As procurement platform Bob Trade completes its beta testing and becomes ready to fully launch, we take a look at the company's unique roots and how its CEO, Shneor Crombie, set up the business.
Nine years ago, Crombie, who originally comes from Israel, moved to London, taught himself English and managed to set up a successful company, all whilst battling cancer.
Bobtrade.com is a new online building supplies marketplace that connects builders and merchants to deliver a more efficient way of buying and selling building materials. But this is not Crombie's first venture.
At the ripe age of 11, when many of his peers were busy playing football, Crombie was beginning his entrepreneurial story, setting up a car wash. “I was born an entrepreneur; I don’t remember any other version of myself,” says Crombie.
He recruited 15 of his friends to work for him and learnt some invaluable life lessons in the process.
“As the boss, you have to work harder than everyone else,” Crombie explains, “at the beginning, I thought I was a big boss! Walking around telling everyone what to do, how to do it.
“It wasn’t until a good friend came to me, and said ‘why don’t you show us how to do it, then we can all learn from you?’ It was a penny-drop moment. From that point onwards, one of my biggest rules in management was to always lead by example.”
Construction was – and continues to be – a favoured hobby of Crombie’s, so it seemed fitting that his early months in London, armed with very little English, were spent working on a construction site.
It was during this period – spent driving from one builders’ merchant to another to look for materials, that an idea came to him, sparked by frustration and inspiration in equal measure. It would eventually lead Crombie to start his online building supply start-up.
“I thought to myself, this is one of the biggest industries in the world and one that has such a huge impact on almost every person in the world – how is it functioning like this, and more importantly what can I do to change it?”
Fast forward a few years, and Crombie is running a UK-based code development agency for start-ups and companies.
“Because of my knowledge and experience in the construction industry,” Crombie comments, “companies kept coming to me with a request to develop solutions for them.”
Soon he realised the need to build a solution for the entire industry. A solution that would offer builders a product that removes all the hassle of buying supplies, making that complicated process much faster and easier.
In 2015, however, life threw Crombie a curveball: he was diagnosed with cancer. Life as he knew it was turned upside down; days in the office were swapped for days in and out of hospital preparing for major, life-saving surgery.
Despite a not-very-optimistic diagnosis from his doctors, this turn of events was not enough to dampen Crombie’s entrepreneurial spirit – on the contrary.
Once the surgery date was set, Crombie understood that his recovery would take a long time and he would need somewhere to work from home.
He set out to build an extension for a home office, during which he yet again faced countless issues with sourcing supplies and delayed deliveries.
Crombie was spurred to create Bobtrade, a company to heal the problems linked to buying building supplies.
“During the days after my surgery, I came up with the Bobtrade design, features and plan – so it’s always a bit of a running joke amongst our team, that I designed everything while high on pain medication!”
Today, Bobtrade is 20-people strong and growing. It gives builders a powerful yet simple procurement platform, where they can order online all the building supplies they need and have them delivered to their site the next day. It also provides better control and full visibility of their projects, budget and clients.
Supporting independent businesses is a big part of what Bobtrade stands for. “By working with independent builders and merchants, we can optimise the market and give them more opportunities and more power when they buy and sell through Bobtrade.”
Crombie admits that there have been challenges, however. “No one thought that construction could evolve and digitise. I took Bobtrade to many investors and they all said, ‘Yes, it’s a huge market and you have a very interesting idea - but the construction industry won’t change!’
“But guess what? It’s changing rapidly, and I am proud that Bobtrade is leading the front of the building supplies procurements.”
Crombie has big ambitions for the future of Bobtrade in the UK and overseas. “We will continue working hard to build our product so that we can provide a reliable service to more and more builders.
“Bobtrade will be everywhere, helping builders build the future of the world easier, faster and more efficiently.”