SINGAPORE: The days of searching the Internet or leafing through flyers for a plumber or painter might be gone if a new mobile application takes off.
The app, named Ovvy, aims to make it easier to get things done around the house by allowing homeowners to post detailed jobs with an asking price that service providers can bid for.
When considering bids, homeowners can see individual profiles, ratings and reviews before deciding which provider to choose. This helps them get the best deal.
“I feel that’s important to me,” co-founder Thomas Beattie told Channel NewsAsia. “I don’t want to just be allocated somebody and told this person is coming to your house.”
Ovvy currently deals in six categories of services in the domestic sector: Cleaning, moving, plumbing, air-con, electrical and handyman, which can involve painting, hanging and assembling.
Sharing Economy Association Singapore (SEAS) president Jim Tan welcomed the new app, saying that customers and service providers will benefit from the efficiency and transparency it provides.
"The platform acts as a marketplace which has resources (for) marketing and promotions," he added. "It saves time and energy so service providers can focus on their professional tasks."
But Mr Tan cautioned that Singapore's small market means it could be difficult to "sustain so many apps of such service".
"Many (sharing economy start-ups) have entered and left Singapore as it's competitive and low margin," he said.
Ovvy is not the first to offer a service like this. Kaodim and ServisHero, for example, have apps that do roughly the same, except each job is automatically matched to a service provider.
Serial entrepreneur Jeremy Lim, who has co-founded multiple start-ups ranging from a digital advertising agency to an app for co-working spaces, said he doesn’t see Ovvy’s edge in the market.
“It's a platform model based on the idea of sharing economy, which was something big a few years back,” he added. “People are moving towards decentralised networks using blockchain.”
For example, Mr Lim pointed to ride-hailing app TADA, which logs all rider and driver data using blockchain. "It's a more advanced and transparent way to operate a sharing economy model," he explained.
But Mr Beattie said he tries to understand Ovvy's competitors "really well". “We like to think we’re different because we built a platform that offers a lot of freedom and choice,” he added.
It seems to be working. Since Ovvy first went live in July, Mr Beattie said the app has ranked in the top 50 of the 200 most downloaded apps in Singapore. He said its “closest competitor” comes in at 190.
Ovvy also gets an average of 3,000 downloads a month, with half of that figure going on to create profiles. A quarter of these 1,500 profiles belong to service providers.
While the app is free to download and use, it currently charges a 10 per cent and 3.5 per cent transaction fee – on top of the job fee – for customers and service providers, respectively.
Still, chief operating officer Mia Gigandet said Ovvy helps customers get a decent bang for their buck by allowing them to compare obscure but equally skilled service providers.
“If you Google, you’re not accessing people who could maybe do your job for less, or maybe who are as qualified but don’t have marketing skills,” she explained.
But how can the customer ensure the plumber who comes by isn’t a con man or a bumbling amateur?
First, service providers who upload a photo of their identity card can get a tick on their profile showing they’ve been verified. There’s also a function that allows them to submit relevant job qualifications.
Then there’s the review system, which only allows people who’ve had jobs done to leave a review. And if customers sign in via Facebook, reviews from Facebook friends automatically go to the top.
“We’ve even caught people that have tried to make a very small payment and make a review for themselves,” Ms Gigandet said. “And we’ve deleted them. We do monitor them very carefully and ask questions about it.”
The app’s payment system also helps to prevent scams. Once homeowners accept a bid, they transfer the money via PayPal to an Ovvy account, which only releases the payment to the provider once both parties mark the job as completed.
“It’s much safer for everybody because we hold the funds,” Ms Gigandet said. “If anything goes wrong, we have a record of every single thing that’s happened – every single conversation, every photo that’s transferred.”
If there’s a dispute, Ovvy will call both parties, send someone to take a look at the work done and make a decision.
“If we cannot and both parties are absolutely adamant that our decision is wrong, we will give all the data to them to bring to whatever authority they want,” Ms Gigandet added.
SERVICE PROVIDERS GET HELP
Something else that makes Ovvy stand out is the relationship it tries to build with service providers.
If you’re not getting enough bids accepted, contact 24-hour support through the in-app chat. Someone can help re-write your profile, add more images of jobs you’ve done and even advise on a better profile picture.
“We found that really beneficial because they feel like they’re a part of something,” Mr Beattie said. “We didn’t just want to build something and step back.”
As for the older generation like elderly plumbers who might face difficulties navigating the app, Mr Beattie said Ovvy was designed to be as user-friendly as possible.
“Any question they have, we fix it straightaway,” Ms Gigandet said. “We just help them through very step. It’s a personal walkthrough for every person that reaches out.”
Handyman Ben Arman, 55, has been using the app since it was first released.
“I developed a close rapport with the admin staff and they trust me because I tell them what needs to be improved,” he said. “The app is very simple to use for those who are not really well-educated.”
Mr Arman said he’s also getting more business through the app, which is a far cry from his days of advertising through letterbox flyers and lamp post notices. Now, he bids for three to five different jobs every day, one of which will be successful.
“Last time you hunt for jobs,” he added. “Now, people look for you and they are desperate.”
But Mr Arman said the app should show a “market price” for different jobs, especially as he’s seen homeowners quoting “ridiculous” prices like S$10 for a job. "You need a minimum of S$40 depending on the job," he added, citing transport, tools and labour costs.
With price guidelines, Mr Arman said homeowners can pick based on trust, reviews and ratings. “The best man wins.”
As the Ovvy team gets more data, Mr Beattie said it is looking to introduce a feature which shows the average rate for jobs, especially as “bids can vary significantly”.
With all the verifying, monitoring and personal touches, Mr Beattie acknowledged that work has been quite demanding and time-consuming.
He said the target is hitting 50,000 downloads within the next 12 months, then raising another round of funding and adding to a team that’s only 11-strong.
One spot he’s looking to fill is someone who can reach out to governing bodies, cross-reference service providers’ qualifications with the industry and take care of regulatory concerns.
SEAS' Mr Tan said he doesn't expect regulatory concerns to hinder the app, especially as the services offered are minor tasks.
"The professional service providers should know more about the regulations and they should constantly feedback so that the platform can iterate and become better," he added.
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Moving forward, Mr Beattie wants to make Ovvy better by expanding its category of services.
He said users have suggested services like pest control and pet sitting, which still fall under the domestic sector and thus are “things we will probably implement”.
But Mr Beattie is also thinking of catering to business customers, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises, which need ad-hoc services like graphic designers, social media content creators and web developers.
And he’s keen on venturing into the lifestyle sector, with services like personal training and photography. “We’re kind of still open to (suggestions) when we really expand out of the domestic category,” he added. “It changes every week.”
Ms Gigandet said there’s no timeline as to when this expansion might happen. “We just want to make sure that we got this (domestic) sector done well before we move on,” she insisted.
For Mr Beattie, the long-term goal is for Ovvy to be a “marketplace for multiple services”. “We’re trying to create something which empowers people and provides job opportunities,” he added.