When Abdul Kareem Abdulghani first arrived in the UAE, he struggled to find reliable domestic help.
Every week he tried a new company but whenever he found a good housekeeper she left and he found Googling good cleaning services or calling numbers he spotted on the side of vans cumbersome. So he set up a business that streamlined the process.
The result was MaidMe, an app that allows users to rate maids directly on their performance, which in turn allows others to find good quality help.
“It’s hard to find a maid,” says Mr Abdulghani, who set up the company in June after 18 months developing the technology. “You have to call companies because they have no online presence and when you find someone the quality of cleaning is not good.”
The app is more than just a maid-booking service though; it also rewards maids that have attained a consistently high rating with extra income and rewards such as spa vouchers or iPads.
"The maid receives Dh5 extra per hour if she can keep her rating above 4.8 out of 5," he says. "Then every quarter we will take the most highly-rated maids and give them a gift.
"It's an incentive as it's in the maid's interest to work harder so that she gets a better rating and the customers book her."
The 33-year-old entrepreneur, from Switzerland, says the goal of the app is to improve the industry not only for the customer but the maids and the maid companies too.
MaidMe also offers free software to cleaning companies to help them secure an online presence and manage their day-to-day operations; the software allows them to organise the maid’s schedule for example, as well as the drivers.
“We thought: let’s give them a tool to optimise the way they work so that they can focus on their main business, which is cleaning,” he says.
But there’s a benefit for the company too. The software also allows cleaning companies to list individual maids on the app, with MaidMe earning a commission every time a customer books a cleaning session via the app.
"The commission comes directly from the cleaning company," he says. "We don't charge any extra to the user for our service. So if the company is offering a maid for Dh40 an hour, then we charge the user the same price on our app but the user pays a commission."
Mr Abdulghani says the app now has 163 registered maids with nine companies signed up to the software. His goal is to have between 2,500-3,000 maids on the platform by the end of next year.
The company is part of a wave of online platforms linking professional cleaning services to residents seeking reliable home help - and the rating concept is not entirely unique.
Justmop.com, a two-year-old cleaning service marketplace, allows users to book regular or one-off cleanings sessions lasting two to eight hours then rate their cleaner, which helps with the “matchmaking”.
Service Market, an online marketplace that launched in 2013 offering cleaning services as well as numerous other options from professional movers to home maintenance, also allows users to book maids based on their ratings.
“We are also noticing more and more people are looking to book cleaners and maids instantly online, rather than over the phone,” says cofounder Bana Shomali, adding that the company helps thousands of customers find reputable cleaning services every month and introduced the maid rating concept earlier this year.
“Since implementing this, we have seen average quality ratings increase. Customers also reacted very positively to this idea as many people prefer to have the same maid each time they require a cleaning service,” says Ms Shomali.
But Mr Abdulghani is not fazed by the competition.
“The market is big in Dubai; there is space for everyone and the city is a good place to start and test the app,” says Mr Abdulghani, who has 10 full and part-time staff.
“Everybody wants a maid and prices here are very competitive compared to other countries. In Switzerland hiring a maid costs Dh100 an hour. Here it starts at Dh35 so it’s affordable for most expats."
Price is an important component of the app as maids can be booked by rating, availability or price - the hourly rate ranges from Dh30 to Dh45.
While MaidMe is currently a Dubai-focused product focused on cleaning, ironing and babysitting, the plan is to roll out the service to Abu Dhabi and Sharjah and eventually other countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia.
But Mr Abdulghani, a former quantitative analyst says his biggest challenge has been raising finance. While his company is part of the Media City-based incubator in5, which has provided him logistical help and mentorship, his first round of funding was raised in Switzerland with input from friends and investors.
He is preparing their next pitch now.
"Funds in Dubai want to see some traction, some numbers before they invest, so finance has been hard to get," he says.
Ms Shomali adds: "It’s good to see new players such as the MaidMe app coming into the market as it will push the market further online. The cleaning market in the UAE is very big, but it is also very competitive, so to be successful new players have to find a way to differentiate themselves from the competition. There have been many new maid apps introduced into the market over the past few years, but very few have stayed.”