Need a plumber or a handyman? These online service shops have the answer

A wave of new online platforms linking professional services, such as plumbers, electricians – and men with ladders – to residents seeking reliable home service providers have cropped up in the UAE.

Ibrahim Colak set up Mr Usta after a frustrating time he once spent without air conditioning in midsummer. Delores Johnson / The National
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It may not have been top of the business plan, but Ibrahim Colak can now cite rescuing a drone from a tree as a service offered via his online marketplace.

Changing light bulbs wasn’t either, but it is another domestic drama MrUsta has helped to solve.

The company is part of a wave of online platforms linking professional services, such as plumbers, electricians – and men with ladders –to residents seeking reliable home service providers.

MrUsta was born out of frustration after the chief executive was without air conditioning in the middle of summer one year.

“I waited two days and then the landlord said ‘you find someone and I will pay for it’,” recalls Turkish-born Mr Colak. “I made 15, 20 calls.

“Finally one guy showed up and told me ‘I can’t do these kind of ACs. Then I had a problem with my dishwasher and the guy quoted me more than the cost of a new one.”

Mr Colak figured there must be a better way, so in 2013 he and co-founders Dunia Othman, Onur Tepeli and Serhan Yazici devised MrUsta – usta meaning expert or master in Arabic, Turkish, Urdu and Farsi.

They looked at global examples of their idea, figuring how to make it work in the UAE.

“We couldn’t copy and paste, so we did a lot of studies with local service providers to understand what they needed,” says Mr Colak. “And we asked friends and other people what would be the best user experience.”

The company released the first version of its web page in January 2014 and moved to dedicated offices in Dubai Production City last December from Internet City incubator In5, having secured funding to broaden its team to 16.

The system is simple; potential service providers are vetted before being accepted and residents post jobs they need doing, having had their email and phone number verified.

Up to five relevant ustas bid for that job. MrUsta receives a pitch fee from each and a modest fee from the commissioned usta.

Customers review the completed service with providers moving up the rankings based on positive reviews.

“We focused on the main categories needed, starting with AC, cleaning, moving services,” says Mr Colak. “After moving you need a painter, handyman, a plumber, someone to hang curtains. We have auto services as well.

“During summer pest control is very active because bugs are out. In winter landscaping is popular because people want to sit in the garden.”

Where once personal recommendations sufficed, with both residents and tradespeople transient, MrUsta is a live information source that generates leads for providers.

And that, Mr Colak says, has boosted business for many of the 6,000 tradespeople, in 250 categories, on the platform. One cleaning company, he adds, has evolved its offering as a result.

“They expanded their verticals, number of employees, and are now covering the whole of Dubai – they’re growing with us,” he says.

“Many of these SMEs didn’t have an online presence. Now they can tell a customer to go to MrUsta to check out their profile, ratings, service and photos of previous jobs. We’re bringing these offline businesses online.”

Mr Colak says jobs totalling Dh30 million annually are happening via the portal, with 20 per cent per month growth. Jobs range from minor tasks to, in one case, the installation of 12,000 doors at a new-build community.

Helpbit is another emerging platform, offering “professionals for every project” and touting house painting to pet care among its portfolio.

And ServiceMarket, meanwhile, evolved out of, co-founded by Bana Shomali and Wim Torfs in 2013.

It rebranded last year to offer services through 300 providers in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Doha.

“The website initially focused on linking residents to trusted moving companies in Dubai,” says Ms Shomali, who now employees 40 people.

“After a very positive response from customers, we kept adding more services. ServiceMarket allows customers to book or get quotes for over 25, including moving, cleaning, babysitting, maintenance, and car insurance.”

Last year 50,000 people used ServiceMarket’s website/app to book services. Like MrUsta, it also presents strategic benefits to smaller operators.

“These companies often don’t have large marketing budgets or any digital marketing staff,” says Ms Shomali.

“E-commerce is quickly gaining momentum in the region, and the reality is your business will suffer if it does not have online presence. ServiceMarket solves this for smaller businesses, essentially providing a low cost advertising avenue and easily connecting them to potential customers.”

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