Founder's Corner: Bamai Namata of Maibeta
Hello Namata, tell us about the man behind Maibeta!
Bamai Namata the Founder and Managing Director of Maibeta Inc. He was raised in the small town of Mundemba, by a “buyam sellam” (petty trader) mother from whom he picked up the love for family, business and selling skills which he espouses till this day. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from the the University of Buea. Prior to working full time on Maibeta, he has worked for major international development organizations for more than three years but his passion for creating impact and value drove him to quit these lucrative jobs and join the Silicon Mountain community of innovative entrepreneurs. He has always been an entrepreneur at heart prompting him to take the entrepreneurial plunge in 2014 and becoming a Tony Elumelu Fellow Bamai believes in dreaming big and setting big goals that keep him working hard to catch up. Planning, hard work and consistent execution is the fuel that drives him and his team at Maibeta Inc.
In your own words, how would you describe Maibeta?
Maibeta is a startup in Buea, Cameroon which is proudly refereed to silicon mountain. Maibeta is an on-demand professional services company.
Can you give us a sense of what inspired you?
One evening in the in 2014, I had a leaking sink in my Buea apartment. I found it really difficult over the next few days, working to get a technician and even after the fix, the sink was leaking again due to the unprofessional job done by an amateur plumber. Knowing that as a paying customer, I deserved better, I decided to work on building a service platform for hiring reliable technicians so others won’t have to go through the same ordeal.
Before the start of your company how were people and businesses meeting their needs for technicians?
The usual way in cameroon of finding a technician or a handyman is quite interesting. On the streets in Cameroon, as it is in many african countries, you can find wooden electrical posts that bring us electricity. In Cameroon though, they also serve as local advertisement hubs or billboards. So you have these handymen or people offering many types of services who will print their flyers and pin them to these posts. Now when people need work done, they may go or send someone to a busy street junction to rummage through the dozens of flyers to find one that offers the services they need and contact them from the phone number provided. Many times, just like how this method is unreliable, the hired worker can fail to deliver on quality work. There is no reliability and often customers get overcharged and who’s to say if the work is done properly. We want to standardize and ease the process of getting access to reliable workers.
Can you walk us through the experience of hiring a technician with Maibeta?
When a potential client contacts Maibeta, within 30 mins to an hour we’re at their doorstep. People can book appointments from our online platform. We also offer a dedicated number for people who don’t have access to internet and those who simply don’t use it to fix these types of problems. The first meeting will be for evaluating the needs of the client and determining the resources, time and expertise that be required to get the job done. Our project manager works closely with the technician who will service that particular client to ensure the work progresses on schedule but to also that our standard of quality work is being upheld. Finally, this project manager who has very extensive experience in particular field in question, will evaluate the job to make sure it is completed thoroughly.
What is the relationship you have built with technicians who work for Maibeta?
All of our technicians work for Maibeta as freelancers. We have more than 700 technicians whom we work with. Though this collaboration is great for all parties, these technicians, for the most part operate as business owners who also want freedom and not be tied down. This way when they obtain private work on their own, they are not restricted. Our business model uses a commission based approach, between 10 to 30% that we collect depending on the job and expertise a project is determined to need after the evaluation.
What challenges have you encountered both on the side of sourcing technicians and the client side whether just consumer or businesses?
At the start of my venture, I was approached by a consulting firm asking us to outsource the handling of technicians but I declined. Down the road I realized that doing this work in house is a tremendous task. But we have found ways to make it work and have gotten a great hang of it. For the most part, we source from technical schools that are accredited to train people in different trades. Also, a sizeable number of our technicians are from the informal market and with this group we’ve faced interesting challenges. One of the questions that we’ve had to answer was how do you evaluate these technicians against a certain standard.
For the technicians who are accredited from schools, they have degrees and it’s easy to vet them. Besides learning the trade, they also learn business basics and how to treat customers. We’ve found out that technicians from the informal market lack a lot of training that is necessary to complete work for clients who expect great professionalism. It is also more difficult to vet their background. We’ve for example have had to rely on talking to previous clients they’ve done work for which can lengthen the vetting process. For these technicians from the informal sector, we conduct trainings in customer relations and business to work for the company. When it comes to strengthening their skills in their personal trade, we refer them to different programs. We do prefer however those who have many years of experience.
During the early stages of Maibeta, we also used too many resources for every job. We would send a project manager with a technician on every job. We’ve learned to empower these workers to take ownership of the whole process and have our project overlook the quality of their work before it is complete.
Finding the dedicated staff you can work with has been a great challenge as well. As a startup we don’t have as strong finances as we’d like to especially to be able to bring in the best people who in many cases have opportunities to work for multinational companies. This can wear down a team’s motivation and unfortunately can push some to move on. This goes along with the fact that finding investment for financing business growth is really difficult. At some point you need capital injection beyond what you, your family and friends can provide. Funding is a major issue.
Where do you turn to for investment to fund Maibeta’s growth?
Obviously at the beginning, the source is whatever funds you as an entrepreneur already have and then any investments you can gather from your family and friends. Traditional financial institutions also provide small loans. Early at the start of the company, I was encouraged to enter the competition for the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme organized by the Tony Elemelu foundation. We were selected as a participant which made some funds available for Maibeta but the skills and connections gained from it have been much more helpful. I received 3 months of training, mentorship. It allowed me to expand my networks and broadened my vision for the company.
From your experience as an entrepreneur in your country, do you think there is a conducive environment for young entrepreneurs to thrive in and succeed in Cameroon?
Our government has struggled to provide an inviting environment for young entrepreneurs mainly due to a lack of transparency. It used to be that just registering your business could be a costly nightmare. As a startup you lose a lot of money because you get taken advantage of due to your lack of expertise. In terms of helping companies regarding starting funds, in Cameroon those who get it are 1% of entrepreneurs. I think the environment isn’t the most conducive to startups however the government is waking up and promoting a digital revolution.
What impact can entrepreneurs have in Cameroon?
I think one of the most amazing things entrepreneurship helps you do is to inspire people around you that, they too, have the ability to create. It shows young people that they have other options. In Cameroon, many youths want to government jobs such as becoming police officers because it offers job security but obviously there aren’t an infinite number of those jobs. As an entrepreneur, I can change my community for the better by creating jobs which starts a really productive chain reaction. It must also be said that African startups need to focus more on pleasing the local markets.
What does the future of Maibeta look like?
Over next two years we want to take Maibeta to every Cameroonian city. This national expansion will help us adapt, solidify and perfect our business model. For the next 5 years, we want to take Maibeta international. We are focusing on raising enough money to grow and expand to cities such as lagos, Johannesburg and other similar hubs throughout Africa.
Learn more about Maibeta (link to startup's page on site)