For your domestic needs, get Agent Bong (no nudge-nudge, wink-wink)
By Benjamin Cher April 20, 2016
- Launched 2yrs ago in Hong Kong, launched in Singapore in March
- Singapore the testbed for its expansion plans
THE on-demand cleaning services market in Singapore is certainly, erm, cleaning up, with a number of homegrown startups having popped up. It was enough of a lure that Hong Kong-headquartered Agent Bong also joined the fray in March.
But Agent Bong did not start out as an on-demand platform, according to cofounder and director Sam Ng.
“Two years ago in Hong Kong, we were planning to create a jobs platform because everyone needed a job,” he says, speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) in Singapore recently.
“We did some research and found out that youngsters were more interested in part-time jobs because of the flexibility and short-term commitment,” he adds.
The team had been working on its jobs platform for three to four months before it pivoted.
“A jobs platform is too general, especially for a startup with limited resources, so we had to find an area where we had the most confidence in,” says Ng.
“In the end we picked the domestic [cleaning] market because my partner and I think about work-life balance – in terms of making your home happier, that’s half the success,” he adds.
Agent Bong – not a reference to a certain type of water-pipe – was founded to tackle domestic cleaning needs.
Currently the startup sees an “average of 30 to 40 new customers a day” in Hong Kong, according to Ng, with retention rates of 30%.
Singapore has been a slower market due to the competition, he admits, but he also looks on the bright side: “If there are competitors, it means there is potential in the market.”
As for its business model, Agent Bong used to allow helpers to set their own prices, but this didn’t work, according to Ng.
“Now we are setting the price for the market – we charge about 15% to 20% per transaction after the job is completed, with no other agency fees,” he says.
Protecting homeowners and helpers
Ng (pic) claims that Agent Bong does not hire just anyone, and screens its helpers to ensure they have the right attitude and skill sets. It also helps them with tutorials and tips.
It has a customer service team to handle complaints, but is not afraid to ban helpers who do not make the grade either, he adds.
“If we receive two complaints in a row, we will talk to both sides to find out what happened – if it’s the helper’s fault, we’ll ban that person and kick him or her off the platform,” says Ng.
Agent Bong uses a two-way rating system, where homeowners rate the helpers and helpers rate the homeowners.
“Helpers with average ratings will not be able to find more jobs,” says Ng.
The startup also has an internal rating system to screen homeowners, to protect the helpers, according to Ng.
“People have different expectations and some homeowners can be quite demanding – we have been in this industry for some time, and we know what can be done and what cannot be done,” says Ng.
Just as with helpers, homeowners with consistently bad ratings will be banned from the platform.
Singapore, and beyond
Agent Bong has hooked up with welfare organisations in Hong Kong to provide cleaning jobs for the disadvantaged as well.
“People run courses teaching housewives and middle-aged aunties how to make a living, but even after they finish the courses and become competent domestic helpers, they can’t make a living,” says Ng.
When asked if a similar approach will be taken in Singapore, Ng says that talks are “on-going with town councils and the WDA (Workforce Development Agency).”
When asked why Agent Bong chose Singapore to expand into, Ng points out factors such as its location.
“Singapore is a lot more multicultural and English-based, and it’ll be a lot easier for us to expand to other countries in South-East Asia, such as Indonesia and Thailand,” he says.
Singapore will be used as a testbed to prove Agent Bong’s capability for expansion, according to Ng, but “for now, we are trying to strengthen our core business before we expand to other countries.”
He says Agent Bong is also preparing to raise a Series A by the end of the year to fund its entry into other markets, however declining to disclose its target amount.
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