SweepSouth breaks even disrupting cleaning market

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Johannesburg-based startup SweepSouth, which launched in June of last year, reached an operational break-even point in September and is focused on growth with a platform it claims is disrupting South Africa’s largely unreformed domestic services industry.

SweepSouth provides a platform that allows ​users to book home cleaning services online from their ​phone, laptop or tablet, connecting homeowners with “an experienced, reliable, vetted and insured cleaner in minutes”.

Since its launch in June, SweepSouth – on which cleaners cost ZAR38 (US$3) per hour – has experienced between 60 per cent and 100 per cent month-on-month growth since launching, reaching an operational break-even point in September from its Uber-style business model of taking a small percentage fee on each booking.

“Uptake has been great so far, particularly during the summer months, and we expect to experience a huge jump in growth during the first quarter of 2015,” co-founder Aisha Pandor told Disrupt Africa.

​Pandor and her co-founder and husband Alen Ribic founded SweepSouth on the back of struggling to find a home cleaner during the December 2013 festive season.

“We were frustrated with the convoluted and time-consuming process of having to first find a cleaner, then interview them, do the necessary vetting and then supervise the first few cleaning jobs,” she said.

“There was no company where you could have all of this taken care of, allowing you to book home cleaning on-demand and within minutes, and without having to sit on the phone or send multiple emails back and forth.”

She said the domestic services industry in South Africa has remains largely unreformed and unchanged since 1994.

“This includes attitudes to domestic work and the use of technology to streamline processes both for those providing home services, and for those using them,” Pandor said.

“Other players in the market at the moment are traditional domestic services agencies, many that have existed for decades, as well as independent home cleaners who carry out part time work and advertise their services to clients through classifieds adverts.”

Self-funded and bootstrapped thus far, SweepSouth expects to close a funding round in the next few weeks with some of South Africa’s “best and most experienced ​startup investors”, and has already carried out a soft launch in Cape Town ahead of expansion into other South African cities later this year.

“A major advantage has been working in a team where our skills complement each other and we understand each other very well,” Pandor said. “That has helped us overcome our difficulties, many of which relate to marketing a completely new and innovative concept in a very well established and entrenched industry in ​South Africa.”

She said they had had to deal with the challenges of operating a service startup in a developing country, such as ensuring cleaners have reliable access to transport, helping to educate cleaning professionals on the technological aspects of the platform, and dealing with infrastructural inequality, with cleaners often living very far away from suburban areas.

“Streamlining operations and logistics is arguably the most important but also most challenging aspect of what SweepSouth does, and it is something we are constantly improving on,” Pandor said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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