By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller
Brian Zielinski understands the challenges faced by small business owners and startup entrepreneurs when they are looking for service providers to support the backend operations of their business.
As a salesperson in the medical industry, he was often asked to make vendor recommendations for services like digital marketing and human resource support. As a member of the U.S. Army, he found the same challenges existed in finding service vendors, but they were compounded by a long and complicated vendor vetting process.
In that problem, Zielinski found a market opportunity that resulted in the launch of ShapeConnect, launched in 2021. Co-founded with Trevor Darling and Yvonne Petterson, the Milwaukee-based startup connects companies in the construction, health care and professional services industries to business services providers that serve those markets.
“We figured we could be faster and get everybody a better fit,” he said.
Based on a buyer’s industry, budget, and other key hiring factors, ShapeConnect will provide a list of highly vetted North American vendors that meet the required criteria. Service providers pay ShapeConnect a percentage of the jobs booked through the platform. Buyers do not incur any fees to access ShapeConnect recommendations.
The boot-strapped company is using AI (artificial intelligence) not only to connect vendors and buyers, but also to predict the services the buyer will need next to scale their business.
MKEStartup.News spoke with co-founder and CEO Brian Zielinski about the growing company.
MSUN: How does ShapeConnect differ from a directory of service providers?
Zielinski: ShapeConnect is not just a rating and review site of all these local providers.
It’s a much more curated matchmaking process. We ask different B2B (business to business) software and service providers to complete a questionnaire and they have to do an intake to build out a profile, and through that intake we understand them.
Buyers appreciate that the intake profile is diagnostic. We do a specific ‘intelligent questionnaire,’ understand their specific needs, and then we align the data for what the vendors input into their profile to what the buyers input into their profiles, so we understand the factors that are important to every company.
We ask the type of services you’re looking for, the budget requirements- the nuances of even the personality types are accounted for.
We go a step further in the vetting process. We have three tiers (of vendor classification). If you’re a new vendor with us, you have to go through our process and then you’re an Emerging Vendor.
After you’ve done three projects with us, now you’re an Established Provider, and then once you hit 10 or more projects, you are an Exceptional Provider.
You (vendors) get scored by the buyers.
The system is getting smarter and smarter and we’re implementing AI to create the best possible matches. We provide a short list of providers who are the right fit for the buyer.
MSUN: Tell us more about the ShapeConnect vetting of service providers?
Zielinski: Everyone (prospective vendors) has to sign up and complete a full profile, submit case studies, references, and pricing data.
They have to agree to our best practices for providers, (which means) they’re open to being surveyed and that they are willing to provide some flexibility in their agreements- so if something’s not quite working, it can be rescoped and it’s not so rigid.
They need to be willing to go through a blind bid process, meaning they know they’re always going to be up against another company, so that they should provide their best pricing option for the buyer.
They all go through an interactive interview and consultation with Yvonne Petterson, our Senior Solution Expert, to ensure that we understand them and who they want to work with, so that we can really have deeper insights than just what they profile.
We also put in our own sense of how the interview went. Then, if they complete all of that, that’s when we’ll actually turn their profile on. We let them know this is a process and it’s not a guarantee that you will be activated and into the matchmaking process.
MSUN: What has been the response of your buyers?
Zielinski: In terms of tracking and measuring, 89% of our customers come back to us for another project.
MSUN: What are some of ShapeConnect’s plans for growth?
Zielinski: We’re partnered with the Wisconsin Veteran Chamber and our platform is a free resource to the Chamber for their members to use for matchmaking solutions. They get their matches free. They don’t pay any fees for that. They also get additional resources with the (business education) newsletters, and webinars.
I think that the partnership angle is a great way for us to grow, but it’s also I think people have a lot of trust in those networks and it’s helping them gain more trust from their members and bring tangible solutions above and beyond the events that they hold. It brings something right to the tactical level of those businesses.
Zielinski will attend the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce Veterans Business Resource Fair on Thursday, May 25 at the Brookfield Conference Center to present ShapeConnect and its benefits to attendees. To learn more about this event, click here.
To learn more about ShapeConnect, connect with the company here.