Cairo-based on-demand cleaning startup Mermaid’s small team has some big ambitions

In the busy times, we live today, getting help with house cleaning has become a necessity for many of us. However sometimes looking for the reliable house help could cost more time than actually doing the cleaning chores ourserlves. And it doesn’t really stop at just finding someone to do it. You also have to negotiate the compensation with them before you make them do anything to ensure that there are no surprises at the end.

A good number of people don’t have the time to go through all of that. Gehad Abdullah, a Business graduate from ‘Ain Shams University’ of Egypt was one of those people. But unlike many, she saw an opportunity in it and quit her job to start Mermaid, a startup that provides on-demand cleaning services in Cairo.

Launched last year, Mermaid is a platform that connects vetted cleaners with homeowners to provide them with a hassle-free experience in Cairo.

“I always tell people that I myself am the first customer of our platform. Like hundreds of homeowners, I could never find time to clean or to look for a trusted cleaner. I tried some existing offline solutions but none of them really worked well for me. That’s when I brought the idea of Mermaid to life.” Gehad told us.

It’s easy to think of an idea but execution obviously brings a lot of challenges, first one of them being the chicken-egg problem for any two-sided marketplace. Mermaid’s small team was aware of this and they took their time to understand the industry and learn everything possible about it before launching their services. They started with one area of Cairo and had less than five maids for the first weeks into their launch.

“For the first six months, I interacted with every single customer of Mermaid. Either I was in their homes helping our Mermaids (a term Mermaid uses for their maids) or spoke to them over phone to learn their feedback. We wanted to make sure that we offer an experience that keeps bringing our customers back to us. If for any reason we were unable to turn any of them into returning customer, we would dig deep trying to understand the problem and fix it.” said Gehad.

Their Facebook page atleast confirms the claim of great services as it currently has a rating of a 4.6 out of 5 rating from 32 reviews. Considering the kind of business they’re in, that’s a pretty good score.

The startup has now has more than 40 maids who have cleaned more than 600 homes in five different areas of Cairo. The founder works very closely with the maids to ensure they’re also as happy as the customers. Inspite of supply being one of the biggest challenges faced by the startup, their retention rate for the maids who have joined them has been fairly good, she told us without specifying the number.

Mermaid offers their services in form of four base packages and some extra services that can be booked through their website. The pricing starts from EGP 220 ($12.5) for four hours of service by the maids. There are some other startups in Egypt offering similar services but Mermaid is the only one targeting the niche market of on-demand cleaning services and their small team of five employees has some very big ambitions.

“Two years ago, we were only determined to clean Cairo, one house at at time. But having received initial traction and decent numbers in the city, we are already thinking about the region. With Mermaid, we want to provide reliable and trusted cleaning services to households of the whole MENA region and in the process create thousands of job opportunities.” said the Founder.

But it’s easier said than done. Almost all the countries in GCC have very strict regulations for hiring maids. And the concept of on-demand cleaning or house help is yet to take off in these markets, with UAE being an exception where players like JustClean seem to be doing pretty good.

Gehad who was brought up in Riyadh is aware of these challenges and does not want to expand into any new market before her startup is ready to comply with the location regulations. She also understands the importance of localizing their services for any market they expand into, as some similar startups from Egypt could not do well when they made attempts to enter new markets.

Even though the startup that is completely bootstrapped for now has had a good start, they would need to do a lot more to turn their ambition of becoming a regional leader, in this very difficult on-demand cleaning space, into reality.

Zubair Naeem Paracha
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