Canadian Neeral Shah was living the expat dream working in supply chain financing in Hong Kong. “It was a great life, I was on a plane every other week to China or to see buyers in Africa, and the US, enjoying a jet-set lifestyle with great job security, helping building firms source and pay for their raw materials and equipment.”
Then along came an entrepreneurial itch. “I wanted to do my own thing. And I started to notice the deep challenges and inefficiencies in the construction supply chain, and how technology was transforming other industries.”
Shah moved to London, where he was born and lived until he was four when his family moved to Canada. “The technology space was exploding in London, I wanted to be here.” He met the founder of an online pet pharmacy via a friend, joined the business and “learned, really quickly, how digital marketplaces were enabling faster transactions between buyers and suppliers”.
Shah, who is now 39, decided to connect his experience working in construction with what he had learnt at the start-up. “I’d experienced just how long it took construction firms to find the right materials and equipment, as well as how manual the process was. A digital marketplace seemed to be the solution.”
YardLink — a platform connecting buyers with a speedy supply chain around the UK — was the result. “Construction is very last-minute, so we’re like Amazon Prime for heavy equipment — linking up deliveries within 24 hours, and also helping customers plan projects and track spend.”
Shah launched the company in 2018: “I literally knocked on a lot of doors — I first went to the big players, HSS Hire, Jewsons, but got flat-out rejections. Then I’d pick a postcode in north or east London and go to each [builders] yard in the area, mostly family-owned suppliers, gradually signing up firms.
“It was a really long slog but after the small firms signed up, eventually we got the household names on board too,” he says.
YardLink now works with 650 suppliers who have some 2000 builders’ yards and depots around the UK, including big brands Sunbelt Rentals, HSS Hire, Speedy Hire, and Jewsons.
Shah initially drummed up interest from builder customers via Google Ads: “At first it was one or two guys looking for small diggers for garden work or renovations, and slowly, slowly deals grew.”
Today, YardLink’s average buyer spends north of £5000 a month sourcing equipment with the firm — customers include Canary Wharf contractors, BAM, Battersea Power Station and HS2 — but it wasn’t always smooth corporate deal-making.
During a heatwave in the capital in YardLink’s early days, “we were still mainly providing rental equipment through our small network of suppliers in London,” Shah explains. “We got an order for 40 cooling fans to be delivered to a customer early the next morning. But all of our suppliers were out of stock due to the heatwave.”
He turned to Argos. “We managed to find a few branches with fans in stock, grabbed as many as we could, and set up an assembly line in the lobby of our co-working space to assemble all of the fans before we started walking them over to the client and back again. Thankfully we were able to get them all delivered by 8am the next morning.”
Shah bootstrapped YardLink at first, then raised £350,000 in 2017 via financiers in the UK. He has since raised $20 million via three fundraising rounds, from backers including Speedinvest, FJ Labs and Beringea.
He’s relieved to have tied up funding last year. “2023 is going to be tough,” Shah admits. “We have the benefit of having raised money last year so we’ve got enough cash in the bank. We’ll be lean this year, focus on growth and dominating the UK — but it’s got to be profitable, and then from 2024 onwards, we’ll scale up and think about growing internationally.”
Headquarters: King’s Cross