Fri, 26 Jun 2015

In Indonesia, finding a person to fix your leaky roof, install air conditioning units, or solving any typical chores around the house can be a pain. Few of these service providers have an online presence. Your best bet is to keep an eye out for flyers that float onto your porch or fill your mailbox. Or you ask neighbors, family, and friends for recommendations.

But even if you have a recommendation, it’s complicated. Service providers in this category often operate informally, which means they don’t abide to regular office hours and may be difficult to reach by phone. Negotiating prices is cumbersome too, because there is no simple way to compare, and norms don’t exist. Like a Tinder for services

Enter Seekmi, a startup still in its infancy but with promising potential to help sort out this matchmaking problem. Seekmi asks service seekers to submit their request through a form. It then links them up with matching providers from its database – they submit quotations directly to the seekers. Once the seeker has chosen one service provider, further discussion is taken offline. Seekmi does not handle the payment process on its platform.

Nayoko Wicaksono, Seekmi’s co-founder and CEO, expects domestic services – including household staff and nannies, which are common even in Indonesia’s middle class – to be popular. But the platform will cover a broad range, including creative services like photography and design, and masseurs, and makeup artists.

“In a way, we’re like a Tinder for services. We just make the introduction, everything else happens afterwards,” says Wicaksono.

While that’s a handy comparison, fortunately, it’s not quite true. Joining Seekmi is not as instantaneous as signing up for Tinder. Service providers must submit ID, a valid phone number and references from previous clients or employers to be considered. Seekmi follows up with all applicants manually to ensure the offers are legit. It’s a process Wicaksono feels is right to ensure quality, while still enabling informal service providers to participate. Seekmi does not ask for a tax number or company license.

Seekers, on the other hand, must fill out a form describing their particular needs. “Each type of service will get its own job. For example, if you want to hire a photographer, you need to be able to describe pretty clearly what it is you want.” Learning from Thumbtack

If signing up is free for providers, and the actual transaction happens offline, where does Seekmi take its cut?

The answer lies in quotations: Every time a service provider submits a quotation they pay a fee. This fee is dependent on the type of service they offer. For example, an interior designer would be charged more than a gardener.

It’s a concept similar to Thumbtack in the US – a company that launched in August 2014, expanded quickly and now holds investments worth US$148.2 from notable VC like Sequoia and Google Capital.

Wicaksono thinks this business model will work in Indonesia, as it will ensure service seekers only get serious offers. Service providers carry a small risk, but the fees are easily paid off once a quotation turns into a job.

To get the platform off the ground, however, Wicaksono has decided not to impose a fee in the beginning. He doesn’t have a fixed time plan for when payments will be introduced, but thinks it’s necessary to gain trust first, and prove the concept will lead to more jobs for service providers. Surprising angel investor: Justin Kan

Along with Wicaksono, Clarissa Leung and Wilson Yanaprasetya make up the founding team. They now manage a staff of five. Seekmi, launched in April, so far only has a feature for service providers to sign up. According to Wicaksono “between 100 to 500” service providers are now in Seekmi’s database.

By mid July, Wicaksono plans to be able to open the platform to customers, followed by a PR and marketing campaign.

Wicaksono estimates the service market in Indonesia to be “in the billions,” and has regional expansion in mind. Currently, there are no competitors operating with the same matchmaking mechanism in Indonesia, though some classified sites, for example OLX also have a section for services. In Malaysia, Kaodim is a platform similar to Seekmi, and in Singapore, Page Advisor offers a similar service, but charges vendors after a job is completed, not for an offer.

Besides a unique concept in Indonesia, Seekmi has other factors playing in its favor: Its founders are extremely well-connected. Wicaksono previously worked at Emtek, one of Indonesia’s biggest media companies, and this relationship has landed him a special “acceleration” program. Seekmi has office space in the SCTV tower, which is one of the TV stations under Emtek’s umbrella. The startup will also get marketing support from Emtek.

Emtek does not usually support startups this way, though it has made startup investments, for instance in ecommerce marketplace Bukalapak. “Call it special treatment,” says Wicaksono.

As if that wasn’t enough, it also happens that Justin Kan – yes, of fame – is Wicaksono’s cousin. And Mari Pangestu, Indonesia’s former minister for tourism and the creative economy, happens to be his aunt. Both are angel investors supporting Seekmi.

With Kan as cousin, Wicaksono has a direct link to the Y Combinator network and informal mentorship. Kan became a partner at Y Combinator last year. Plugged into these strong networks, I think Seekmi can be expected to get off to a solid start in July.

(Update June 25, 10.10 pm: There was a small edit to one part of the article to reflect the startup’s request not to share its projections figures for the number of expected users yet. The figures were brought up during the interview.)

Editing by Osman Husain and Terence Lee