From transportation to groceries, to health and beauty services and freelancer providers, on-demand startups are on the rise. In the U.S. alone, Harvard Business Review gathered from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey that the on-demand economy is engaging more than 22.4 million consumers annually and US$57.6 billion in spending. Joining the MENA ring of this particular sector is the startup JustMop- an online marketplace for domestic cleaning services operating in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar. The startup was launched in February 2015 by Kerem Kuyucu and Ali Cagatay Ozcan, both of whom are former Rocket Internet Turkey department heads that have launched operations in different regions.
Ozcan comes from streamlining fashion ventures of Rocket Internet South East Asia, having launched and expanded Foodonclick as Head of Business Intelligence and Marketing departments; he also headed operations and international expansions of SellAnyCar.com as Director of Operations. Kuyucu joined the startup life as a founding team member of Rocket Internet Turkey, moving on to start Foodonclick.com’s Qatar operations from scratch, and was then tapped to lead Carmudi’s Middle East expansion to five countries, before co-founding JustMop.
Clearly, it’s not their first foray to entrepreneurship; the co-founders have developed their skillset and know-how about the region and market. And it’s exactly the innate itch for entrepreneurship that has kept the duo to keep a lookout for gaps in the market- Kuyucu recalls that after Rocket Internet Turkey shut down in 2012, “we were unprepared and heartbroken, but we thought it was a sign for us to do something on our own.” Fast forward to 2014, Ozcan moved to Dubai with his wife, who asked him to look for a cleaning service company, and thus found the city’s ineffectiveness of finding the right crew for that purpose. While he was sharing this frustrating experience, the two entrepreneurs noticed an understated problem: “People were not able to find a top-notch cleaning service in their first trial. We then decided we would build a marketplace, where we provide our users with all well-trained, five-star maid services.”
And that they did- their MVP was live in December 2014, which took, as Ozcan points out, just 39 days from ideation to execution: “When we say MVP, we mean it. If you want to implement a globally proven business model in a new market, speed is the key and every day counts.” JustMop’s development stage included focus groups with potential users, individual cleaners and cleaning companies in the local market, developing a business plan, refining process flow, and designing mock-ups, followed by a soft launch of the MVP to give access to the beta platform to selected participants, giving the team a chance to refine the program.
Bringing in the idea for its SaaS -which was what got me intrigued about the startup during its pitch at WOMENA’s pitch event a few months ago- Kuyucu explains how they’ve been doing ground work too since the beginning of the platform- being the call center agents, sitting down with the customer service department of partners and even driving the cleaning crew members to clients’ places. It was with this that they’ve noticed inefficiency problems: “The cleaning industry was very traditional and slow-moving, and it needed a transformation from paper to digital.”
It was then that the duo came up with the idea for the feature- the JustMop SaaS, a deep learning software, which provides home service companies statistics and overview in managing daily operations in real-time, allowing companies to schedule appointments, manage clients, grow and hire staff and accounting processes, with an analytical perspective and a fluid UX design interface. Ozcan adds that its next phases would include other home services and multi-currency offerings for other countries: “The whole model is based on deep learning. The more companies use our SaaS, the more capable and complex but still simple the product is going to become. The broader vision we have for the following phases is to give companies the power to launch their online websites in a few clicks and start getting orders.”
As its business model, once a cleaning company completes a session, they pay JustMop a commission, and are additionally charged a fee for JustMop’s software. The self-funded startup recently closed a round with an undisclosed amount in December last year (although Ozcan says it’s sufficient for the next 12-18 months), led by Nevzat Aydin, the founding CEO of Yemeksepeti, joined by investors Aydin Ozol, Executive Director and Gokce Kabatepe, Managing Director, both from Raiffeisen Investment. Bertan Yeniceri, an angel investor from Turkey, was their first investor, and with the new capital, they plan to attract top talent, build proprietary tech and international growth. At the time of writing, Ozcan says the startup has made “over a million dollars in gross revenue, with more than 30,000 cleanings in less than a year,” and that their business has “grown at a rate of over 20% MoM since inception,” operating in three cities and two countries, with preparations to launch in a third country.
Talking about the hurdles of growing in MENA, Kuyucu says that if there’s one thing that hinders the region’s startups, it would be attracting the right talent with limited resources. “The dilemma here is not to find the right person, but finding the right person in a timely manner within the budget you set. It is very time consuming, as it requires a thorough research and then a lot of motivational talks, vision-sharing conversations to get them on board.” Their dedication on finding the right team makes sense- though they welcome competition as it validates the market and the idea. When asked about U.S. counterparts breaking ground in the region, and local and regional competitors, the duo believes they have great differentiators to stand out. They assert that their team (whose background consists of familiar MENA startups Foodonclick, Carmudi, SellAnyCar and Microsoft HQ), along with their tech focus on having a deep learning based algorithms, and “our attitude in which we conduct businesses” of caring for their customers, sets them apart.
Having launched their Abu Dhabi and Qatar operations, due diligence analysis for other potential markets and two more countries, and building their team is on the pipeline. An online payment gateway has also been released, letting customers pay through the app on iOS, Android and Window phones. The team has also partnered with Emirates Airlines, RAKBANK, Entertainer, and are "in talks" with Careem. Their partnership with Instashop has enabled Justmop to be integrated to their app, so people can book cleaning services through Instashop's app. “The real deal is on our SaaS side,” says Kuyucu, speaking highly of their CTO’s background in deep-learning with a focus on artificial neural network based algorithms, as he shares some of the cool features that’s coming, which includes being able to anticipate users’ booking habits and suggest a crew member when they need a service, plus matching a first-time user with a domestic service that was highly recommended. Eventually, the startup wants to become the go-to for both users to order any home services and for home service companies to utilize JustMop’s SaaS to manage operations.
How JustMop Works
The consumer experience
“It is all very simple. A homeowner books our services through our website or mobile app in under a minute. If they are a first time user, they receive a phone call within an hour of making the booking to be welcomed and to see if they have any special requirements. Our well-trained professional staff arrives punctually at their doorstep and the homeowner just has to figure out what to do with the extra four hours a week that they won back!”
Partnering with cleaning companies
“We work with only the best cleaning companies in the region. Once we partner up, we give their cleaners an on-boarding training and conduct interviews with each of their cleaners. Simply, we handpick the cleaning providers that we work with. After the onboarding process is finalized, we start sending them new customers to get them fully booked and give them access to use our cutting edge SaaS platform to manage all daily operations.”
The vetting process
“The cleaning companies and their cleaners are vetted all in person by one of our founding core team members. This entails investigating the living premises of the cleaning company employees as well as auditing their pay to ensure fair treatment. Once we decide to partner up, a third-party specialist that we contract background checks each of the cleaners as well as their employers, and we give a comprehensive training to each of our cleaner partners. Efficiency is ensured by our follow up system which asks our customers to rate each cleaning session, and if a cleaner’s rating falls below 4.0 out of 5.0, they first receive additional training. If this repeats, this cleaner is no longer qualified to work with JustMop.com.”