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Home Construction Milestone Payment Management

How do you create trust between homeowners and contractors so they both feel secure?

Problem Statement

In lower-income populations (estimated 4 billion people), alternative housing schemes such as incremental housing may be the only available option. For example in Africa, over 85% of households cannot afford the cheapest formal development home, and in developing countries, 93% of adults do not have access to formal housing finance. However, this population represent $5 trillion of annual latent capital, highlighting the potential for investment in affordable housing solutions. The construction workforce in developing countries is also largely informal and unorganized, with 60-90% of workers falling into this category. In India, for example, 97% of women and 89% of men in construction are part of the informal workforce. These challenges highlight the need for innovative solutions that can support affordable housing options and provide access to financing and technical support to support the construction of safe and sustainable housing for those in need.

As it relates to milestone management and digital payments, we focused on the specific issues of communication between contractors and homeowners.  Technical support services can be inaccessible, complicated, or too expensive, leading to difficulties in accessing reliable contractors and completing housing projects. There is also a low level of trust between customers and contractors, with concerns around payment and completion of work. Finally, homeowners may be unable to go to sites to check progress, leading to a lack of accountability and potential for contractors to misrepresent the work being done. These challenges highlight were the highlight of our initial platform focused on improving trust between actors.

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Defining Approach

Defining the Approach

How do we design a solution supports the needs of both contractors &  homeowners?

When we started iBUILD, I was fortunate enough to scope out the first versions of the application with my co-founder Ronald Omyonga, who is a Kenyan architect with over 20 years of experience in housing support services across Africa and other emerging markets. As we developed the app, we recognized the need to understand the housing support services value chain of households across Africa.

To achieve this, we partnered with several organizations, including Zambian Home Loans, Sofala Capital, Earth Enable, Habitat for Humanity, IBM, Mastercard Labs, Shelter Afrique, The Center for Africa Housing Finance, Village Inc. Africa, Kenya Woman's Finance Bank, and several others. These partnerships enabled us to gain valuable insights into the housing industry across Africa, allowing us to develop a platform that meets the needs of both homeowners and contractors.

In our early interactions, we focused on four key areas: how a homeowner goes about finding a reliable contractor, the design process for a home or adding an extension to an existing home, how homeowners pay contractors, and how progress is tracked by both the homeowner and the contractor. These areas provided the foundation for our app's key features.

We then embarked on a nine-month interview process, using low-fidelity wireframes to gather feedback from potential end-users. We interviewed dozens of users across Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia, and Rwanda. This process helped us to refine our app's features and ensure that it met the needs of our target audience.

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Documenting Desired Workflow

How will the homeowners and contractors interact?

Our team's approach to developing the milestone and wallet feature was based on a thorough process that utilized empathy maps and prototypes. We conducted interviews with potential users to gather valuable feedback that allowed us to create a solution that meets their needs.

To ensure a streamlined and effective approach, we developed swim lane diagrams that mapped out the bid process, start of the project, requesting funds upon completion of various stages, and ultimately, the close-out of the project. These diagrams allowed us to document the required information at each stage of the process and isolate the needs of each user that required attention.

We used these diagrams to create a comprehensive understanding of the project's requirements, allowing us to tailor our approach to the specific needs of our major user groups. The result was a robust roadmap that supported both homeowners and contractors, promoting the growth and success of the construction industry.

As an example, please see below for one of the swim lane diagrams that we created during our process.

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Documenting Workflow
Interactive Prototypes

Interactive Prototypes

How do we validate our designs make sense and we captured the process?

As part of our commitment to creating an effective solution for lower-income households in East and West Africa, we developed high-fidelity prototypes and early beta versions of our mobile app. These prototypes allowed us to test the functionality of our solution in a controlled environment and make necessary adjustments before releasing the final version to users.

To ensure that our solution met the needs of our target audience, we hired a team of brand ambassadors to gather detailed feedback and observe interactions between contractors and homeowners. These brand ambassadors were trained to engage with users in a professional manner, allowing us to gather valuable insights that helped us improve our platform's effectiveness.

Through our iterative approach to design and testing, we were able to create a mobile app that effectively empowers homeowners to make informed decisions about their construction projects while providing reliable and transparent support to contractors. Our brand ambassadors played a crucial role in this process, allowing us to gather feedback from a diverse range of users and identify areas for improvement.

 

The result was a robust and user-friendly to build out our MVP of the platform.  Below is the team that spent countless hours in the field gather feedback.

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Data Architecture

How do we organizeand deliver information?

Once we had finalized the flow of screens and design for the MVP, we embarked on creating a detailed data architecture and endpoints to support it. To do this, we established a projects table with interrelated milestones that were tied to updates, enabling progress to be tracked efficiently. Additionally, we established a wallet table with transactions to ensure that every movement of funds could be tracked and always tied to a milestone in order to be processed.

To ensure that our platform was transparent and provided traceability for transactions, we included a traceability table for transactions to show how their status changed over time as they were approved or rejected by homeowners. We documented these tables using detailed entity relationship diagrams (ERDs) that clearly showed the foreign and primary key relationships, ensuring that our data architecture was robust and easy to understand.

By implementing this data architecture, we were able to ensure that our platform was efficient and provided homeowners and contractors with a user-friendly way to manage their construction projects. The ERDs we created allowed us to clearly document the database structure, ensuring that it was easy to modify and maintain as the platform evolved.

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End Result

The mobile app's quotations, wallet, chat, and milestone screens offer homeowners and contractors a comprehensive suite of tools to manage their construction projects effectively.  At the right in an interactive protype of the milestone approval process.

The milestone screen provides a detailed breakdown of the overall cost of the project, including materials and labor costs. The inclusion of geo-tagged photos associated with the project helps provide visual evidence of the project's progress, and homeowners and contractors can add more photos as needed. The milestone status updates help keep everyone involved in the project updated on its progress, while the rating system ensures that both parties are held accountable for their roles in the project.

Below are summaries of the quotations, wallet, and chat features in further detail as to how they relate to this milestone approval process.

Data Architecture
End Result

Quotations

The mobile app's quotations page offers homeowners the ability to request bids from nearby contractors or browse local contractors and request direct quotations. This feature provides homeowners with a range of options when searching for the right contractor for their project.

The quotations page also provides homeowners with access to contractor profiles, including past ratings and projects. This information helps homeowners to make informed decisions about which contractor to choose for their project.

The quotations page provides a breakdown of the material budget into milestones of labor and material costs. This feature allows customers to review the costs associated with the project. The breakdown of costs also includes a bill of materials, providing a comprehensive list of the materials required for the project. This information helps to ensure that the homeowner and contractor are on the same page regarding the materials needed for the project. Additionally, the quotations page includes proposed start and end dates for the work, helping to ensure that the project stays on schedule.

Overall, the mobile app's quotations page is a valuable tool for both homeowners and contractors. It provides homeowners with a range of options when searching for a contractor and offers detailed information on each contractor's profile and past projects. The breakdown of costs and proposed start and end dates help to ensure that both the contractor and homeonwer understand shared scope.

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Milestones

The mobile app's project milestone screen displays a unique milestone of a project, providing a detailed breakdown of the overall cost, including materials and labor. This information is vital for contractors and homeowners to stay on top of the project's finances and ensure that it stays within budget.

In addition to the cost breakdown, the milestone screen also features geo-tagged photos associated with the project. This feature helps to provide visual evidence of the project's progress and allows contractors and homeowners to add more photos as needed.

The milestone screen also displays the status of the milestone, including what steps remain before the contractor can be paid. This feature helps to keep everyone involved in the project updated on its progress and ensures that the project is completed on time.

It's worth noting that the final step of the project includes a rating system for both homeowners and contractors.

 

Homeowners rate contractors on speed, reliability, quality, and responsiveness, while contractors rate homeowners on responsiveness and communication. This feature ensures that both parties are held accountable for their roles in the project and helps to build trust between them.

Chat

The mobile app's project and milestone section features a chat screen where homeowners and contractors can communicate about the project's progress. This chat screen is a crucial feature of the app, allowing both parties to ask each other questions and provide updates on the project.

During the bid and quotation process, contractors and customers can use the chat feature to clarify any doubts or questions they may have about the project's requirements. This helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page before the project starts.

Once the project is underway, the chat feature allows contractors and homeowners to send messages, pictures, and documents to each other, providing a comprehensive record of the project's progress. The chat's historic record ensures that everyone involved in the project can easily refer back to previous messages and stay updated on the project's developments.

It's worth noting that messages cannot be deleted, ensuring transparency and accountability throughout the project. This feature helps to build trust between the homeowner and the contractor, ultimately leading to a successful and satisfactory project outcome.

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Wallet

The wallet screen presents a comprehensive list of all transactions made through the app, with detailed information on the senders and receivers. The wallet shows not only the funds that have been sent but also those that are still in escrow for work that is still in progress. This feature allows users to keep track of their transactions and stay on top of their finances.

The app's wallet screen offers users flexibility in managing their funds by allowing them to deposit more funds or withdraw to their mobile money or bank accounts. This feature ensures that users have quick access to their funds whenever they need them.

The wallet screen also provides a the capability for a user to have multiple wallets, which allows users to categorize their funds by project. This helps users to keep track of their spending and better manage their expenses.

Overall, the wallet offers a user-friendly and efficient way for users to manage their finances related to their construction projects. With its detailed transaction history, flexible fund management options, and project categorization feature, users can stay organized and in control of their finances.

Homeowner Testimonial

Customer Testimonials
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