Dubai-based service market for tradesmen plans to go big
Ibrahim Colak came up with the idea of mrUsta when his air conditioner broke down and he struggled to find an expert to fix it.
Realising there was a gap in the market for a reliable online service provider, he launched the platform in 2014 after just six months of market research. Today, the electrical engineer, who used to work for Nokia and Microsoft, helps make people’s lives easier by connecting them to a broad range of repair and maintenance professionals.
While he got most things right – raising millions in funding – we ask Colak where he also went wrong and where he plans on taking mrUsta next.
It took you six months to launch mrUsta. Were you ever afraid to start?
I don’t think the word “afraid” truly represents what we were going through. I think the best way to describe it is like the first time you go bungee jumping. You’re standing on the edge – anxious, nervous; anticipating what comes next. But you know there’s no going back, and you have to take the plunge. And then the excitement and exhilaration really kick in when you do jump.
Where did the name mrUsta come from?
We wanted a name that resonates across a very diverse audience. The word “Usta” has Arabic and Turkish roots, and means “craftsman” or “guru”. Think “ustaz” in Arabic (teacher) or “ustad” in Urdu (also teacher). We believe then that mrUsta (ie Mr Guru) is representative of the pluralism of the UAE.
How did you manage to raise millions in funding?
Patience and perseverance, simply. The key was to put emphasis on networking while you wait for the right investor to come along; not just an investor that is willing to put in money, but an investor that is there for the long haul.
What are some of the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs committing?
One of the hardest things for an entrepreneur to do is learn to let go – both from a business model and investment perspective. No single business model is perfect, and it will need to evolve to fit the needs of the market; mrUsta has gone through several iterations of the business model to get to where we are today. Secondly, if you need investors, you need to give up some share of your business and some decision-making. By no means should anyone give away a majority of their equity, but time and time again, I see individuals with potentially ground-breaking ideas succumb to failure because of their stubbornness to hold onto a vast majority of their company. An entrepreneur must be open to change and to relinquishing some shares.
Where did you go wrong with mrUsta? What is one thing you wish you had (or hadn’t) done earlier in your starting-up stage?
Looking back, perhaps I erred too much on the side of caution by waiting six months to officially launch mrUsta. Word of mouth plays a big role in Usta recruitment, and if we had launched earlier, the success of the early onboarded Ustas would have helped us get more on the platform.
What is the strongest aspect of your business?
Customer service. While we are a digital platform trying to disrupt the offline service market, there is no reason to “disrupt” the human element of customer service. We love talking to our customers, and we’ve noticed that our customers love talking to us.
Any expansion plans?
We’ve already done a soft launch in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and will ramp it up in the near future. We have our eye on other regional territories and are currently working on feasibility studies and setting up partnerships in respective countries.
What were some of the challenges you faced when setting up mrUsta, and what do you face today?
The first challenge was trying to find the right investors. My partners and I initially bootstrapped the entire operation, but we knew that if we wanted to grow, we needed an investor, not only to provide financing but also mentorship. Today, the biggest challenge is regulation, as the services sector is not as regulated when compared to Europe or North America. We spend a lot of time educating service providers on how to market themselves and converse and interact with customers.
What keeps you hungry?
Every single day we get feedback from customers on how much we have changed their lives for the good. That was the initial reason mrUsta was set up, to make things easier for customers. Seeing that we are living up to that promise is what keeps me motivated.