Top 5 tips for Middle East's FM start-ups and SMEs
Justmop.com's founders talk to fmME about the factors that contribute to the successful establishment and operation of a young business in the FM sector
Misperception about the remit of FM services is often cited by experts as a notable factor hindering the industry's long-term growth prospects.
As Nahla Nana, instructor at DREI wrote in an fmME comment piece last month, the FM sector "still faces a severe identity crisis brought forth by inconsistency in definition and scope, as well as improper positioning of FM as a strategic profession".
It appears that changing the perception of FM operations – especially soft services such as cleaning and maintenance – will require a reinvention of the role that service providers play in the delivery chain.
As Samer Hani, general manager for Cleanco’s Abu Dhabi operations told fmME this September, clients and service providers must view their operational relationship as a partnership: "Soft services isn’t all about cleaning, because the services we provide are a mix of different elements such as people, materials, tools and equipment, and technology.
"We deal with small companies on certain projects if we need their support. Every company has its own capabilities, which is why we also partner with our suppliers or other companies for service delivery, materials procurement, and so on."
On a micro industry level, the partnership framework is helped by the emergence of SMEs and start-ups in the Middle East's mature FM markets such as the UAE, where an SME economy is being developed and encouraged for mega events such as Dubai Expo 2020.
In the following pages, Ali Cagatay Ozcan and Kerem Kuyucu, co-founders of Justmop, an online cleaning service, talk to fmME about the top tips that SMEs and start-ups should bear in mind whilst operating within the FM sector.
Define your market
Kuyucu explains the market factors that led to the formation of Justmop: "Ali tried six different service providers [in 2014] for his home needs until he found a cleaner up to the standard.
"While he was talking about his experience, we had an 'Aha! We found it!' moment. There was a clear pain point: people were not able to find a reliable cleaning service provider in their first trial.
"Having built many successful marketplaces for other companies before, we decided we would be able to tackle this problem by building a marketplace where we provide our users with well-trained and five-star maid services."
The number game
Research and fact-checking form a crucial part of conceptualising small-sized FM delivery businesses, Kuyucu adds.
"We looked into the global and local markets to justify the business model and found that global online on-demand home-services marketplaces were trending," he continues.
"Millions dollars worth of investments were being poured to the industry. Having rationalised the global market, our next step was to analyse the local markets. The results left us no option but make it happen.
"The home-cleaning industry in UAE alone was $500m [approx.] market. We went the extra mile after tangibly justifying the markets and we arranged focus groups with potential users and cleaning companies in the market and conducted a business plan.
"All those factors combined together to prove that Justmop was the idea to focus on, and here we are now, leading the online on-demand home services market after 1.5 years of operations."
The funding factor
Ozcan asserts that seed funding is among the greater challenges faced by start-ups and SMEs locally and around the world, but is quick to point out how this can be mitigated with discipline and intelligent hiring practices.
"The cost of setting up a company is really high. You have to either grow your revenues really fast or have deep pockets so that you can survive until the break-even point with such high administrative costs," he adds.
"Operationally speaking, when you start from scratch, it is really challenging to come up with a systemical approach and create a self-running mechanism.
"You have to have team members with an extensive know-how in the industry, and finding those people is time consuming and costly.
"However, these factors are what differentiate a successful SME from a short-lived one. 'Survival of the fittest' applies here too."
Standardisation through demographics
Ozcan says understanding the demographics of a potential business market goes a long way in ensuring standardised service delivery – and rates.
"There is a new cleaning service provider opening every hour, and the reason behind this is local demographics," he continues.
"Expats in UAE have a high disposable income and they are comfortable outsourcing their needs whenever possible and convenient. It is obvious that cleaning is one of the most popular services, so businesses are trying to take advantage of that.
"When it comes to quality, the market had been underserved big time. When we entered the market, most of the service providers did not know much about customer service.
"There was almost no mechanism to follow up on the ratings and the customer satisfaction in a systematic way. We are replacing it and are doing our best to bring a certain standard to the market."
Kuyucu says that while large-sized FM and maintenance service providers serve select market needs, customers looking for speedy and customisable options should be among FM SMEs' top target market.
"SMEs are agile and they are able to make every customer feel like they are their only clients," he explains.
"Large service providers may have bureaucracy and paperwork to handle, whereas SMEs can follow the trends and adapt their operations accordingly over the night.
"When an SME sees an emerging opportunity, they can come with an action and adjust their operations very swiftly. From customers’ perspective, large firms’ reliability is taken for granted.
"However, when a client with a customised job requirement is looking for a service provider, they tend towards dealing with an SME for more flexibility," he concludes.