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Designed by a qualified gas engineer, Gas App Uk provides installers with a one-stop resource for downloadable manuals, gas safety documents and advice from fellow professionals. We recently spoke to founder Antony Provan about why he developed the app, how it works and how it might evolve in the future.
After four years running a successful Birmingham based heating and plumbing business, Antony Provan decided to put away the tools and focus on the development of a new information resource for gas engineers. With a previous background in software and marketing, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to make the most of his unique set of skills. Gas App Uk – an app designed to specifically meet the needs of trade professionals – was launched in January last year and has quickly been embraced by thousands of regular users.
When did you first get the idea of designing the app?
“There was a eureka moment one Friday afternoon. I was in a loft and I needed the telephone number of a manufacturer and I couldn’t get it because I didn’t have an internet signal. I went down to the homeowner and she looked it up on her laptop. I suddenly thought to myself that evening, if I created a website with all these manuals on, I could offer installers a one-stop-shop for all the information they needed. Rather than a website, I thought an app on a mobile would be more useful, because if you’re in a house with no internet connection, a website is not going to be a lot of use.”
It’s one thing coming up with an idea, but quite another putting it into practice. How easy was it to get the app off the ground?
“I spent sometime searching specialist app developers, and after going to London and speaking to guys out in India, or wherever, I actually found a good one that was very local to me! They understood what I wanted to do. We started off with manuals – and it took me three months to put 11,000 manuals on there – but then it became obvious that I needed something that was going to get people to keep coming back.”
So what did you come up with?
“I thought if I could tap into installers, effectively have a Facebook type forum for gas engineers, there would be something to get them back every few hours to find out what’s happening. So ‘Breaktime’ was developed, which is a subscriber only part of the app which engineers can use to communicate with each other. I know there are obviously Facebook forums, but the problem with them is that there are too many engineers on there who are too quick to judge and criticise others. The beauty of the Gas App is that I can make sure that there is no bullying going on because I monitor it closely all the time.”
How difficult a decision was it to close your installation business and work full time on the app?
“There was a make or break situation in my mind where I thought I could either continue what I’m doing with the installation business or I could give the app my full attention. The problem was I was burning the candle at both ends. I was installing boilers in the day and then working on the app at night. I wasn’t giving it the full attention it needed. I’m literally on the app 12 hours a day. There’s an enormous amount of work involved.”
Any regrets about giving up your installation business?
“I sometimes miss being on the tools. It was a great job and I met some great people. I was also earning a lot more money, but this is the route I want to take and it’s very much a long term project. I’m passionate about making it work and it’s really starting to take off. I’ve gone from no users in January last year to over 18,500 today.”
Is there a danger that once you’ve been off the tools for a while that you could lose touch with some of the issues that installers are concerned about?
“Yes, that could be a problem so I need to keep my hand in to some extent. I’ll keep going on some of the courses and look to retain my gas card. One of the reasons that the app has been so well received is that they can see I’m a gas man myself. I don’t think I would have got anywhere near the same amount of respect if I was just a software developer. I’ve done the job that these guys have done and that holds a lot of clout.”
As you said, the app is very much a long term project but you clearly need sufficient revenue to justify your time. How easy has it been to generate that income?
“Some revenue comes from partnerships with supportive manufacturers such as Intergas, ADEY and Grundfos. And while it’s free to download the app, access to some areas, such as ‘Breaktime’ is only available to paying subscribers. What I’m trying to create is a club made up of elite members rather than just a free for all. I always believe that something in life that’s free really isn’t worth having. I’m trying to keep the premium low, at just £10 a year – which is just 19p a week – but whether it’s £10 or £100, it’s important that they view membership as having some kind of value.”
Is it likely that you would look at developing different levels of membership at some point in the future?
“Possibly. One thing that’s quite close to my heart is doing something for apprentices. I believe that these guys are the new blood for the industry, but they can get put off by some old timers being quite negative. I’m looking at putting a Breaktime session in there that is just for apprentices or newbies joining the trade. They know that they will be communicating just with other apprentices. They would be able to go into a separate area where they can talk openly about their experiences.”
Are users mostly asking for installation advice and looking to solve problems or is there more general chat?
“We’ve got a fault finding section where users can ask questions, but ideally I would like it to be 30% business and 70% social because I think it would be good if guys can go on the app and just relax – use it more as a social tool rather than just talking business the whole time.”
So does social mean nothing at all to do with work?
“No, I don’t mean that necessarily, but it doesn’t have to be serious all the time. When I first started the app, it was all business related. It was very matter-of-fact and straightlaced. Some users might be a bit cheekier now, perhaps sending a picture of the brew they’ve just been given. It’s important to have some lighthearted content on there, things that make it just a bit more entertaining.”
What happens if you have members who are very critical of a particular product or brand?
“What I would do in the first instance is look to take the heat out of the situation, see what the gripe is and try to sort it out. I would then ask a representative of the manufacturer to address the concerns, but I don’t want the manufacturer jumping in straightaway because it is meant to be a forum for installers. Sometimes it’s just a question of letting them get things off their chest.”
Do you ask for user’s Gas Safe numbers?
“We don’t at the moment because some users might be at college learning the trade. But if I spot someone on there who is asking a question and it looks like they’re a homeowner or DIYer, then they’re off straightaway. You can usually tell when they’re not a professional. Alarm bells start ringing. The app is for professional users, so I’m trying to weed them out as much as I can.”
As numbers grow, do you think there’s an opportunity to be a more influential voice within the industry?
“I’m not trying to rule the world, but if we can get a big enough community more manufacturers and decision makers will sit up and take notice. It’s not always easy for installers to get their voice heard, so this is one vehicle they can use to express their opinions. As numbers grow, it will also become easier to approach companies for potential discounts and exclusive offers. Watch this space!”
The app is available on both IOS and Android by simply visiting the stores and searching for Gas App Uk, or click here