Pukena was launched in August 2107. As we begin a full year in 2018, we want to share a bit of the foundation laying stage of our business journey to encourage few startup founders who feel discouraged for lack of funds.
To help individuals, households and corporate organizations hire verified and top rated service providers across somes select service categories such as events services, digital services, home maintenance services, private tutorials, beauty services, vehicle serices, computers & technology, pet services and fashion & style.
PUKENA SHOULDN’T EXIST
With practically no institutional backing and no formal track record in the tech ecosystem, I saw a problem and delved in to solve it- The difficulty to hire reliable artisans by employers. I lost 2 big generators within 6 months due to bad servicemen, after spending so much money just to get a minor issue fixed. A quick opinion poll showed that 9 out of 10 persons have the same issue. I saw a need to develop a reliable database of artisans in different negbourhoods but unlike some platform like olx where you can get a painter’s contact details without much input from the management of olx, I decided to develop an accountablity structure where employers don’t only get to hire these artisans, but we ensure the hired artisan delivers optimal services under strict quality measures set by us.
Now you can easily hire a painter, even far cheaper than when you contact them directly and still get a better job satisfaction. Money well spent. That was what I set out to achieve.
THE FIRST CHALLENGE
What service categories to cover. How to build the online platform in terms of framework and complexity considering I don’t have money to hire a developer-I have to find a way to do it for free!
How do I attract and convince service providers to join us, knowing they would now be watched at every turn and possibly offer their services at a cheaper rate than the market value (30% less) and still have to forfeit up to 30% in commissions to Pukena. That’s a tall order.
THE NEXT 4 MONTHS…
Faced with these challenges, I immediately set to work. The first thing I did was to share my dear with my good friend, Ferdinand Aneke, a web developer and expert in Drupal. We have collaborated on projects in the past as colleagues in the same line of business (we both ran a cyber cafe and computer school. Infact he inspired me to open one in 2012).
Chike, as he is fondly called, finally agreed to help me get started with the web platform. He was to build the major strucure while I give flesh to it. In a month I had my website launched in August, 2017. Check it here www.pukena.ng
While the website was being developed, I spoke to another friend of mine, Chilasa Anosike, about the project. He got excited. He soon became my shadow in the early days as we both set out to talk to different service providers from street to street in Lagos. One day we walked from Ijeshatedo to Bode Thomas without realizing it!
Artisans were excited at the new opportunity to showcase their services without first paying for it.But since we are dealing with people who hardly have use for technology and internet(except the services pros in digital services category), we had to find ways to onboard them manually using printed forms instead of waiting until they use our online form. It was very tasking, as I have to start re-filling our database manually from the collected filled forms everyday! We used this method to aggregate over 200 service providers.
Some actually used our online forms to register. The vetting procedure was initially light. But I later insisted that in order to offer the best handymen, they needed further deelopment. Hence I created Pukena Academy,a 6-week intensive professional upgrade for artisans, billed to start in February.
I funded Pukena from my pocket and with the help of some family and friends. I relied on my facebook profile to get the word out there. I worked out from my house and sometimes at Chike’s Cafe to communicate with our growing commnunity. With the site launched and some services providers onboarded, I desperately needed funds. I had run out of my savings and I have almost exhausted my relationship bank account. This project either works or we die off!
OUR FIRST JOB CAME!
One morning, I checked our official email as usual, expecting an order.We got one! A website design project for a hotel booking startup. I was in cloud 9. That job brought in more than N200,000 alone. Not much for most people but for a young project like this, it was a confidence booster. It re-invigorated us and gave us a reason to believe! We soon realized it was to open more doors for us. Before long, orders started trickling in- a generator repair there, a graphics design there, auto mechanic here, floor tiling job there, and business registration contract here. At the end, we ended the year with a gross with over N300,000 gross transaction value after 4 months with over 10 jobs on our waiting list for January alone!
INVESTORS REJECTED US
Yea, to them we are not doing well enough to attract funding. Well to them. But to us, we are proud of our small wins considering what we had to face achieving that. I told my team, which has grown to 4, not to bother about external funding but we should increase traction. We have set milestones for 2018. We have raised the bar so as to push ourselves more. We want to achieve a gross monthly transaction of N5,000,000 by March and increase our vetted service providers to 10,000 in 2018. Tall order but achievable!
We are set to launch some programs in Pukena to enhance our business all round. These programs include:
Pukena Academy- designed to produce worldclass service providers fit for the kings (customers)
Pukena Referral Program (PRP)- this is one of our key marketing strategies for 2018. Read more about it here.
Sponsor a Project- This is our short-term financing strategy to encourage our friends to invest in a localized project in Pukena for a Return on Investment after 2 months. We are still finetuning the details. To be launched in February.
Pay with Paystack- We are integrating paystack on our platform to enable easy payment processing using cards, effective from February
TEAM & COMMUNITY
I have done almost everything myself since the beginning, with help from some friends as I have mentioned above. I have been careful not to hire too fast or try to scale prematurely. I rather hire for the pain. I believe now I need to, the pain is getting so much. I need more hands to do job assessment visits. I lost some jobs because I couldn’t visit every job alert. This visit are very essential in our business model.Initially I personally did the rounds myself to have a feel of the process but now, we intend hiring project officers first thing in 2018 for that purpose. We are looking to hire up to 50 project interns to accommodate for our monthly target of 100 projects by March.
Am also looking to formalize the founding team and share the management responsibilities with them this January. The office of a Chief Operating Officer is crucial now to captain the growing operational team. Soon, we would need to formalize our hiring process and have an effective human resources department to handle that.
I love to market. So for now, that will be my main role because it determines if we make money or not.
WHAT WE ARE WRESTLING WITH
Just like every early stage startup, we desperately need some injection of funds.At our level, we can only attract Family and Friend" round as against the institutional funding. Hence we are launching “Sponsor a Project” by February. We applied for TEEP 2018 and are looking forward to applying to a list of accelerator programs and early stage funders like microtraction and Ventures Platform. But to increase our chances of getting a nod, we need traction. So you see-To get money, you need to sell more, to sell more, you need money for marketing and promotion- The funny picture of early stage startups. But we will get there!
Join us on this exciting journey. Help us grow by using or platform to hire a service provider or invest in us. Africa need more startup teams to be encouraged to d more.
Happy New Year!