Welcome to another instalment of our Entrepreneur of the Month series. Each month we reach out to business leaders from across the region to learn more about what it takes to be an entrepreneur in the Middle East.
This week we are speaking with Dunia Othman from mrUsta. She shares some insight on the evolving world of smart outsourcing and how new startups are changing the way we shop for service providers.
First, tell me a little bit about yourself
My name is Dunia Othman; I am the co-founder and CMO of mrUsta; an online marketplace to find quality service providers.
I am an electrical engineer by background but fell in love with marketing and business development, and pursued a career in that. I have worked and climbed the corporate ladder from working in New Zealand for over 6 years to moving to the UAE and working for Nokia Mobile Phones for 5 years.
What was the inspiration behind mrUsta?
Unfortunately, struggling to find a service provider in the UAE is not a unique experience, it’s something most of us have faced. When I was looking for someone to hang up my curtains in a new apartment I struggled, when I needed to move apartments I also struggled.
In this region the concept of looking online for service providers is so new to us. The challenge was bringing the best solution to the region, making it local and making it work (especially considering the level of the service providers here). That formed the core goal of mrUsta.
How big is the target audience? Why do we need mrUsta?
As mentioned above, almost all expats living in the UAE need an Usta (be it a mechanic, a house cleaner, a catering company etc.) so in reality our target audience is all the UAE expats (before moving to other countries in the region).
With mrUsta the process of finding the Usta becomes seamless, whether you prefer an app (iOS & Android) or a website; you simple post a job with your requirements and the Ustas get back to you with offers and estimated costs. You don’t need to call around, ask friends etc. You have ratings for previous customers on the site, you can negotiate directly with them and you can choose the option you prefer. No middle man, no extra fees, nothing.
As for the Ustas (aka service providers) there are over 100K service based SME’s in the UAE that are our potential target customers. We currently have over 5,000 of them active on our database.
How is your Start-up changing the future of the online Marketplace services industry?
The services industry marketplaces as a concept in this region is still in its early years (less than 4 years) so we are all considered to be the pioneers in the field. Looking at marketplace trends the first ones were the cars and real estate, second hand products and more recently food delivery/restaurant bookings.
The next big wave is the services industry. The main difference within the marketplaces is the broad range of service providers in the region, not just in terms of categories but in terms of technology awareness as well as ways of doing business.
What we are doing at mrUsta is ensuring that we cater to the real local requirements and ways of working (from the Usta and customer side). We have introduced many Ustas to the online world and have provided them with customers that would not have been able to reach using their traditional methods. We are ensuring that the marketplace doesn’t only contain high-tech very big companies but also contains the smaller companies that are not tech-savvy, the underdogs, the hard workers that are not normally given a chance.
How is mrUsta different to other services marketplaces in the region, especially Egypt?
While the overarching concept of a marketplace is generally the same, the execution and the business models vary significantly.
mrUsta is an open marketplace. We do not act as a middle man we want the customers and Ustas to deal directly with each other and negotiate what suits them on both sides. We do not dictate prices, or force customers to choose from a smaller list. Of course we can advise and guide but ultimately our concept is an open marketplace.
Also mrUsta does not work on commission basis. So the costs that the customers see are the normal prices that the Usta would communicate, so there are no hidden extra costs passed on to the customers. All transactions for the jobs currently happen directly between the Usta and the customer; eliminating issues with money held in escrow, incomplete jobs, extra work required etc.
Unlike restaurants, real estates, cars etc. service fees vary significantly from Usta to Usta and from job to job. mrUsta work on a pay per lead basis (PPL) so we charge the Ustas a small fee for the leads we generate for them, not unlike Google CPC concept, but with higher intent leads and targets.
Another difference is the range of services we cover. We don’t focus on home only or moving only. mrUsta covers over 350 categories and they vary from language classes and personal training all the way to full building maintenance and office IT setups.
Founders at marketplaces often talk about the difficulties of running a two-sided marketplace; the problem of having to solve both demand and supply side issues. Did you experience these issues and how have you solved them?
That’s very true. A two-sided marketplace requires a level of balance to move forward. If you have too much demand and not enough supply, you struggle and if your supply is over flowing but there is no demand you also struggle.
What we ensured is not to launch mrUsta without having suppliers on the platform but as we grew we started to notice that we need to master the art of balancing. We have two separate teams; one dedicated to customers and one to Ustas. They sit together, they work together and they have their finger on the pulse in terms of what is missing (supply or demand) and for which categories.
So they work quickly to cover any gaps. We would know which categories need more focus in terms of getting demand and which categories to we need to push in terms of supply. None of the teams can work in isolation so we encourage them to discuss their challenges regularly so problems are resolved quickly.
What role has social media played in growing your business?
In this day and age with online products you cannot survive without social media. The main advantage of social media that we found is increasing awareness and building our brand.
Part of our strategy is to have a strong presence in the region so people can quickly recognise our brand and understand that we provide quality service providers. There’s no doubt that social media has played an important role in achieving that goal.
What advice would you give to new start-ups in the region?
I would honestly say you need to dig deep and question why are you choosing to open a startup. You are more likely to succeed if you are doing it for the right reasons.
You will face challenges, you will constantly hit road blocks and you will be emotionally tested on many levels. With all that in mind, you need to have a clear answer to the question ‘why am I doing this’? It will help you remain resilient and stay dedicated pushing your idea forward. Dedication and hard work are essential.
Finally, you need to be flexible. Listen to advice from anyone and everyone (you don’t have to act on it but always be prepared to hear it). You never know who will give you that one gem that can be your turbo button and take your business to the next level.
Have a question for Dunia? She’ll be responding to comments below and via Twitter @mrustacom. Be sure to follow PAYFORT on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for more great Entrepreneur of the Month pieces.