‘Reliable crews, consistent work, one place’

Creators of ToolBelt app aim to address major issue in construction industry: labor capacity

Ross Barbieri and Josh Engelbrecht of Toolbelt
Josh Engelbrecht (right) and Ross Barbieri are behind the recent launch of the ToolBelt app, which aims to give contractors, subcontractors and skilled tradespeople one central place to connect through construction projects. Courtesy of Melissa Eldridge

As a general contractor, subcontractor or skilled tradesperson in the Clark County area, imagine if there was one central place where you could post a project you have coming up in order to find people to hire; look through a series of projects to find a job; and connect with a whole network of people in the construction industry.

Now, thanks to Josh Engelbrecht and Ross Barbieri, this idea is no longer a possibility, but a reality. ToolBelt Inc. recently announced that its mobile app, ToolBelt, is available for download on the Apple App Store and Google Play. With the residential construction industry facing a skilled labor shortage, the ToolBelt app is tackling the industry’s biggest challenge – limited production capacity.

Engelbrecht, CEO of Toolbelt Inc., has been a general contractor for about eight years, and not long ago started noticing issues with the way homebuilding and remodeling projects were being staffed within the construction industry.

“In the construction industry, a lot of staffing is primarily relationship based – project staffing, staffing in general in the remodeling and homebuilding industries, is all based on who you know,” Engelbrecht said. “I realized that everybody’s production capacity is strictly limited by their direct network. That’s why, during the busy season, as a customer you might hear a contractor say, ‘I’m two to three weeks out.’”

Engelbrecht started digging a little deeper into this issue and began talking about it with subcontractors as well as other general contractors. He noted that subcontractors are also limited by who they know and who is in their direct network.

“I saw that there was this connection gap in the industry between general contractors, subcontractors and skilled tradespeople,” Engelbrecht said. “And there’s also this really big barrier to entry for subcontractors. Let’s say you’re a skilled painter and the job you had lined up isn’t starting for another few weeks, how do you quickly find another company to do work for? Or how do you muster the strength to go off on your own?”

Enter the ToolBelt app. The ToolBelt app connects general contractors and subcontractors through projects on its platform. The app also provides the ability to search the entire ToolBelt network.

“Let’s say someone wants to hire me to do their roof, but I know I’m too booked up to be able to complete the project in the timeframe that they want, but I don’t want to pass up this opportunity,” Engelbrecht explained. “Normally, I would start calling my network and trying to find someone who can take this project on. So, I’ve got all this phone tag going on, and sometimes it takes days, even a week, just to get a return phone call. And then you have to hope that person can fit the project into their timeline.”

“On ToolBelt, you can just quickly post that project and it goes out to all of the people you know,” Engelbrecht continued. “But not just the people that you know, it also goes out to all of the other people in that ecosystem. So, you can get back to your job, and I’ve just saved you five hours of phone tag. People looking for those jobs with that skill set can just hop on one central place.”

Engelbrecht went on to say that although homebuilding and residential remodeling is the most fragmented industry in the world, it is also the most collaborative industry in the world, and the core that connects general contractors and subcontractors is the projects.

“It takes a team in order to complete a project,” he said. “And that connection is not position based, it’s project based.”

To date, Engelbrecht said there is nothing like the ToolBelt app. After looking at a nationwide industry report, he said it’s indicated that 15-29% of lost revenue is left on the table because of this gap between general contractors, subcontractors and skilled tradespeople.

“We see ToolBelt as an operational tool and business solution to help grow both general contractors and subcontractors,” Engelbrecht said. “If we can give back even 5% of that 15-29% lost revenue … last year was $400 billion project revenue industry nationwide … you do the math.”

Another attribute of the ToolBelt app that Engelbrecht pointed out is the fact that it is available in English and Spanish as well.

“So, if you’re an English-speaking general contractor and you have a Spanish-speaking subcontractor, you can communicate in the app bilingually,” he said.
ToolBelt is accessible to all members of the residential construction industry. Engelbrecht said licensed contractors can be on the platform, while individual tradespeople can also have a profile on the app.

“ToolBelt allows them to showcase a gallery of their work, so they can promote themselves as well,” he said. “We encourage all skilled tradespeople to have a profile, because they need to be able to communicate directly with other contracting firms who are hiring.”

Due to how busy most professionals in the construction industry are, Engelbrecht said they made the app to be what he calls “bullet-to-the-brain simple.”

“We built the app to get right to the point and to be a tool that people utilize every day,” he said.

Barbieri, who has a background in technology and started as a software developer out of college, has done a lot of work with different tech staffing companies. He was a co-founder of several different tech companies, including ShiftWise, which is now the dominant vendor management system in healthcare staffing. He also co-founded Staffing Robot and Hively. Barbieri sold all three of these tech companies within a period of two years.

After taking a brief sabbatical, Barbieri became involved with angel investing and started giving back and doing some mentoring with start-ups, etc. It was during this time that he met Engelbrecht.

“I got involved pretty much as this thing (ToolBelt) was coming out of the water,” Barbieri said. “I invested some of my own money, we received some from the Portland Seed Fund, Elevate Capital … and here we are.”

Engelbrecht said initial funds for the app were bootstrapped by him.

“I’m a firm believer that you have to put your money where your mouth is,” he said.

As far as cost goes for the app, Engelbrecht said that currently for early adopters they are allowing the mobile app to be free. He said they are in the process of building out a web app that they will charge a monthly subscription per user for general contractors and larger builders.

“I’m a huge fan of always keeping it very economically and almost borderline nothing for individuals and subcontractors,” he said. “I want it to be right between the cost of a couple of gallons of paint per month. We’re trying to build a reliable contractor network. We want it to be a collaborative tool that helps unite a very fragmented marketplace.”

Visit mytoolbelt.com to learn more about Vancouver-based ToolBelt Inc. and the ToolBelt app.

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Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start ClarkCountyToday.com.