Earlier this year, Silicon Valley-based venture capital fund and start-up accelerator, 500 Startups, unveiled its 14th group of start-ups, which included the innovative South African home cleaning service, SweepSouth.
It’s the first time a local business has been selected (with only several African start-ups having ever been chosen).
According to the accelerator, of thousands of applicants for each batch every year, only 2% are successful.
The four-month accelerator programme provides start-ups with $125 000 (R1.67m at current exchange rates) in funding, as well as mentorship and networking opportunities.
In addition to being backed by 500 Startups and gaining international attention, SweepSouth also scooped the 2014 SiMODiSA Start-upSA pitch award, and has attracted major angel investment to date (Newtown Partners, with Pule Taukobong’s Africa Angels Network (AAN) and Polo Leteka Radebe’s Identity Development Fund (IDF)).
finweek caught up with Aisha Pandor, co-founder and CEO of SweepSouth, to find out more about the fast-growing start-up.
FW: What was the inspiration behind SweepSouth?
My co-founder (and husband) Alen and I came up with the concept for SweepSouth out of a personal need and pain point. While on holiday in Cape Town during December, we struggled to find help with domestic cleaning. It took us weeks to search classifieds, ask friends for referrals, and go back and forth via email and phone with cleaners and agencies. Moreover, the cleaners we did speak to were underpaid and unmotivated.
Uber had recently launched in South Africa, and we loved the idea of an “Uber for home cleaning”, which also used the technology to provide work opportunities for cleaners. We were excited about the idea of modernising the industry and empowering cleaners to earn fair rates and decide on their own schedules.
FW: How does your rating and matching algorithm work?
It takes both cleaner and client ratings into account and looks at a number of additional factors when deciding on a match. It then “learns” cleaner and client preferences over time, improving the ability to match.
FW: What were some of your early challenges?
Finding customers. We were first-of-a-kind and potential customers wouldn’t know we existed, let alone where/how to find us. We relied on word-of-mouth in the early months (which only works if you provide a great service). We’re also continuously streamlining our processes, as we didn’t realise early on how operationally intensive it would be to run the platform successfully.
FW: Is SA abreast of the global move toward the ‘sharing economy’ and service-based businesses?
Not yet. While Uber has done well in SA in terms of its growth over the past two years, other aspects have been slower to gain widespread acceptance. For example, Airbnb hasn’t been embraced to the same degree in SA. I think many South Africans also don’t yet see the benefits of the sharing economy, such as being more efficient with resources, and maximising income. It may seem only about the technology. More understanding comes with further exposure and education to this new way of thinking.
This is an excerpt of an article originally published in the 29 October 2015 edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.