone getting that kind of assistance and be able to move on with her goals. I have to add, this wasn’t somebody doing the homework for her, she had already sketched something out, she just wanted it to be polished up so she could hand it in, because of having been injured and being unable to do so herself.
That’s definitely not a way I thought the platform would be used.
It was very different, and it made us realize that you never know what direction something is going to go. The more flexibility you add into the platform, the higher the usage.
Do you have any final comments about Archability and what you’re offering?
One of our main goals is to make these services more accessible to the public, allowing anybody with any kind of need to have a way of getting that need met. Architecture is something we all experience every day in our lives, whether we’re aware of it or not, and good design is something that shouldn’t be limited to a select few. We all want to be in places that add to the value of our lives. I hope that the platform helps people tap into the vast number of skilled architectural contractors out there, so their lives can be more meaningful and more enjoyable.