Homing in on a service gap
ServiceMarket.com aims to stay ahead by leveraging technology to fill a gap in customer service
When Wim Torfs, then a consultant with McKinsey & Co in Dubai, wanted to move houses in 2013, he faced a number of problems, not least finding a single source that could help him compare quotes from movers and packers.
He happened to mention the 'pain' of moving to his colleague, Bana Shomali. That 'venting' session turned into brainstorming, and an idea was born.
"Wim and I noticed that while Dubai had a huge expat population, with many people moving in and out of the city, there was a shortage in the market when it came to finding trusted home services companies," says Bana.
She co-founded ServiceMarket.com (earlier known as MoveSouq.com), with Torfs in 2013 "to innovate the home services industry in the UAE".
Bana decided to fill the gap by providing a single place where anyone could find these companies easily or size up the quality of services they provide.
"We initially developed an online marketplace where people could find quotes from reputable moving companies. However, after a very positive response from residents, we started adding more and more services; and we now have more than 25 services on the site," says Bana, who is the CEO of ServiceMarket.
"We have an extensive network of more than 300 partners, including moving, home services and car insurance. In the last year alone, we had 50,000 people using our marketplace to find and book their services online with a professional home services company," she says.
Wim Torfs, who is also responsible for the marketing strategy, adds that ServiceMarket is fully home-grown and the largest online marketplace for home services in the region. "We have a focus on quality as we only partner with licensed companies, while some other sites in the region allow anyone to list their services. We also have a dedicated seven-days-a-week customer care to make sure every customer is taken care of," Torfs said.
The start-up's journey has been incredible, says Bana. In September this year, the firm closed a Dh11 million ($3 million) Series A funding round led by AddVenture, a Russia-based global venture capital firm.
"The positive response we got from both our customers and partners enabled us to expand our service offering and the locations that we cover. From the support that we received from our early angel investors when it was just an idea, to the recent funding we closed from a global VC, the support and encouragement has been phenomenal," she says.
Pavel Terentiev, Partner at AddVenture, a sector-specific, international venture capital firm, maintains the market for home and local services is a huge opportunity in absolute terms.
"We believe ServiceMarket provides fundamental value to its users, and has a proven business case. We are also very impressed with the rapid growth the team at ServiceMarket has delivered so far, and that they have become the leader in the region's online home services market in such a short time," Terentiev said.
Besides Dubai, the firm offers its service in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Doha, and is planning to expand into more cities in the region.
Bana highlights a strategy to stay ahead in the market by recognising the customers' need and fulfilling it at the earliest.
"Whatever our customers need, they will find it on our site, as we continue to expand our service portfolio. We have a large emphasis on technology and we are continuously finding ways to improve both our website usability and our partner backend portal," she says.
"The role of technology is vital in our company. As an online platform, everything we do has some reliance on technology, and that is why we spend a lot of time and money in developing the technology we use," she adds.
Bana strongly believes that her emphasis on providing the best customer service is one of the key reasons of ServiceMarket's success.
"We take feedback seriously. We are trying to create the best portal for our customers so their opinion is the one that counts," she said.
The startup is also focused in being one of the best employers in the region. "By creating an unrivalled environment for talented people and being a great place to work, we are able to deliver the best to the market," she says.
Bana says that ServiceMarket is heading in the right direction and will add more value to its business as e-commerce gains momentum.
"People are becoming much more comfortable using online platforms to make their lives simpler. Also for our partners, we provide a very efficient way to tap into the booming digital space without having to make major investments. We have dozens of companies that have been with us from the first year and that have grown tremendously by being on the platform," she says.
Frost & Sullivan estimates that e-commerce in the UAE will be valued at $10 billion by 2018. This is almost four times the $2.5 billion it is currently valued at.
"The online services market is only nascent, and we have just seen the tip of the iceberg. This bodes a very positive outlook for us. As people become more comfortable using online platforms, more and more people will understand the benefits of using our marketplace," she says.
Being a successful start-up herself, Bana advises that start-ups must be focused and quick in implementing their ideas.
"Make fast decisions and then change things when they do not work - it's better to act and then iterate rather than waste time. Also, don't do it alone. Setting up a start-up is not an easy task and having a co-founder will make the whole process much less stressful. I'd also put an emphasis on creating a hardworking yet fun environment for your employees. By creating an atmosphere where your employees enjoy their work and are comfortable, you will be able to increase productivity and develop a happy place for people to excel in," Bana concludes.