Tears of Gratitude, Multiplied 100 times over

A recent phone call surprised entrepreneur Murtala Sanni. He was listening to a grown man cry. “Thank you!” the main exclaimed. “Thank you for the work! I have been without work for so long!” The man, a freelance worker, described how he had received a paying job through Murtala’s business and online platform, Wesabi.

These tears, Murtala hopes, are the “kind that will be multiplied by 100” as Wesabi continues to connect the unemployed with work in Nigeria. Seed funding and mentoring from the African Entrepreneurship Award combined with Murtala’s scrappy determination are impacting skilled laborers desperate for work in Nigeria.

Wesabi, which means “we know” in local slang, helps households and businesses find reliable and trusted skilled freelance workers. These freelancers register on the online platform, and include a short profile about their skills. Homeowners looking for a plumber, a painter, an electrician, a house cleaner, or any other help search for a matching freelancer to meet their needs. The freelancer comes to their home and fixes the problem. Wesabi charges a commission on each interaction. The platform creates jobs for freelancers, and helps homeowners have a more efficient way to fix problems.

Before winning the Award in December of 2016, Wesabi had 950 freelance workers in its network. Since winning, numbers have grown to 3,125 and counting. On a monthly basis, up to 250 interactions take place between freelance workers and households, up from 50 interactions before Wesabi won $50,000 in the 2016 African Entrepreneurship Award.

“Trust beats skills is our business”

Wesabi meets the market need for skilled freelance workers, who can also be trusted. In the spring of 2016, Murtala’s online mentor gave him some advice that changed the way that Murtala and his colleagues developed the fledgling Wesabi. A Nigerian mentor told Murtala that “ensuring that persons contracted are trustworthy is a hurdle that you must overcome.”

“Up until that point,” Murtala says that he “emphasized highly skilled workers. That was our message. Then, a mentor advised that we should push trust.”

Murtala says now “Trust is our business, and that has changed everything.”

As Murtala passed from Round 1 all the way until the Presidential Jury in the 2016 African Entrepreneurship Award, mentors guided him along the way. Mentors encouraged him to emphasize trust. How to pilot and prove Wesabi’s effectiveness to investors. How he would effectively recruit freelancers. And, when Murtala came to Morocco for the Presidential Jury, it was a Boot Camp coach who influenced him and his pitch. Murtala muses at the memory of working with his coach and says that “He perfected our pitch and contributed to how we won!”

 

A Mentor Who Knows the Business

 

Before winning the Award, Wesabi was growing steadily; but key advice and targeted funding have helped the business increase their impact and become a trusted platform for homeowners. With $50,000, Wesabi continues to on-board more freelancers, train them, and develop Wesabi’s back-end software to handle more traffic. And, post-Award mentoring advice encouraged Murtala to develop Wesabi in two more directions: subscriptions and insurance.

Murtala joked that at times, it seems their Award mentor “knows this business more than us! Prior to working with Award mentors, Wesabi operated on a simple payment model where homeowners paid freelancers by the job. Wesabi has now moved to a subscription model where a homeowner pays a monthly fee. This ensures steady profits, and improves customer retention. Also, Wesabi needed to continue to bridge the trust gap to this end. The company now includes insurance for all monthly subscribers on their platform.

Triple the Customers

Wesabi has experienced dynamic growth in the last year. Beyond a subscription model and insurance, Wesabi has responded to the customer satisfaction driven market with a rating system. Homeowners can rate the freelancer and service they received. This incentivizes freelancers to continually improve their work to earn higher ratings, and thus more work. Their customers have increased from 250 to 900, providing more meaningful work for freelancers.

The impact of Wesabi goes beyond satisfied customers. Wesabi works with their skilled freelancers to help build their capacities. When a freelancer enrolls with Wesabi, Murtala says they first “go through a skills test.” With Wesabi’s growing reputation, freelancers know they must improve their skills to be competitive on the platform. And, with Award funding, Wesabi hired a third-party firm that trains all new freelancers in customer relations.

Murtala says “We don’t train them in their skill; we train them how to relate to their customer and deal with their clients.” Freelancers are sent in batches of 20 to a multi-day workshop on customer relations. At the completion of this training, freelancers can register on Wesabi and begin to get work.

With Award funding, mentoring, and with specific milestones through the year, Wesabi continues their journey of trust in an upward trajectory. And, Murtala hopes the tears of joy keep on coming.