When Cagatay Ozcan first moved to Dubai with his wife Deniz in 2014, they struggled to find the right cleaner for their home.
While the difficulty was partly due to the Turkish couple's high standards, they also found it hard to find someone that was reliable and would turn up on time.
“Turkish women are picky about cleaning and will follow the cleaning lady around to check if everything's all right. We finally found someone on our sixth trial but when I called them back it was the wrong number,” says Mr Ozcan, 31, who was working for Sellanycar.com at the time.
Mr Ozcan’s predicament went on to inspire the launch of tech start-up Justmop.com, a cleaning marketplace he set up with his co-founder Kerem Kuyucu in February 2015 to ease the process of booking a cleaner in the UAE.
“We had that Eureka moment where we thought, 'OK this a very fragmented industry where the quality is not transparent, the standards are not high, the price is not transparent and on the other side of the coin, the supply side, they do not know what they are dealing with'," says Mr Kuyucu, 30, also from Turkey, who was working for car classifieds platform Carmudi at the time. "So we thought, why not give it a try?"
Justmop connects people looking for cleaning services such as house cleaning, laundry or car cleaning with pre-screened, well-trained service providers.
“We have smart matching algorithms that take into consideration parameters like the location of the customers and the likelihood of the customer booking with us again and then matching that customer with the best available cleaner in that area,” says Mr Kuyucu.
Nearly five years on and the company is on track to receive 100,000 bookings a month across the six GCC countries it operates by the end of March. It expanded to its sixth market, Saudi Arabia, in November last year as it looks to digitalise the country’s $1.2 billion (Dh4.4bn) home cleaning sector, by providing a smoother and more transparent customer experience.
While 80 per cent of its bookings currently come from the UAE, the pilot of their services in Jeddah last year saw the Saudi city become the second-biggest market for the company, accounting for 15 per cent of all orders within three months. The company quickly expanded to the Saudi capital Riyadh, accepting their first cleaning requests in the city last month.
While Justmop initially started as a pure marketplace model, receiving requests and matching them to a service provider, the founders later pivoted to a managed marketplace model to ensure they “owned the whole value chain”.
This means they train every cleaning crew member listed on their platform, sending them to their training centre – a 20-bedroom villa in Ajman filled with different floor types and equipment such as washing machines and dishwashers –to teach the staff how to clean properly.
The cleaners are then given access to an app to stay on top of their bookings, track how much they earn and communicate directly with the customers whose houses they are set to clean.
Meanwhile, customers using the app can see where the cleaners are and what time a job was started and finished.
“We do not employ the cleaners but we work with manpower and cleaning companies and then provide the training, the technology, the uniforms and the cleaning equipment for free,” says Mr Kuyucu.
The company also offers an incentive programme, rewarding cleaners with an additional 25 per cent of their base salary if they hit certain milestones such as the number of hours worked and higher ratings.
To guarantee the cleaners are well looked after, Justmop interviews the cleaning companies and each cleaner before onboarding a new partner. It also checks visas and living conditions to ensure they are compliant with the regulatory authorities.
Justmop has partnered with 450 cleaning companies and handed out bookings to at least 10,000 cleaners since it first went live. It has 7,000 cleaners listed on the platform.
To monetise their concept, the company charges commission on completed appointments, with about 30 per cent going to Justmop and 70 per cent to the partner. The hourly rate is Dh34 an hour in the UAE for one-off cleaning and Dh30 an hour for those booking a weekly clean.
"When we started back in 2014, it was Dh40 an hour. Then in 2018, VAT came into the picture but despite that prices were 15 per cent down. This was mainly due to the competition and clients looking for quality service at affordable prices," says Mr Kuyucu.
The founders first met in 2012 when they both worked for Rocket Internet in Turkey.
“It was kind of like magic at first sight. We just like clicked and basically promised each other we would start up something together,” says Mr Kuyucu.
When Rocket Internet closed its operations in Turkey in 2012, the pair accepted jobs elsewhere before meeting up again with different roles in Dubai.
While their venture started with only the two founders working in Starbucks, today they have 55 staff members from 13 countries spread across the nations they operate in, including in their native Turkey.
To fund the start-up, the company received $500,000 from Oak Capital, the investment vehicle of Turkish investor Nevzat Aydin, in December 2015 in an angel round. The company did not disclose the amounts for its second seed round in March 2017 and the Series A round in November 2019 with Istanbul's Collective Spark and Kuwait's Faith Capital Holding, along with all existing investors.
After initially targeting Dubai, the company expanded to Abu Dhabi in 2016, followed by Sharjah before taking their concept across the GCC.
“The end game was always to be all over the GCC, but we knew the UAE and Saudi Arabia were going to be our two main markets,” says Mr Kuyucu. "We expect Saudi to catch up with the UAE in less than two years if not faster."
So what’s next?
“There is not a single destination where we are going to exit and then become millionaires. But of course further geographical expansion is next,” says Mr Kuyucu.
The company's ultimate goal is to become the "super app" of the region for any services related to cleaning.
"We are going to licence our technology and find different partners all over the world to make us just not only the Careem of cleaning but the Uber of cleaning so that we can start consolidation," says Mr Kuyucu.
So how will they make this happen?
"One, we are going to continue investing heavily on quality. Two, we are going to scale the Saudi operations to the same level as the UAE and three, we are going to scale the other verticals starting from dry cleaning and the car wash," Mr Kuyucu adds.
"With Saudi Arabia in the picture, we are quite confident we can make this company at least 10 times as big as it is now in the next three years and we are going to need fuel [in the form of funding] in the next 12 months to make it happen."
Q&A: Justmop.com founders Cagatay Ozcan and Kerem Kuyucu
What is your ultimate goal?
KK: We are not only touching the lives of the people that we serve, but we also touch the lives of the cleaners we assign jobs to. When you hear stories from your cleaners that they can send more money back home to help their families get better healthcare or help their kids get a better education it makes us feel good. All those success stories are byproducts of building a healthy business.
What does building a healthy business mean to you?
KK: In our case, it's making sure we ace our main vertical, which is home cleaning and we do it with this managed marketplace model where we control the full value chain by giving the cleaners our five layers. The first layer is training, the second technology and the third the Justmop uniform so that they feel a part of the family. The fourth layer is the cleaning equipment that we provide and the fifth, the most important one, is the incentive programme where we offer financial support.
What has been your biggest challenge?
CO: Opening a bank account and the administrative stuff. It has been a nightmare since the beginning.
KK: Banks scrutinise every business meticulously. And we are from a different country and [when we first started] we did not have any record with the banks. So they have to go above and beyond with their questions.
Any other hurdles?
CO: Finding good talent in a timely manner in the region is super-important. Because we are a start-up, we are trying to give everything that we have so trying to find like-minded people to join our family has been one of the hardest things.
If you could start all over again, what would you do differently?
CO: We would start with the managed marketplace model from day one.
KK: Yes, if we had owned the value chain from day one, we would have had higher customer retention, higher revenue and we would basically be dominating the market.
What other start-ups do you admire?
KK: I like the Front app because of the transparency level — their product road map is public for everyone to see — and the pain point it solves is very relevant to us. It helps businesses manage their emails and we receive hundreds of emails every day and it's really hard to organise them.
CO: I like Lambda school, a coding school that teaches students the necessary set of skills to work at companies like Facebook and Google. They only charge students once they find a job opportunity and start earning.