Recently, I wrote a post about the opportunities created for enterprise SaaS companies from new regulations, a.k.a. Regtech (see here). The CBInsights Regtech market map in that post includes a company called zlien. (H/T to Ben Bianchino from EML.)
Zlien is listed as a Regtech company because liens are a regulatory artifact of the construction business. Zlien describes itself as follows:
Zlien, by making mechanics lien rights easy and transparent, is building a fair construction payment ecosystem that everyone can trust.
Because liens are essential to the payments process in the construction industry, Zlien is almost a vertical payments company–another area of interest to me.
First, The Regtech Part: A primer on liens.
Thanks to President to Trump, I have a rough understanding of what a lien is. The official definition is:
A contractor’s lien (often known as a mechanic’s lien, or a construction lien) is a claim made by contractors or subcontractors who have performed work on a property, and have not yet been paid. A supplier of materials delivered to the job may also file a mechanic’s lien.
The bottom line: contractors and subcontractors use liens to ensure they are paid for work they have performed. Just Google “Trump and liens” to get plenty of examples.
Based on zlien’s website, the company seems to help contractors:
- understand the lien rules in each state
- offer workflow to help contractors send preliminary notices of liens to clients and
- escalate appropriately from there.
Think of zlien as offering an industry-specific A/R or dunning process.
Second, The Payments Part
As I’ve written before (see here), there is money to be made in invoicing and payments businesses involving:
- Complex approval processes
- Fragmented suppliers
- Suppliers with a much higher cost of capital than buyers
- Regulations or complex contracts
- Healthcare payments (Emdeon)
- Clinical Trial payments (Medidata and others)
- Logistics (Trucking Audit and Bill Pay) (PowerTrack, Cass, etc.)
- Marketplace payments (Payoneer and others)
- Telecom/Energy Expense Management (Tangoe, Ecova)
- CPG and Retail (PRGX)
- and finally Construction (Textura)
Construction has all of these desired elements: small, fragmented contractors and subcontractors, big GCs, complex approval and payment processes, and different rules in every state for how liens work.
Construction Payment Management
The last company I wrote about in the construction payments space was Textura (see here and here). Textura derived the majority of its revenue from a product called Construction Payment Management (CPM). I am by no means an expert in the market, but I do know:
- Textura’s CPM product processed 10s of billions of payments and Textura netted 15+bps on this flow.
- Total annual construction value in the US is about $1 Trillion (which is $1.5 billion in revenue @15 bps).
- Oracle purchased Textura for $663 million.
- CPM seems oriented to the GC (the buyer) receiving invoices and making payments. Zlien seems squarely focused on helping get the little guy (supplier) get paid by filing liens when necessary–or at least threatening to!
Most invoice and payment products are oriented to buyers, more so than the suppliers’ needs. The existence of construction liens gives the suppliers more leverage and zlien helps suppliers automate that leverage.
There’s a lot of competition in the construction software space (which I follow tangentially, see here. Payments are a tiny part of the process that some industry platforms handle. Someone really invested in the market should weigh in on the competitive factors, but on the surface, zlien seems to have a lot going for it:
- Construction payments have the right attributes of complexity and size.
- zlien competes with a relatively newly acquired part of Oracle (Textura) and Oracle typically has little interest in SMBs.
- Zlien does not yet appear to be handling payments themselves, which the company can easily add with a partner.
- After adding payments, zlien can add financing, just as Textura did (with a partner)
- Zlien may have an additional Regtech play.
- The website is pretty good and the content is great.
Lien in on this one. Zlien bears further study by those of you who really dig construction. (Sorry, I could not help myself.)