There is no doubt that technology has revolutionised how we do things. Today, it is possible to do just about anything from the comfort of your living room as long as you have a smartphone.
You can hail a taxi, order food, shop for groceries, consult a doctor, and now, you can hail ‘mama fua’ using an app.
While many households have domestic workers whose many roles include doing the laundry, many more rely on mama fuas who move from house to house looking for cleaning jobs.
With this in mind, in 2016, Stephine Ngutah, 27, and his brother Zachariah Ramogo, then students at Daystar University, decided to build an app that would link households to trained and vetted housekeepers who offered affordable services.
“Our experience with mama fuas involved fluctuating prices, substandard services, poor time-keeping, lack of professionalism, theft and communication challenges. On their end, there were troubling experiences with clients including unjust pay, sexual assault, verbal abuse and more – these varied experiences are what birthed the business idea,” explains Stephine.
The two launched the app, Mama Fua, in 2019. The idea was to offer these women a safe, professional and convenient platform from which to earn an income. Those registered with them would also benefit from training that up-skilled their competency. The app is a product of Mama Kazi, a company that is run by five partners: Stephine and his brother Zachariah, Ruth Wambui Gasson, Eric Muriithi Musangi and Edinah Nabalayo.
Domestic work economy
The venture started with a capital of Sh630, 000, but to date, they have injected a little over Sh4.7 million into the project. Seeking to dignify and professionalise domestic cleaning services, the app has eyes on the entire domestic work economy, ranging from the hailing of a trained house help, day-bug services, babysitting and errands running.
“Before launching the app, we carried out research that involved traversing a number of Nairobi estates and interacting with women who wash clothes and clean homes for a living.”
Besides this, the duo also used SurveyMonkey, an online software that helps one create and run professional online surveys, engaging fellow university students to gather data on what solutions consumers were looking for.
After several attempts to develop the app and getting disappointed by several developers, the duo finally had an app. It is at this point that the other business partners came in.
Stephine and Zachariah, who come from a troubled polygamous family, started the venture in honour of their mother, who died when they were young.
“We view it as a women empowerment enterprise and a sustainability tool for marginalised women across our societies. We aim to address the plight of women in societies where they have no shed of structured inheritance - this app could be the vulnerable woman’s inheritance,” argues Stephine, adding that social and economic empowerment has a domino effect that benefits all members of the society.
To date, Mama Fua has trained 2, 570 women in Eldoret and Nairobi, where the two brothers grew up.
Their clients cut across the middle and upper middle classes but are suitable for anyone looking for a trained cleaner. They also target those looking to up-skill their domestic workers since they have set up training centres.
The training includes laundry sorting and garment care, surface cleaning for different surfaces, ironing and folding, etiquette and communication skills, financial literacy, GBV awareness, use of washing machines, First Aid, care of special needs children, babysitting and personal safety.
“We have, for the past two months now, piloted the idea of a laundromat, Fua City Laundromat, located at Daystar University, which serves clients that would rather not have a mama fua, but are still in need of affordability laundry services,” says Stephine.
Those who choose this option have their clothes picked and dropped off after placing an order through the app.
“We brand our mama fuas with aprons, a job-card with their names, a kit that contains their tools of trade and soap if the client wants the whole package. The soap used is produced by the older mama fuas in their platform aged between 50 to 60 years who might have mobility challenges,” adds the businessman.
Stephine adds that the mama fuas do not have to spend money on transport since the app finds a service provider that is within the client’s proximity. He explains that all the mama fuas on their platform are trained, vetted and come from CBOs they are in partnership with.
The pay is on a share ratio of 80:20 where 80 per cent goes to the service provider and the rest to the company.
The business has 12 employees, six of whom are customer care agents in Nairobi, two in Eldoret and another two at the laundromat.
“In Eldoret, we serve between 1,000 to 1,500 clients a month, 500 being repeat clients – we have since added to our tech infrastructure a USSD feature to cater for mama fuas or consumers unable to access the platform to place and receive orders,” adds Stephine.
How the app works
Once a client logs onto the app, which is available in Google Playstore, it picks your location, after which you choose a service provider closest to you, select a service, then checkout and wait for your mama fua.
“You don’t need to direct them to your place as they can follow the Google map path to get to you. We have different metrics, the most popular being the basket, which costs Sh250, and the time metrics, which costs Sh180 per hour.”
Stephine says their aim is to make the process of doing laundry seamless, affordable and safe.
“Regarding safety, all our customer care centres have emergency hotlines that respond to matters of emergency from the service providers and clients.”
Although the reception of this service has been positive, the app has encountered several challenges.
Financing is one, followed by mama fuas who cannot afford smartphones.
“Cash constraints have invariably slowed down the process as founders source for more capital - there are times we have been forced to take miniature loans to get the project on its feet, and in the process, we have lost a number of would-be partners who gave up along the way.”
The business aspires to be a household name across East Africa for all domestic cleaning needs and homecare as it seeks to impact the lives of women by giving them a platform on which to earn a living.