Mr Liang (front row, centre) with his AfterYou FindHelper team. He is flanked by chief operating officer Jason Teo (on his left) and Teo YiRong. Standing behind them are (from left) Mr Ashley Moey, Ms Belinda Phua, Mr Kelvin Lim, Mr Henrik Lange Hovik and Ms Alicia Neo. Photo: The Straits Times
Help is just a mouse click or a tab on the smartphone away for almost any thing, from cleaning the house to walking the dog, and baby and elderly care, as providers of such service strive to stand out in an increasingly crowded space.
These service providers operate e-marketplaces – accessible via a website or smartphone app – to connect freelance cleaners and caregivers with homeowners who do not have time for household chores or to look after their dogs or babies.
A quick count shows about 10 such services now, compared with just a couple two years ago, with some of these being local expansions of overseas companies. For example, Helpling originated in Berlin, and Agent Bong hails from Hong Kong.
Growth for such platforms has also been steady. Kaodim, which has operations in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, started in 2014. It now sees more than US$3 million (S$4 million) per month worth of transactions across all its territories.
Hiring part-time help is not new to many Singaporeans, especially for dual-income households where husband and wife are working.
Mr Fitzkhoon Liang, founder and CEO of AfterYou FindHelper, said: "We saw that dual-income families are the norm in many developed cities, and those families often don't have time to do chores.
"There are also families that are looking for this kind of work for supplementary income, so we thought that this kind of a marketplace makes sense."
Before such platforms became commonplace, customers had to find service providers by other means such as via word of mouth, and make arrangements privately.
Customers could also run into problems like hiring foreign domestic workers who were working illegally on their day off, or having no recourse for shoddy work and no-shows.
Many of these platforms now conduct their own verification checks, as well as handling the booking and payment of service providers.
Mr Jeffri Cheong, co-founder of Kaodim, explained the process that his company uses: "We check that the businesses are registered with the authorities and, if the person is a freelancer, we check his personal identification details and make copies of the relevant documentation."
Some platforms also provide a mediation service, should a job not be up to scratch. Mr Nathaniel Tan, the CEO of Fuss.sg, said that the company has four client managers who handle such cases.
"Whenever we have a dispute, we hear both sides out, and come to a resolution. There are four to five levels of recovery that we can do, depending on the severity of the case," he said.
For example, Fuss.sg may send another worker down to rectify any problem, or provide a discount code for the next booking.
Dr Dianna Chang, marketing lecturer at SIM University's School of Business, said such platforms have been increasingly popular in many countries, including Singapore.
"Consumers can enjoy the same benefits that are associated with online shopping for goods," she said.
"This includes convenience, variety, better prices, and transparency. The service providers can also enjoy better access to consumers, leading to better efficiency for both parties."
However, she cautioned that service standards need to be maintained, and that the marketplaces now need to stay on their toes.
She said: "As the entry barrier is low for such platforms, many start-ups will likely enter the fields and generate fierce competition. Only the best ones will survive eventually."
The Straits Times looks at six of these platforms.
AFTERYOU FINDHELPER MATCHES BY TASK (www.afteryou.co)
AfterYou FindHelper is one of the newer entrants to the home service market, as it started only in January this year. It focuses on matching helpers to customers by task.
The first thing that users do when on the home page is select the tasks that they need performed, from a list that includes grocery shopping, ironing and baby-sitting.
Unlike many other platforms that have a fixed rate across all workers, AfterYou allows helpers to set their own price.
Customers can then filter their search by budget, which ranges from below $10 an hour to below $20 an hour.
Mr Fitzkhoon Liang, founder and CEO of AfterYou, said that some users have described AfterYou FindHelper as being similar to second-hand goods marketplace Carousell, but for home service workers.
"We don't see a lot of the other companies as direct competition, as they aren't really marketplaces but more on-demand service companies," he said.
HELP AT HAND AT HELPLING (www.helpling.com.sg)
Helpling was first launched by Berlin-based e-commerce entity Rocket Internet in April 2014, and has since expanded to more than 150 cities in Europe, Latin America and Australia.
The platform, which provides only cleaning services, was launched in Singapore in February last year. In the following month, it acquired local rival Spickify.
"When Helpling first entered the market, there was already an increasing demand for cleaning services within Singapore's fast-growing working population," said Philippe Limes, CEO of Helpling Asia.
Helpling provides cleaners for $20 an hour if booked on a weekly or fortnightly basis, or $22 an hour for a one-off session.
Customers provide their address and preferred timings, and the first cleaner to respond from a shortlist will be assigned the job.
Each cleaner is also backed by a $1 million public liability insurance policy, which covers incidents such as breakage and theft.
PICK MOST SUITABLE OFFER WITH KAODIM (www.kaodim.sg)
Kaodim's database covers everything from moving to landscaping and interior design.
It was launched in Malaysia in November 2014, and entered the Singapore market in June last year.
"Before Kaodim was founded, it was extremely difficult for anybody to hire a service provider like an electrician or a plumber. You'd have to get their number from a friend, call them up, get different quotations then compare," said Mr Jeffri Cheong, managing director and co-founder of Kaodim.
"This was an extremely laborious, time-consuming process, and we wanted to create something that could change that."
Users can find a service provider by selectingthe kind of job that they need completed on Kaodim's website, and then answering a short questionnaire about the issue.
For example, if a user needs a plumbing service, he can say what kind of fittings are affected and the type of property that he lives in. Service providers can respond with quotes, and it is up to the user to select the most suitable offer.
SENDHELPER SCREENS THE SUPPLIERS (www.sendhelper.com)
Sendhelper was launched in May last year, and is available as an app on both iOS and Android devices.
Users select the type of service that they want, and Sendhelper will automatically assign them a worker.
The fees for cooking and cleaning services are $18 per hour for recurring orders, and $20 for ad hoc orders. Sendhelper can also provide handyman, air-con repair and laundry services.
Mr Max Loosen, co-founder of Sendhelper, said that before the app was launched "sourcing good, part-time help took time and simply wasn't easy, unless you had a good personal reference or were willing to illegally use a foreign domestic worker".
Sendhelper screens all suppliers, and also provides up to $1 million in insurance coverage.
He said that 40 per cent of bookings were completed with less than 24 hours' notice.
"As a result, planning for chores has become much easier, as you don't have to plan ahead," Mr Loosen added.
FUSS.SG FOCUSED ON CLEANING (www.fuss.sg)
Fuss.sg was set up in March last year and was one of the first homegrown portals to feature an automated booking system and online payment.
Customers using Fuss.sg input their location and preferred timing into the portal, and can choose to add on extra services such as cleaning of refrigerators and ironing. A cleaner will then be automatically assigned to the job.
Unlike some other home-service marketplaces that diversify into other jobs such as handyman repairs or baby-sitting, Fuss.sg is focused solely on cleaning.
Mr Nathaniel Tan, CEO of Fuss.sg, said: "We don't focus on having many services, as then you're just becoming another Yellow Pages. For us, it's really about finding an area of expertise – cleaning – and trying to enhance the experience."
Hence, Fuss.sg decided to delve deeper into cleaning. A few months ago, it rolled out FussPro, which provides more in-depth, specialised services such as carpet and upholstery cleaning.
THE NAME'S BONG – AGENT BONG (www.agentbong.com.sg)
Agent Bong – bong means help in Cantonese – was released in Hong Kong in April last year, and began operations in Singapore early this year. The platform is an app available on both iOS and Android app stores.
Besides cleaning, Agent Bong can be used to find workers for elderly care, cooking and baby-sitting.
Customers can either select Quick Match, which pairs them automatically with a helper, or Choose Yourself, where they can select their own helper from a list of profiles.
Mr Sam Ng, co-founder of Agent Bong, said that they chose to expand to Singapore as it is a similar market to Hong Kong.
"Both cities are very reliant on live-in maids, but it's getting more difficult to hire them because countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines are more reluctant to export cheap labour," he explained.
Mr Ng added that Agent Bong is focusing on introducing certification for its trainers, by working with partner training agencies for services such as childcare and elderly care.
Written by Lisabel Ting for The Straits Times.