From the ground up

Startup SaaS platform Appello aims to give smaller commercial subcontractors a leg up in field workforce management

Photo (from left): Appello partners Matt Vanos, Corey Shelson and Ian Haase

IN LATE 2018, one of Corey Shelson’s clients at 44 North Digital Marking, the full-service digital marketing agency he founded in 2015, approached him with a request. Matt Vanos, owner of Mount Brydges-based Vanos Insulations Ltd., had built a piece of software on which he was ­running the company’s scheduling, timesheets and material ­management systems. But it was outdated and sluggish — would Shelson mind trying to fix it?

Click here to view this story in magazine format

Shelson, along with his development operations manager Christopher Vachon, poked around and quickly realized the software in its current state could not be updated. “What we decided to do was take a joint-venture approach with Vanos to develop brand new software,” recalls Shelson.

Story Continues Below


“We had been working with Vanos as a marketing client, so we understood its operation and the nuances,” Shelson continues. “As we started building the platform, we realized there were thousands of companies like them across North America. It was then that we started to discuss the ­opportunity beyond Vanos.”

What started as a one-off software refresh quickly became something much larger in scope, as they custom built a software solution tailored to the mechanical ­insulation industry. “It covered every operational aspect of the insulation business, from project management, sales, workforce management, administration and health-and-safety,” says Shelson.

Shelson, who subsequently sold 44 North to local ­marketing agency Giant Creative, realized that to fully ready the software for market release, they required an additional piece of the puzzle. That’s when local serial entrepreneur Ian Haase entered the picture. The two had met in business school, and Shelson approached Haase with the project and a proposition to jump aboard and help turn it into a ­full-fledged company. “After seeing what the team had built, I quickly decided I wanted in,” recalls Haase.

“Our initial data so far tells us that companies stand to save about 30 per cent on administrative costs when they use Appello” —Ian Haase

Today, the SaaS platform company called Appello hasn’t strayed far from its original intent. The four founding partners — Shelson, Haase, Vanos and Vachon — dub it the “future of field operations management,” and have positioned Appello as the everything application for specialty subcontractors in the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) construction sector.

According to Haase, what convinced him to jump aboard — and what makes Appello unique — is not necessarily the technology under the hood, but rather how it targets an overlooked market segment. As he points out, there are lots of construction field management tools already out in the world, “but they’ve all targeted the big general contractors — the guys doing $200 million to $500 million a year in sales,” Haase says.

Appello is intentionally positioned “one step down” from that, says Haase. Its target clients are small- to medium-sized subcontracting firms, often working with unionized trades and with significant administrative and health-and-safety paperwork. Many of these ­companies have been slow to integrate technology into their ­operations. Haase and Shelson will go into demos and find companies still working with paper timesheets, managing their ­equipment in Excel or doing all their health-and-safety documentation manually.

From the ground up Appello Technology

“They’re very likely to be family-run businesses,” observes Haase. “Grandpa started it, Dad was running it and now the next generation is taking over, and they’re saying we can’t live like this anymore. We are seeing that transition — which is the opportunity for us. Our initial data so far tells us that companies stand to save about 30 per cent on administrative costs when they use Appello.”

It is very much early days for Appello (at the time of ­writing there are about a half-dozen companies fully moved onto the platform), and the partners still find themselves in a startup phase operationally. On pricing, for instance, they have experimented with pricing by user and pricing by usage, but have since moved to module-based pricing, which allows companies to pick and choose what tools they need for their specific circumstances.

One advantage for these early adopters is that they play a key role in product development. “Appello is expanding and improving at a rapid pace. When we sign a client, they get a chance to help shape the platform to their needs. Our rule generally is if a client asks us to add a feature that we believe our broader client base will benefit from, then it probably makes sense for us to pursue.”

Story Continues Below


For now, Appello is laser-focused on the mechanical electrical and plumbing (MEP) subtrades — it was where they started and what they know best right now. They’ve also recently closed an investment round, providing operational capital and allowing them to bring on a couple of extra employees.

“The go-to-market strategy is to go deep in a few ­verticals,” Shelson says. “The MEP industry within North America comprises tens of thousands companies within our target market, so our goal is to get a foothold in Canada, follow that with the U.S. market and then branch out to other related trades.” From the ground up Appello Technology Kieran Delamont

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap