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I built app after 12 years of false starts

 Sahihi Interior Builders Director Njihia Njoroge. [David Gichuru, Standard]

When Bingwa app finally launched on June 8, 2022, Njihia Njoroge let out a sigh of relief he had held in for years, throughout delayed launches.

A dream of having service providers and clients meet on a platform he calls “an area of convenience, reliability and empathy” had finally come to fruition after 12 years since he started his interior building (space planning, designing and building) company, Sahihi Interior Builders.

When a building is completed, the core and shell are left for tenants’ different requirements. To do that customisation is Sahihi’s main work.  

However, following Sahihi’s customisation of office and commercial spaces for companies, there was a need for maintenance over time, such as fixing faulty temperature regulation systems and adding coats of wall paint, Njoroge, the company's managing director, says.

The company would send individual subcontracted professionals to go and do the equipment fixes, but there was a problem.

“There was an issue for trust. We realised that a lot of our customers did not connect with the subcontracted service providers, even when it was the same professionals who did the job initially," Njoroge says.

"Such cases intensified and we were even asked to go supervise such service providers. We needed to come up with something to connect the professionals with the clients, comfortably.”

With corporate clients unable to deal with individuals, Njoroge and the team started an application called Ufundi to help onboard professionals who could be sought by the clients for the smaller assignments.

Ufundi failed to live up to expectations as it was just in the construction industry. Njoroge decided to redefine Ufundi, seeing as picking only professionals from the construction industry was not good for the business model.

Bingwa was born.

The app, still at nascent stage, brings in experts in plumbing, painting and electrical works in the construction sector.

Professionals in the automobile industry, home and dear care, beauty and security will be on-boarded later.

“We are starting with a small number that we can use to study market dynamics and app working and reception before we expand it to accommodate everyone else,” Njoroge says.

Professionals onboard themselves, with details of their operations including where they live. A rigorous vetting happens before professionals can be onboarded onto the platform.

Njoroge says that only a fifth of those who apply will be fully on-boarded. The service providers are called Bingwas.

 Sahihi Interior Builders Director Njihia Njoroge. [David Gichuru, Standard]

The professionals, unskilled, semi-skilled or skilled, upload their details on the app, including documents such as their passport photo, a copy of their national ID and a certificate of good conduct.

An Integrated Population Registration System (IPRS) helps validate documents that are uploaded by potential Bingwas.

The app will then need referees; four for the unskilled, three for the semi-skilled and two for the skilled, to back up their bid for acceptance.

Thereafter, they can upload their charges including fares, inspection fees and insurance, which are solely determined by the individuals.

After that, the potential Bingwas sign themselves up for training, which kicks off a trainer once full. 

Njoroge says the product they sell is reliability and trust, part of what is taught in the 90-minutes class. The potential Bingwas learn soft skills such as how to interact with clients.

“After they have satisfactorily completed their training, they can now be activated onto the app,” he says. “They are now Bingwas.”

The platform helps the Bingwa to save up to between 10 and 30 per cent of their earnings with an aim to buy whatever tool of trade they are in pursuit of, and once they hit the target for the tool, a notification is sent to the Bingwa and they can get the tool from a supplier who is also on the app. 

Once they have started getting clients, the professionals are rated by their clients based on their performance.

If an aggregated score of a professional falls below 90 per cent, they are inactivated and will only have to go through a refresher course, during which time their profiles are not available on the app, to be reinstated or reactivated.

When a Bingwa is called into a client’s house to perform a task, the client deposits money upfront, which goes into an escrow account. It is only upon payment that the client is able to see the contacts of the Bingwa and the two can start communicating.

After the job is done and the Bingwa is rated and reviewed by the client and has a certificate of completion, the money is released into their account.

 Sahihi Interior Builders Director Njihia Njoroge. [David Gichuru, Standard]

In any other instance, such as when the client does not like the service provider but is satisfied with the quality of work, the money is released to the Bingwa if there is no formal complaint launched by the client within 24 hours of completion of the job.

Being rated higher gives the Bingwa more job requests, and reduces the risks of account inactivation.

A lack of external funding prevented the app from being launched earlier, with proceeds from Sahihi- which had also formed Sahihi Building Maintenance to handle not-so-large scale maintenance jobs- being used to fund the app development.

But with the launch, over 45 people had already completed the onboarding process, and the acceptance ratio shows that in only a week, over 200 had shown interest.

Bingwa has partnered with security companies, fire response units and medical response providers to ensure that both clients and Bingwas are safe when executing duty. The nearest providers of such services are dispatched as soon as an emergency is reported.

Bingwa takes up 10 per cent commission of the service providers’ earnings, and will only take up a negotiated amount from suppliers after an allowance of free usage for a year.

The team, which has visited several National Youth Service (NYS) and other institutions and engaged thousands of students on navigating workspaces, is big on ensuring the Bingwa app promises security and efficiency.

“This is the first time we are getting into people’s houses. Inasmuch as we are an open market platform, and are just connectors, we will not activate anyone who is questionable on the platform. We will also have a QR code soon so that it is the exact Bingwa who has been requested by a client who is attending duty and not sending other people,” Njoroge says.

Njoroge says that Bingwa is also braced for Bingwa Mbogi, where there will be a teaming up of service providers going to do one gig.

After closed-loop tests in gated communities in residential areas and also in commercial buildings, and pen-tests, which helped improve the ease of use, security and stability of the platform, the Bingwa app is finally up and running. It is now actively on-boarding Bingwas.

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