With 2019 marking our fifth anniversary, we thought it would be just the time to ask our CEO, Aisha Pandor, to take a look back on the sacrifices that were made to start the company and all that it took to get it to this point.
When Alen and I started the company in 2014, it was because we were looking to answer a personal need. We were young professionals working 16- to 18-hour days and were frustrated with the idea of how difficult it was to find someone to help manage our household.
Looking back, it would be fair to say that both of us were a bit naive in the beginning and so threw ourselves into the project without worrying too much about what it might come to entail.
But even before then, there were some pretty drastic choices we had to make to get SweepSouth off the ground. Our initial capital came from us selling our house and cashing in our pension plans, something which we were fortunate enough to be able to do. Our take from cashing in our pension and selling our home and home contents amounted to a few hundred thousand rands, which all went towards paying our living expenses and business set up like company registrations, early stage paid marketing and costs like printing and rent when we eventually rented an office.
In fact Alen recently reminded me of how four years ago we’d spent the last of what we had to buy and then resell some flash tattoos (metallic stick on tattoos) just so we could live for another few months as we put the final touches on SweepSouth before we launched. It took us about five months from idea to having an initial working product, and we were intensely execution-focused.
From there on, some early capital came from an angel investor we met after winning a startup competition, which was also a great way to improve our pitching abilities. Eventually, our first investors (Vinny Lingham and Llew Claasen from Newtown Partners) brought on additional investors and we closed our first funding round, and then about a year later attracted the attention of some venture capitalists who believed in what we were doing.
Of course, as the business has grown, we’ve refined our processes and planning and included more data and insights in our decision-making. However it’s incredibly difficult to plan around innovation and building a disruptive technology, so there will always be an element of making decisions quickly as we go along and utilising the ‘move quick and fail fast’ ideology.
But actually getting SweepSouth going in terms of funding and set up was only one challenge.
Very early in the journey, however, we realised that SweepSouth needed to be about more than just helping people find someone to assist with home-cleaning. As we met more and more of our SweepStars we started to understand not only the importance of creating job opportunities through the platform, but of doing so in a way that respects the dignity of workers in the domestic space and allows them to dictate their own schedules. This realisation has become a core consideration in every business decision we make. While we’ve faced challenges along the way, we’ve made massive strides over the years. We’ve provided tens of thousands of work opportunities to thousands of women in the cities we operate in, providing income for not just them, but their dependents as well.
The awards, accolades, and acclaim we’ve received over the years is by no means anything we take lightly. But when one looks back – and looks towards the future – this work we do to enrich SweepStars’ lives is what has been and continues to be most rewarding.