Duo launches platform linking buyers to essential service providers
While building a house for his mother, Roy Omollo, who resides in the US, had a difficult time finding a good electrician to fix the wiring system that would connect power to the house.
As is commonly the case with service providers such as plumbers and cleaners, whose operations rely on brick and mortar, Omollo could not simply go online to search for an electrician.
“I had to look for people who lived in the neighbourhood so that they could give me a credible referral, otherwise I could easily end up settling for someone not qualified enough for the job, or who could even short-change me, knowing that I wasn’t in the country,” said Omollo in an interview with Powering SMEs.
His fears were not unfounded. He says many of his friends and family, not only those in the diaspora, but also those who lived in Kenya, would share the difficulty they went through getting certain essential services because they just didn’t know where to get them.
“When people are in need of services such as laundry, or perhaps catering, the easiest option for them would be to go online to search for the service providers, however, most of these businesses quite often do not have an online presence,” says Omollo.
Leveraging on his background in IT, he decided that he would launch Msaada Opus, an online platform that would connect buyers with essential service providers. In essence, the platform would also help informal traders access the digital gig economy.
He partnered with Mercy Mbevi, who had a background in finance to take care of the money side of things. The duo invested about Sh7 million into starting the business. This money was used partly to develop the product, which took three months, and also to set up an office in Kenya that would facilitate local operations.
Since they did not have a big budget to market the product across the country, they had to be very inventive and deliberate in their market entry strategy. They therefore opted to partner with YMCA Kenya who already had young professionals working in the targeted sectors as their members. This made it easier to simply migrate the professionals onto the Msaada Opus platform.
Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub
They also partnered with Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub to help them in developing the product further and make the user interface marketable to almost any age group such that an older person could easily reach out to a younger service provider and get the assistance they needed.
“When you come to the diaspora, it’s almost like you’re going to the future of Africa. We wanted our people to enjoy the same quality of service access and delivery that people in more advanced economies are enjoying. The platform would thus help to remove the struggle of finding say a fundi, who is qualified to implement a housing project that you may want done for your parents back home,” notes Mercy, the Chief Financial Officer of Msaada Opus.
Before being onboarded onto the platform, sellers would go through a vetting process to ascertain that they were well qualified to undertake certain projects. Mercy says that people were excited about the platform because it was an easy way for them to make extra money, and within three months since launching in August 2022, they had already managed to onboard about 1,500 sellers onto the platform. These sellers were grouped in 23 different categories, ranging from agriculture, to mechanical works, food and technology.
“It is not that the service providers are not there, it is just a matter of how you find them. You could be anywhere in Kenya, and the platform will give you the closest location of whomever can assist you with the service you need,” adds Mercy.
The firm currently does not charge sellers to sign up to the platform, although they soon hope to start monetising by charging users a subscription fee, once they have generated enough traffic to the platform. Since they are currently relying on their own individual incomes to sustain operations of the company, Omollo says they have not been able to scale as fast as they would want to.
“Lack of adequate financing has also made it difficult for us to hire enough staff to enable us scale our product across the country. We are currently a team of only eight and there is a lot of work to be done,” comments Omollo, who adds that they are open to funding partnerships to grow the business.
Additional funding will also enable them to scale to neighbouring countries, including Rwanda, which has been known to embrace technology very fast, Uganda and Tanzania, then later West African countries such as Nigeria and eventually the whole of Africa.