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How Joshua Cox Of Trade-Mark Learnt To Think Like A Tech Start-Up

Local entrepreneur Joshua Cox of Trade-Mark is creating the Uber of the handyman world to formalise an informal market.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Joshua Cox
  • Company: Trade-Mark
  • Established: 2012
  • Visit: trade-mark.org 

Finding a reputable, trustworthy handyman is no easy task, and in a country with an employment rate of 25%, there are jacks-of-all-trades offering their services on every street corner. Joshua Cox is one entrepreneur who spotted a gap in the market in 2012.

With a background in social development, he started Trade-Mark, an online service that connects expert tradesmen with customers, and guarantees quality workmanship at a fair price.

It all started when he hired a contractor based in Diepsloot to do some work for him. Skilled and reliable, the man did not have the basic resources needed for business such as references, business cards and an email address.

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He struggled to find work because there was no way for him to connect with the potential market that needed his services.

Overcoming limited resources

“It’s not possible for anyone to get far without having a supportive infrastructure behind them,” says Cox.

“At the same time, I didn’t want to start another service that simply connects tradesmen to clients for a fee. I wanted to create a platform for a sustainable, socially responsible business that protects both the customer and the person providing the service.”

After working on the business model for a couple of years, Cox approached LifeCo Unltd SA, an organisation that assists social enterprises in finding seed funding.

After a successful pilot run, the organisation connected him with the DG Murray Trust, a funder of public benefit organisations, which gave Cox an initial grant of R300 000, followed by a second sum of R300 000 in 2014. The IDC also funded Cox, providing the substantial sum of R2,5 million.

“We proved that you can actually get quite far with limited resources if you are committed to the vision of your organisation,” he says. “The money has given us the luxury of time, which we are using to make sure we build a robust new technology platform for the business.”

Changing the thinking

Joshua-Cox-Trade-Mark

The focus on infrastructure was a turning point for the business, and only came about when Cox realised that he had to stop thinking about it as a non-profit organisation, and start turning it into a profitable, workable enterprise that could prosper, if he was to achieve his dream of helping people who had no other means of making a living.

“By changing my approach to what we do, the business has transformed itself from a business ‘for good’ into a tech start-up,” he says.

Here’s why that matters: Successful social entrepreneurs identify and apply practical solutions to social problems, combining resourcefulness and opportunity. The next step is to create a service that is new and innovative, and also represents a different approach to a social problem, which is why Trade-Mark works.

“There are so many exciting start-ups that have become wildly successful and they have certain characteristics in common. Uber and Airbnb, for example, were built on automated systems and processes. We are building our platform from the ground up, taking a similar approach to the importance of a robust technology infrastructure. From helping hundreds of tradesmen now, in future we will be connecting thousands of them to thousands of clients across the country.”

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One of the main development areas is the payment system, which will seamlessly enable consumers to pay for services online without requiring exchange of cash or manual intervention.

Cox’s team is also planning to automate the matching of tradesmen with clients according to geography, availability and skill-set of the tradesman.

Customer promise

Trade-Mark’s revenue is made from the commission that each client pays for the service and is based on the value of the labour.

“There are websites that supply handyman details, but the difference with Trade-Mark is that we have a strict five-step screening process to ensure that our people are trustworthy and able to provide a high-quality service. We also have public liability insurance, a workmanship guarantee, and a commitment to not walk away until the client is absolutely satisfied. That level of accountability is almost impossible to find in the construction industry.”

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Currently operating in Cape Town and Johannesburg,  has provided more than R1,5 million worth of business to tradesman via the platform in the past two years, and Cox aims to triple that figure in the next six months, once the updated platform is completed.

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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