- Aisha Pandor pursued a PhD in Human Genetics before she became a full-time entrepreneur.
- As a businesswoman now, she says her science experience has helped her find groundbreaking ideas.
- She says using your support system, having a good business partner and being able to execute helped her navigate being a CEO for the first time.
Scientist-turned-entrepreneur Aisha Pandor is one half of the brains behind the revolutionary domestic services app, SweepSouth. The sassy CEO unpacks her entrepreneurial chapter for us.
The big switch
Aisha Pandor spent years pursuing her PhD in Human Genetics, only to leave it all behind after being bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. While some may view this as time wasted, as a businesswoman, it’s enabled her to seek out groundbreaking ideas.
“I will always love science, because that and research are where the greatest discoveries of our time come from. I moved over to business because I was quite impatient around scientific output and execution. I felt that for gene therapy to be applied into something that benefits the broader population, it would take decades to see my research findings come into fruition,” she explains.
Her second reason was that South Africa’s issues — urgent need for better education, unequal living conditions, racial tensions and many others — were much more pressing than developing genetic formulae. Entrepreneurship, then, provided Pandor the scope to derive much-needed and innovative solutions to some of South Africa’s unique, and crucial, problems.
“Towards the end of my PhD, I registered for an Associate in Management qualification at the UCT Graduate School of Business, and completed both at the same time. It was very stressful, from a workload perspective, but exciting in that it stimulated different parts of my brain. In the end, both courses contributed to each other,” she enthuses.
For instance, while writing her thesis, she started mulling over what value her scientific findings would add to society, from a business point of view. Inadvertently, all the research skills acquired from her scientific background stood her in good stead during her business studies.
Ultimately, academia, it seems, has lost Pandor to the world of business for good.
The big idea
Officially established in 2014, the idea for SweepSouth was born out of Aisha and her husband Alen Ribic’s frustrations of finding a temporary stand-in helper over the December holidays.
SweepSouth, for those who haven’t heard of this revolutionary service, is a home management company that matches clients, according to their needs, to domestic workers via a hassle-free online booking platform, which – brilliantly – also automates the payment once a job is completed.
At the height of their frustrations, Pandor and Ribic wished there was something as groundbreaking as Lyft, Uber’s biggest competitor in the USA, which they had experienced in San Francisco in 2012 while visiting her cousin.
“We then thought to ourselves, how about we build a technology that will connect busy people with the many domestic helpers around the country whom we know are looking for work,” she recounts.
With Ribic’s experience as a software engineer and Pandor’s business consultancy acumen, the pair had the right skills set to build their tech start-up.
Helming a tech start-up in South Africa wasn’t without its set of challenges. Because there hadn’t been any other similar business here which they could model SweepSouth against, the concept was initially met with a lot of mistrust.
“We cashed in our pension funds, invested our savings and, eventually, sold our house and everything inside to fund the business. In hindsight, we’re proud of forging on and launching a platform that has never existed in South Africa before,” she explains, adding that once people made a booking, they had so amazing an experience, that they kept coming back for more. And, those clients would help spread the word.
The biggest plus for the SweepStars, a term given to the freelance domestic workers on the platform, is that they can predict how much they’re going to earn, and enjoy the flexibility of setting work around their other personal responsibilities.
“Our goal as a company is to provide dignified, flexible work at decent pay to South Africa’s domestic workers,” she shares.
The big plans
Today, not only has SweepSouth gone on to change the face of domestic help in the country — with operations in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Centurion, Durban, Nelspruit and Delmas — but it is now also offering free educational courses geared at encouraging its SweepStars to upskill themselves.
The company is also expanding its service offering to gardening, cooking, plumbing, landscaping as well as electricity-related issues.
“Going forward, we want our biggest focus to be helping many other unemployed people to market their skills on our platform,” Pandor shares.
These days, the only thing that keeps Pandor up at night is worrying about how to scale the company as their client base grows bigger.
Despite being recognised by the World Economic Forum as a Breakthrough Female Innovator, Pandor says the highlight of her career thus far, has been being able to reframe the narrative around the domestic help industry — which is often synonymous with exploitation.
The entrepreneur, who’s also a mom of three, says she’s grateful to motherhood for saving her from being too immersed in her career and forgetting that there are other important things in life.
Utilise your support system. Be it family, other entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, or entrepreneur support networks, because it’s difficult and you often experience a lot of self-doubt.
Have a unique combination of skills, insights and an ability to execute. This will give you a competitive advantage and place you miles ahead of your peers. It will also help you worry less about what your competitors are doing, and make you solutions driven.
Have a good business partner. In my case, having a partner who complements me from a skills perspective, and one who also challenges my decisions in a constructive way, has been a great help. It’s also reassuring to have someone who shares in the difficulties of starting a business.
Be goal-focused. In growing the business, set realistic goals and really push yourself to achieve them. Where you can, share these with your employees, shareholders or mentor so they can hold you accountable.
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