Start-ups giving cleaning agencies a run for their money

SINGAPORE - Looking for spring cleaning or home repair help ahead of Chinese New Year?

Home owners now have more to choose from, with the entry of several home-grown start-ups that allow consumers to hire cleaners or handymen with a few clicks.

At newcomers Kluje and Fixit.sg, home owners are matched with contractors for plumbing, electrical works, air-con maintenance and other repair services.

Instead of calling up contractors individually, users fill in their job requirements on the websites. These are then shared with contractors partnered with the sites.

Kluje lets home owners post jobs on the website as well as give feedback on contractors' work. It has about 500 contractors in its database and almost 3,000 users, said founder Jamey Merkel, 40.

Another Singapore-based start-up, Fixit.sg, has been tested with about 2,000 users after a soft launch last March, said founder Ramkumar Govindarajan, 23.

Tech-savvy outfits like ProperHands and Spickify have entered the cleaning business too.

A co-founder of ProperHands, Mr Wayne Soh, 29, hit upon the idea after he had to hire the services of cleaners, plumbers, electricians and locksmiths at a hostel for entrepreneurs that he runs.

Every time he engaged someone, "there were bound to be problems", he said.

"This led us to think about what we can do to improve the communication between home owners and service providers."

He said ProperHands matches customer requests with its cleaner database to make sure the skillset, preferences and timings align.

"We also pull travelling time data from Google maps to recommend suitable cleaners," he said.

Google employee Hu Shunjie, 32, decided to hire a part-time maid via ProperHands as he did not want to pay an upfront fee to a cleaning agency.

The father of a six-month-old baby said it took 10 minutes to make a booking, and having a part-time cleaner has helped him and his wife to cope.

The new entrants offer a more transparent cost structure with no upfront fees. ProperHands and Spickify charge an average of $18 an hour.

In comparison, existing cleaning companies can have more complicated cost charges. For example, those that operate as matching agencies usually charge an upfront fee of a few hundred dollars. The home owners then pay $15 to $17 per hour to the cleaner they are matched with.

Some others operate as cleaning companies and hire cleaners as employees. These typically charge by the month, and may require customers to sign a long-term contract.

Competition in this sector is likely to get stiffer. Helpling, a similar service already in Europe and Australia, looks to be expanding to Singapore, according to an online advertisement for a marketing manager by the firm. It did not wish to comment when asked.

Mr Ong Pang Yang, 32, manager of 10-year-old cleaning company MopSquad, was unfazed by the newcomers: "Each company has their own marketing strategy, I don't think they will be a threat."

chuimin@sph.com.sg