Three years after building, selling, and eventually having to shutter the SMS-based personal assistant service HeyKuya (“kuya” means “older brother” in Filipino), company builder Machine Ventures is back with an audacious new goal: “to create one million job opportunities by 2022 in the Philippines,” says co-founder and CEO Shahab Shabibi in a statement.
This they hope to achieve through a new platform called MyKuya. It’s HeyKuya’s younger, but in no way scrawnier, brother.
Much like its predecessor, MyKuya matches users — people who need help with tasks like cleaning, shopping, and other such errands — with service personnel.
But while the old service was free and relied on text messaging, the new venture takes the form of an app, available on iOS and Android, and lets users hire a helping hand for P49 per 30-minute chunk of work.
While pretty much everything was done manually in the old model, with MyKuya everything is processed through the app, from location-based matching of users and service providers to coordination via a chat function.
Task duration can stretch from 30 minutes to a whole day. Says Shabibi, “The length of the task is mutually agreed upon by both customer and partner. [The] partner has the ability to start and end the job and [the] customer has the ability to cancel the job once started, though we haven’t had a case of that happening yet.”
The platform can also connect enterprises with personnel through MyKuya.com/Enterprise.
Says Shabibi, “Getting access to service personnel is such a tedious process and yet we believe there are lots of amazing opportunities in the Philippines, which is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. We believe this [problem] is due to a mismatch of resources.”
Their experience with HeyKuya forced the team to rethink both the problem and the solution, and with MyKuya, their second foray into this space, they’ve decided to do things differently.
Free SMS-based model “inherently unscalable”
HeyKuya was a free SMS-based personal assistant service. Says Shabibi, “At HeyKuya, we employed a group of personal assistants that were dispatched through a centralized dispatch center that was constantly communicating with customers via SMS. There was no service charge and customers only paid for delivery fees in case there were any.”
“Of course that model was inherently unscalable,” he says.
He says that just five days after ideation, they launched HeyKuya with two basic phones that they used to contact their first customers — their friends.
But despite the limited scalability of the business model, the company experienced explosive growth. To sustain this, they started building artificial intelligence technology, which caught the attention of YesBoss, an Indonesian company that offered a similar service.
YesBoss acquired HeyKuya in 2016 but, in 2017, decided to cease operations of the personal assistant service and instead pivoted towards becoming an AI platform. The company, rebranded as Kata.ai, is currently one of the leading AI companies in Southeast Asia, says Shabibi.
The free SMS-based model posed significant limitations on scale, and by offering MyKuya as an app that charges a service fee, the company hopes to hurdle these restrictions.
Challenge deeper than initially thought
On the bright side, it looks like the potential impact could be much grander, too.
Says Shabibi, “As [HeyKuya] experienced such a rapid growth [and] faced limits on scale, and [as we] took a closer look at the underlying problems, we realized the challenge goes much deeper. We found out that underemployment and unemployment rate is at 21 percent in the Philippines and that number tends to be underreported.”
With a business model that is more easily scalable, MyKuya could create more jobs and make an impact much bigger than his older sibling ever could have.
“There is absolutely no way that we thought about creating one million jobs [three] years ago when we launched HeyKuya,” Shabibi says. With the new platform, he says they are taking “a radically different approach and solution” to the same problem.
Shabibi says that they plan to add more categories and build up a portfolio of various on-demand services as the platform grows.
“We believe in sustaining the rapid economic development that the Philippines is experiencing. [We want to] create labor mobility through data-driven decision making and tap into the potential of human capital to develop the domestic economy. [We] see this as a chance to upskill and uplift the country,” says Shabibi.
In short, MyKuya wants to help the Philippine economy thrive, one 30-minute task at a time.