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Engineer’s dirty laundry inspires Sh1.5m startup

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The regular cleaning lady was unwell and he risked ‘recycling’ a shirt and trousers to work. [Courtesy]

One weekend in 2017, George Karimi stared at a heap of his dirty clothes and sighed in frustration.

The regular cleaning lady was unwell and he risked “recycling” a shirt and trousers to work the following week.

As he mulled over his options, the trained engineer had a light bulb moment – the creation of a platform where one can hail a cleaner, electrician or plumber the same way one would a digital taxi.

“All my clothes were dirty and I thought about having a platform where you can hail a cleaner, electrician, plumber, nannies and others just like you hail cabs. This gives you options to see who is available for the job,” he tells Money Maker.

Search for eye care

Later, this idea was further inspired when his child got sick and needed to visit an ophthalmologist, a search that took weeks.

The 33-year-old Karimi lives in Naivasha with his young family.

“That’s when we thought that professionals need a platform where they can have a profile for a small fee so that people can reach them easily,” he says.

So in 2018, together with his wife Njeri Kung’u, he founded SwiftAide. The app connects clients to service providers (called aides) and provides a network of pre-approved and background-checked individuals.

The couple spent about Sh1.5 million, including running costs on the initial stages to develop the app.

The app, which helps people find instant help with common tasks such as cleaning, errands, moving and handy work, so far has 700 registered businesses and professionals and over 1,000 registered users.

The service providers or aides in the app have the time and skills required to finish listed tasks and through the app, people can outsource small jobs and tasks to others in their locality. A majority of users are people who are too busy to run errands or need skilled help in their homes. SwiftAide also helps people looking for side hustles.

In 2019, the app generated Sh200,000 in gross revenue.

The app helps people find instant help with common tasks such as cleaning, errands, moving and handy work. [Courtesy]

How does the app make money?

Karimi explains that Swift Aide is split in two. The first is the business side of the app and the on-demand side of the app. Here they charge a 15 per cent commission for every job done through the app.

Impact of Covid

The second part is, they charge subscription fees for businesses and professionals who want to have a profile in the app with business registration now free due to Covid-19 hitting many businesses.

 “We have free premium and gold subscription plans for businesses depending on what kind of details and media you want to share on your profile,” he says.

Clients pay when they accept an offer from a service provider but SwiftAide holds that money until the task is complete and the client is satisfied. Then the cash is released to the service provider.

At the beginning, notes Karimi, many service providers who registered on the app kept asking for jobs. They didn’t know when a client required a service.

Competitive system

To solve this challenge, they developed a competitive system where a client posts a task with a budget then the service providers bid for the job by placing offers.

“The client is free to choose the best offer,” he says.

He notes the resilience and patience required to grow a startup with mixed reactions to technology adoption even as more Kenyans move online.

“Success does not come in a day, week, month or even a year. You have to be patient,” he advises.

He also advises budding entrepreneurs in the Kenyan digital economy to have a clear vision and be unafraid of failure.

“It is the vision that drives when everything seems uncertain and don’t be afraid. Fail as many times as possible since success comes from failure,” he says.

Karimi hopes to roll out SwiftAide to other African countries in the next five years.

Weed out rogues

To weed out rogues, the platform thoroughly vets professionals requiring their official identification documents and academic certificates for a skilled workforce.

The user interface is very simplified making it easy to use for even casual labourers. Also, one doesn’t necessarily have to be online to get client requests.

“We have SMS and push notifications to alert you when a job is available.”

Sometimes people might not want what the entrepreneur has in mind and if he could turn back the hand of time he’d focus more on user engagements at the early stages.

“That would give me a clearer picture of what the Kenyan market needs.”

Karimi, who looks up to Ali Baba founder Jack Ma, notes that post Covid-19 technology will drive things more than ever. As the use of smartphones deepens in the country, Karimi hopes that SwiftAide can give more jobs, especially in these difficult times.

But what has been the market reception of the app?

“The Kenyan digital market is vibrant and developed. Smartphone penetration to the rural and urban lower class is the current challenge that is facing us. Uptake is good on the middle and upper-class Kenyans,” he offers.

He adds that one of the challenges has been tailoring the app to suit Kenyan users but responding to customer feedback has helped resolve this challenge.

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