New broom for domestic workers in start-up sector
A company that lets domestic workers load their work history on its platform for free so that prospective employers can contact them handles almost 50,000 bookings a month and plans to expand
SweepSouth has become the go-to online platform for people in search of a cleaning service as well as those looking to work for one. And it’s about to introduce a range of additional services.
The company is like the Uber of cleaning services: domestic workers can register and build a personal profile of their work history on the platform; customers have access to worker profiles and can book cleaning services through the app. And while the workers aren’t directly employed by SweepSouth itself, they have free access to its app and don’t have to pay data costs for using it.
From next month, SweepSouth will extend its offering to include plumbing, contracting and pool-cleaning services, among others, on a platform called SweepSouth Connect.
As it stands, the SweepSouth platform already takes almost 50,000 bookings a month, and has close to 12,000 independent contractors on its books — double the number from 18 months ago. While the company at that time operated just in Joburg and Cape Town, it now has a presence in Pretoria, Centurion and Durban, and it has recently launched in Mpumalanga.
"The concept behind the business is that anyone who has skills should have the opportunity to be connected with customers who require those skills," says CEO and co-founder Aisha Pandor, a former scientist who completed her doctorate in human genetics and a postgraduate business administration course simultaneously.
SweepSouth was born of the frustration she experienced when trying to find temporary help with home cleaning.
Pandor and her husband, Alen Ribic — who built all the software in the company’s early days — invested their pension and savings into the business in late 2013. Now, almost five years since its official launch, the business has revenue of about R100m a year and about 40 in-office employees.
Pandor says there are profes sional bodies the company plans to tap into as it enters new market segments. "And there are referrals and reviews," she says. "We’ve found that worked very well in … the cleaning business. [Customers] see reviews and referrals from other customers."
The company is not cash-flow positive at present, but it generates R8m-R9m in revenue a month, most of which goes to the service providers on its books or back into the business.
Though they don’t reveal numbers, Pandor and Ribic remain the majority shareholders. The company’s first outside investor was local tech legend Vinny Lingham, who lives in San Francisco.
Other investors include CRE Venture Capital, an early-stage pan-African tech investor; Identity Fund Managers; and FNB’s Vumela Enterprise Development Fund. Last May, it concluded its third funding round, led by international retail solutions company the Smollan Group.
The amount SweepSouth charges differs depending on the area, how long the service provider has been working and the day of the week.
Elements of demand and availability are factored into the pricing, but the worker gets 65%-96% of the total hourly rate, says Pandor. The average is 80% of the rate, and the average rate is R42 an hour — almost three times the minimum wage of R15 an hour for domestic workers.
It’s welcome income: on average, SweepSouth’s service providers have three dependants each; in many cases, they are the primary breadwinners.
SweepSouth is now looking at add-on developments for its worker base — extras it can get access to because of its growing scale.
To this end, it has partnered with insurtech company Simply Financial Services to provide life and disability insurance products to its cleaners. Workers who use the platform have access to some form of life insurance, which they don’t have to pay for. In return, the fintech platform gains access to individuals to whom it can sell other insurance products down the line.
"We satisfied ourselves the company is an ethical, forward-thinking insurer with a product specifically created for domestic workers," says Pandor.
SweepSouth is also piloting an education programme to provide free online courses. It has collaborated with nonprofit Afrika Tikkun to provide career guidance and early childhood development courses.
"We’re a group of young people who are positive about the future of our country and continent," says Pandor. "We’re very passionate about job creation and about helping people to provide for themselves."
Pandor is not without connections — her mother is higher education & training minister Naledi Pandor. But, she says, "I’ve been very conscious not to have my progress based on anything other than merit."
Does that progress include a plan to expand beyond the border? "We are always conscious of trying not to be an SA-only company," she says. "Just looking at the rest of the continent … [it’s clear that] there’s a need for our solution … But there’s still so much opportunity in SA, we think our work here is far from done."