South African startup SweepSouth, an online platform for booking domestic cleaning services, connects clients with domestic cleaning professionals within a few minutes. The startup aims to provide flexible working opportunities at decent rates to South Africa’s 1.2 million domestic workers.
Husband and wife team, Aisha Pandor and Alen Ribic started SweepSouth as an answer to a problem they themselves faced, after having difficulty finding a temporary domestic cleaner during the festive season last year.
They decided on the idea for a website which would allow people to book experienced cleaners that are referenced and insured. They launched the startup in June 2014.
Clients can book a cleaner by filling in their contact details and preferences – including the date and time for their request – and pay using a credit card or EFT via PC, phone or tablet. Shortly after an email containing information about the cleaner will be sent as confirmation of the request. The cleaners will arrive at the house, clean and leave.
“South Africans book flight tickets and concert tickets online, and use the internet to buy clothes and gadgets; we should be able to book home services online as well”
While on holiday in Cape Town in December 2013, we desperately needed a domestic cleaner and the thought of spending holiday hours trying to find a cleaner, interviewing someone, doing all of the necessary checks and then supervising the first few cleans, really didn’t seem appealing. We thought, why isn’t there an organisation that does all of this background work for you and then lets you book online through an easy process. This didn’t exist, so we built it. South Africans book flight tickets and concert tickets online, and use the internet to buy clothes and gadgets; we should be able to book home services online as well.
We pay three times more than minimum wage, which is more than most other cleaning companies, and allow domestic cleaners to choose what days they would like to work. We highly value the domestic cleaners who work for us and work not only on providing work opportunities at great rates, but also to further empowering through computer and training workshops and providing entrepreneurial skills. SweepSouth can be for full-time work or for making income to supplement other part time work.
“Validate your idea early, before spending too much time and money on something that isn’t going to work”
Our cleaners have additional opportunities to sell SweepSouth cleaning products, providing additional income and some sales and small business skills. We have clients rate cleaners and vice versa. We then look out for cleaners who perform well and show promise, as they will be hired to become trainers further down the line and will support and train new cleaners.
There has been a lot of administrative work that took us a lot of time prior to setting everything up. Getting a merchant banking account was particularly painful. The process doesn’t make it easy to become an entrepreneur at all, and I find that many of the structures we rely on are not friendly to entrepreneurs and to startups in general.
Thus far, we have used our savings and bootstrapped the business ourselves. We are now actively looking for investors though as we plan to grow the business from Johannesburg into other cities in South Africa and on the continent.
The startup eco-system in South Africa is still very immature and fragmented, but we are progressing quickly. There are lots of initiatives that are popping up, including angel investors, incubators, accelerators and meeting groups. Cape Town is still ahead of Joburg in this sense, but we are trying to improve. The government is also making an effort, with initiatives like The Innovation Hub, and new forms of financing for startups. We are also lucky in that we can learn from the mistakes of overseas eco-systems that are more mature than us. My overall sentiment on the space is definitely extremely positive though.
In the next two years SweepSouth will be holding regular computer, management and small business skills training workshops for our cleaners and other domestic services professionals, and will be working with government to further improve skills and provide even more work opportunities. We also plan to be operating in at least the four major South African cities and will be expanding into other African cities, offering a variety of domestic services in addition to domestic cleaning.
“You need to be really strong and have a great personal and professional support network”
Once you launch, you understand why 9 out of 10 new businesses fail. Make sure you have enough runway; many startups fail not because of a bad idea, but because they run out of money before being able to sustain themselves. Validate your idea early, before spending too much time and/or money on something that isn’t going to work. Launch a prototype of early version (minimum viable product) first, and do some market research to make sure it is something that people will love, and will want to pay for. Find a great mentor, even if not an official mentor, just someone from the outside with whom you can bounce ideas off.
There are so many ups and downs in the beginning of starting a business; you are on a high one day and a complete low the next. You need to be really strong and have a great personal and professional support network. Once you launch, you understand why 9 out of 10 new businesses fail. It requires hard and constant work, and entrepreneurs typically work 16 to 18 hour days.