If you enjoy keeping up with the who’s who of successful tech entrepreneurs in South Africa, the chances that you’ve already heard of Sweepsouth are pretty high. Sweepsouth provides a convenient way to book home cleaning services online, connecting clients to home cleaners, handymen, electricians, and more in minutes. By bringing technology into the process, they’re modernising the domestic cleaning services industry.
Sweepsouth celebrated their 1 millionth booking late last year, so Nona Digital Co-founder and CEO Mike Scott decided to catch up with Aisha Pandor, the face behind the successful startup.
Becoming a Tech Founder
Aisha’s long list of accomplishments started with her PhD in Human Genetics from the University of Cape Town, where she received multiple awards and scholarships. If that wasn’t enough, she also simultaneously completed her postgraduate in Business Administration, where she was top of her class, as well as class president.
Aisha then went on to become a management consultant at Accenture, and was ranked within the top 3 in her peer group in the EMEA region. Looking at the evidence, it’s clear to see that Aisha will make a success of whatever she tries her hand at – but how did a doctorate in genetics become the co-founder of a tech startup with multiple awards?
It starts with a realisation
Mike has spoken to many business owners on his How to Be Moderately Successful podcast, and there’s a definite pattern in how they decided to become entrepreneurs: with a realisation that things just aren’t working for them.
“I remember I was working in Johannesburg at the time,” Aisha recalls, “and I would literally just be crying, driving in the car. And I was like, ‘you got a job, you’re working in business, you’re doing super well at work. Why are you acting like this?’ And so I ended up resigning just because I was unhappy and sort of feeling unfulfilled… When I resigned, I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
While it looks like absolute insanity to take that leap, Mike recognises this move as entrepreneurs’ intuition. “It takes huge courage to stop something, especially when you haven’t articulated exactly why,” he says. “But I don’t actually find that too surprising because I think that’s intuition.”
If you’re someone who learns from business leaders by reading their books and listening to their podcasts, we’d wager this isn’t the first time you’ve heard about meditation, instinct, and intuition in business. Tech giants like Jeff Bezos and the late Steve Jobs, for example, have attributed this aspect of decision-making to their success.
“Intuition is a very powerful thing,” says Jobs in his autobiography. “More powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.”
Test your hypothesis
“For us, anything that we do has to be a hypothesis; why are you doing this? What do you think is going to happen? How are we going to prove that right or wrong? And so with Sweepsouth, it was exactly the same.” says Aisha
She and Alan, Aisha’s husband and Sweepsouth’s Co-founder, were discussing ideas – both of them jobless and running out of money – when their nanny tells them that she’s going away for four to six weeks. Their struggle trying to find a replacement is how they came up with the idea: an Uber-esque platform to find domestic workers and babysitters, quickly and easily, while helping the underemployed find work.
“What does success or failure look like?” Mike asks. And it’s a question many entrepreneurs need to ask themselves when building a minimum viable product. How do you know you’ve proven your hypothesis? Is the answer quantifiable?
“We put together a financial plan with projections, but at such early stages of building something… If I put down five customers in the first month, how do I know that I can’t attract fifty? Or if I have to, does it mean that I failed and I should give up? So for us, it was really just, we think there’s going to be an ‘aha’ moment.”
It’s a surprising answer coming from a scientist, especially when so many others focus on the numbers. However, as Mike points out, customer experience is critical in the early stages (and all the other stages, too). If people aren’t blown away by your offering, then there’s something wrong.
As the leader, make sure that you are never the smartest person in the room.
This rings especially true when the industry of your startup is not your area of expertise. You’re going to have to do a lot of learning, even if it’s just the basics, so that you can at least understand the problem at hand. This is exactly what Aisha did, starting with a Python course. She kept learning, and then she ate some humble pie.
“I’ve stripped the ego away,” Aisha says. “There are some things that I do know, just through seven years of experience running Sweepsouth, and there are many, many things I don’t know. And if I don’t know something, even if it seems obvious, I’ll say to my team, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about… Can you explain it to me?’”
“I love it,” Mike responds. “I think the fact that you’ve taken the time to do a couple of courses in HTML, CSS, Python, doesn’t actually matter. I doubt you’re still using that stack across the board. I’m sure you’ve changed technologies many times since then, but the point is you’re prepared to go and learn as the founder and stay sharp. And I think that’s so important.”
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