There’s a joke name you sometimes hear used for the construction industry: the confusion industry. No one ever seems to show up where they are needed, when they’re needed and with what they need.

Morgen Peers headshot
London Street founder Morgen Peers. Photo courtesy of London Street.

Morgen Peers thought he had a solution for it. The head of London Street, a company he founded as a way to bring together “my passions…around building and construction and neighbourhood planning and the local economy,” he devised an app he named “Building Ideas.” The idea was to create a tool that would help construction crews and trades people schedule their time, list their tasks and then, so to speak, hand them out. He knew it had to be usable on a cell phone. That’s the go-to tool in the construction business these days for communicating. Besides, says Peers, most people working in the building trades have neither the time, nor the inclination, to use a desktop app, whether it be Teams, Google Docs or something created expressly for them. It has to be mobile.

London Street had connected with the Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) Startup Runway Incubator in Fall 2020 (simply the result, he says, “from hearing about it in the community”), and entered QPI’s Wings accelerator program for pre-revenue startups in May 2021.

“The Wings program and specifically the focus on what they called customer needs, really helped us,” he says. Even before they joined the program, “like many young companies, we’d had to do a pivot based on everything we were learning and hearing back from people,” who were trying out their app. Wings told them that when it came to customers, “You look at why they search out and use certain products.”

“That just opened up a whole world for us,” he says. What they were trying to create had a much broader application than just construction teams. The essence of collaboration wasn’t the tasks or the goals for the phases worked.” Instead, “What everyone cared about was when do I show up, when do I leave, how many hours did I work and what’s my pay looking like?” Around that “immutable” skeleton as he calls it, “other contexts or information and learning opportunities could be added.” It would still be useful for the building trades, but ZAKOapp, as they renamed it (borrowing from a West African word, “zakka,” meaning “household” or “personal network”) would be useful pretty much anywhere people worked together on a collaborative venture.

Another key point Wings taught them: “Your customer and your user are often different.” They had initially assumed that all members of a team would have the app, but says Peers, “for a guy in the trades working 12 hours a day, they don’t have time for the application.” They reworked ZAKOapp so that a user without it could receive text messages from it, “that are detailed and rich and contain images,” but would not be forced into getting an account. Wings reiteration of what he calls “the standard model business habits,” was helpful, says Peers, “as was having the one-on-one sessions mixed with the group time. Even though they were on Zoom, they were valuable because of the feedback from the participants who aren’t in your field. That knowledge becomes hard to get access to once you are back in your own world.”

Since completing Wings, Peers continues to leverage QPI’s Startup Runway program and services. QPI is providing his company with a physical spot in the Seaway Coworking Building in Kingston where QPI is based and Peers continues to apply the lessons he learned. “What I am deep in the middle of now and will be until next spring [2022] is an intense focus on the customer.” As he moves forward with further refining his app, he now knows, thanks to the program, “to value high engagement with a small base rather than going viral and getting a bunch of users.”

QPI offers the Startup Runway and Wings programs as part of the Scale-Up Platform Project. Led by Invest Ottawa in Eastern Ontario and including Queen’s as a regional partner, the Scale-Up Platform Project is supported with funding from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.