Housing Construction and Market Networks

By Simon Handley, August 26, 2019

At iBUILD we are revolutionizing housing construction in developing countries. We differ from most online marketplaces (such as Uber or Airbnb) because housing construction is uniquely complicated:

  • The focus is on long-lived collaborative projects, rather than repeated independent transactions. (c.f., an Uber ride, or an airbnb stay).

  • A high-level of trust is required because large amounts of money are at stake (c.f., a $10 Uber ride).

  • Each project has many participants: homeowners, contractors, workers, suppliers, architects, lenders, governments, clerks of works, and more. It is a many-sided marketplace with complicated, long-lived transactions (projects). (c.f., riders and drivers with Uber).

  • The service providers are artisans: they rightfully resist commodification. (c.f., Uber where riders and drivers are each reduced to a number, their rating).

We realized early on that an effective housing construction marketplace must have aspects of both a social network, and a traditional online marketplace.

We are a social network in that we encourage individuals to customize their online presence in order to individuate themselves by, for example, showcasing past projects. We also encourage and facilitate rich communication between all of the participants.

We are an online marketplace in that people use us primarily to transact: to build houses, to find work, to manage projects, and to find workers.

We have found James Currier’s concept of a market network to be particularly apropos. According to Currier market networks have the following defining characteristics: they target complex services (high value, judgement is subjective, complex to manage); they treat people as individuals, not commodities; collaboration is organized around projects; long-term relationships are key; and, finally, referrals are important.

The key to a successful housing construction marketplace is to never forget that collaborations are complicated and long-lived, and that the people driving these collaborations are individuals, not commodities. Our SaaS- and mobile-based platform reflects these findings.

Simon Handley