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WisBusiness: Social media site aims to help design teams in construction business

By Nell McGann
For WIsBusiness.com

While most people may be familiar with social networks such as online dating sites, Facebook and Twitter, organizations are also creating online communities that focus on one idea that attracts people who share a common interest.

OpeningDesign.com, a company based in Fort Atkinson, claims to be the “first online service marketplace for the building industry.” It allows building professionals such as architects, engineers and contractors to have an online “team” of consultants who can answer technical questions, trade feedback on designs, and exchange information on projects.

Ryan Schultz, one of the creators of OpeningDesign.com, calls it a “social marketplace,” a term that captures the company’s blend of a social network and a service marketplace.

“OpeningDesign.com ... allows building professionals to find, share and harness the requisite content, knowledge and expertise to design and build better buildings, with accelerated schedules, more cost effectively,” Schultz said.

There is a lack of industry knowledge and the myriad of questions, problems and tasks that need answers and solutions that are beyond even the most established team of building consultants, Schultz said.

As project teams become more fragmented, it can be difficult to find and collaborate with the right person, on the right job, at the right time. Even when the necessary experts are available they are not always physically located in the same office. Communication via email in a three-dimensional industry has proven to be difficult.

These are a few of the core problems in the industry that OpeningDesign is addressing.

The design and construction industries are dominated by small companies, many of which lack the in-house capabilities and expertise needed to complete many jobs. For example, 61 percent of architectual firms employ four people or less.

Schultz notes that architects alone contract outside their own companies for $1.15 billion of the services required for their $44.3 billion industry in the United States. “The market for outsourcing services has yet to be tapped to its full potential,” he said.

By marketing to smaller firms, OpeningDesign hopes to “create an online environment where virtual community of building professionals ... can come together and provide the deep resources only enjoyed by those few large firms.”

Schultz said the company wants OpeningDesign to be a place where architects, engineers and contractors can break down information barriers and create a more integrated industry.

OpeningDesign is looking to hire a core number of professionals or to partner with a large architectural/engineering firm in the beginning to answer questions posed by others on the site.

The company is not without its competitors, but Schultz believes OpeningDesign’s competitive advantage comes from incorporating services now spread among more specific online communities. He plans to establish trust by providing a mechanism that will allow the buyer to rank or rate the provier.

“Since buyers will undoubtedly use these statistics to inform their decisions to hire and purchase services, we’re looking to pursue a number of measures to build the pool of providers and their reputation rankings as early as possible,” he said.

OpeningDesign.com was one of 49 companies that moved to the semi-final round of the 2011 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. The eighth annual contest concludes in June at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference.

-- McGann is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.

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