When you think about construction, it might be the heavy drilling from roadworks or the thin layer of dust that appears on your table every single day. However, it is a multibillion dollar industry that keeps your city growing and constructs the infrastructure that we all rely on.

But, nothing has really changed for decades when it comes to the industry as a whole. People still transact and organise construction projects manually and slowly. Apparently, the memo about digital transformation being critical was never sent around to the construction industry.

This is where Antbuildz feels there’s a lot that can be done. Co-founder and CEO, Kek Hean Hooi of the construction startup just raised a small pre-seed round of approximately USD 170,000 to increase headcount, improve user experience and strengthen marketing efforts. Calling it the ‘booking.com of construction’, Kek sees the opportunity in the industry even if the industry doesn’t quite see it yet.

Antbuildz.com is Singapore’s first online construction equipment rental marketplace, connecting rental partners with users like SMEs and small builder through the platform. They have over 50 partners and have already transacted half a million in sales since last year. Here is what Kek had to share.

Congrats on your funding. How do you plan to use the money?

Thank you! This funding is important to us as it is recognition from the market that Antbuildz is building the digitised future of construction and industry equipment rental. This fresh round of funding will be used for multiple purposes but primarily the following: 

  1. Strengthening the team;
  2. Increasing our budget for marketing to create more awareness within the construction industry but also in other industries that use such equipment, such as logistics and warehousing, building maintenance and advertising industry;
  3. Continual improvement of the platform UI/UX to enhance the experience of our rental partners and users 
  4. Expanding product offerings on the platform

Why construction? What were the gaps you saw in this market?

I was in construction for close to 10 years. Throughout my career, you really do feel the grind of various pain points due to the inefficiencies in the industry. Just to illustrate one such example, when you want to purchase a safety helmet, many firms still go through the traditional process of calling up suppliers to ask for a quotation, placing an order and then purchasing the $10 safety helmet using credit terms. This would take a few days and it could have been resolved via a couple of clicks via online purchase. 

I had been involved in the rental business and began to study the equipment rental market for the past 2 years. I see very clearly the immense potential to digitise the rental process and create a better experience for the user. 

The rental of equipment is not as complicated as you would think. It really is just the market constantly creating the impression that renting is a difficult and tedious process. It shouldn’t be that way – it could be as simple as renting a car or renting a hotel room online! 

As the pandemic has shown us, project management is critical and delays could easily accrue, leading to thousands of dollars in value squandered. Singapore may be a highly developed country but the construction industry is lagging behind in terms of digitalisation. Singapore is Asia’s fourth most expensive market to build in, and amidst rising cost pressures, the government has been actively pushing for companies to overcome their inertia and adopt efficient and effective digital practices. As the first construction equipment rental marketplace that is technology-enabled, we are in a prime position to help allay any concerns from firms so as to introduce the potential that can be unlocked from digitalisation

Further into our study, there are a few significant use cases of such a platform in the industry but this is limited to the US and Europe. In fact, the online rental volume in those regions are increasing tremendously. There are a few successful online rental platforms in America and even the biggest rental company in the world, United Rental, has been aggressively pushing for online rental. 

Antbuildz equipment search
The Antbuildz dashboard

Besides Singapore, what other countries have the biggest potential for you?

Singapore is a good starting point for us before we embark on our expansion to other Southeast Asian countries. Starting small and then going big has always been our intention. Singapore is a great place to begin rolling out online rental due to its mature rental industry. We have done the research and Singapore is actually the most competitive rental market for mobile elevated working platform (MEWP) in the world! 

We are definitely eyeing Malaysia as a starting point for overseas expansion as it also has a very established rental market. Following which, we are looking at Thailand and Vietnam. That said, each country has different work cultures and we would need to modify and localise our current model for expansion to such countries. Nevertheless, there are huge inefficiencies in the Southeast Asia market for us to resolve. 

Based on estimates, construction equipment rental market value is about US$370 million in Singapore and US$6 billion in the ASEAN region, and we are excited to transform the equipment rental practice in Southeast Asia.

How does the platform work and who does it help? Are you targeting major developers?

We liken ourselves to the “Booking.com” of equipment rental! Antbuildz seamlessly connects trusted equipment suppliers with users over the platform making it easier for contractors to search, compare and rent with just a few clicks. As we manage the entire rental process, we create a greater value proposition for both our rental partners and our users. 

For our rental partners, we provide the following value:

  1. Free marketing tools for them to reach a much broader client base
  2. Maximise rental window of every single equipment and increase its utilisation rate
  3. Resolving the issue of timely payment collection, which is one of their biggest headaches, with our on-time and secure payment gateway.
  4. To make the rental safer, Antbuildz has rolled out Antbuildz Machinery All Risk. All rentals made on the platform will be protected with up to $15,000 first loss coverage. The first of its kind in Southeast Asia, the introduction of on-demand insurance will help raise the standards of safety for users and rental partners in the industry. 

For our users, we provide the following value:

  1. Source for equipment that they need in a matter of a few clicks – making is much faster and simpler than the traditional process
  2. Total price transparency as we help discover the best market rate for the users. SME construction companies may not have bargaining power and the transparent cost comparison we provide will help level the playing field. Users can print the quotation instantly from the website. 
  3. Flexible renting policies – from one day to a few months
  4. One stop shop for all types and range of quality equipment from well-established and rental partners in the market. Every single rental partner have been pre-qualified and vetted.
  5. Protect users equipment damage risk with Antbuildz Machinery All Risk cover up to $15,000. 

Major developers are usually not our end-users. Our target audience are the contractors who need to use the equipment. This could be the main contractor of the subcontractors. That said, our end-users differ in industries. For warehouses and logistics, the owner of the warehouse tends to be the end-user.

What’s next for Antbuildz?

Antbuildz is continuously building our trust and increasing our awareness in the industry. We are the first company to provide online construction equipment rental in Singapore and Southeast Asia. 

Just to share, since we began in June 2020, we have been working alongside technology industry partners as well as key sector leads and associations in the built industry to facilitate its digital transformation. We are supported by Enterprise Singapore’s startup grant and are currently participating in the Institute of Engineers’ accelerator programme. 

Currently, our platform has onboarded over 50 reputable rental partners. Since the beginning of 2021, the platform has seen an 83% increase in equipment listings and 162% in the number of equipment rented. Over the same period of time, Antbuildz saw approximately 122% increase in monthly sales with a 43% repeated order rate. To date, we have closed up to SGD 500,000 worth of sales.

We are very heartened by the response so far and are working hard to acquire more reliable rental partners and strengthen our awareness among our target audience. We are also planning to expand more products in the time to come. 

For instance, we are currently in the midst of extending our service to include equipment trading. We received a huge number of requests from our rental partners asking us if we are willing to sell their equipment online. We are in the middle of brainstorming on creating a better model to handle the buying and selling of equipment. 

We have also begun the process of raising our second round of funding and we are excited to digitally transform and bring value to the industries in Singapore and the region!