Workshops on wheels: how tech is enabling the rise of the mobile artisan

In his TED Talk “The single biggest reason why start-ups succeed”, entrepreneur and VC, Bill Gross argues that ‘timing’ is the answer. Market readiness, he says, is fundamentally the difference between success and failure in the start-up world.

In recent years independent artisans, professionals ranging from pool maintenance to plumbing, have struggled to shrug the label of “white van man”. Rightly or wrongly, the label has become synonymous with a reputation for being unethical, poor at administration, lacking in business acumen and frankly, unreliable.

That was all until the tech industry decided to make mobile services sexy with the emergence of Uber, Zirx, Luxe and others, resulting in a critical tipping point for consumer attitudes. It is now fast becoming the expectation, not the exception, to see all kinds of services delivered on demand in a mobilised state, including those offered by tradesman.

Technology influence aside, in an emerging market such as South Africa, there is a unique opportunity lying in wait of this mobile servicing movement. A co-ordinated, or syndicated approach to connecting independent artisans across the country presents significant economic and business benefits in four ways:

1. Micro enterprise employment

In a country suffering from 25% unemployment, independent artisans can be signed up quickly since the barriers to entry are lowered by the fact that no physical retail premises are required. They quite literally operate out of a mobile workshop.

2. Local knowledge

An independent contractor with local community connections and knowledge can ‘hit the ground running’. This builds an important layer of elasticity into the business model.

3. Black economic empowerment

The new black economic empowerment guidelines introduced in May 2015 offer crucial additional points to large enterprises that appoint suppliers with a 51% black ownership status. In the world of artisans, a well-orchestrated network would place this target within easy reach faster than many existing brands with older organisational structures.

4. Startup risks

By aligning to a single brand, many of the typical business challenges faced by start-ups are in fact mitigated because the ‘hub’ absorbs the responsibility for operations, sales and marketing, freeing the artisan to focus on order fulfilment and customer service.

Syndicated or not, the mobile artisan has the potential to make a massive socio-economic impact in emerging markets where infrastructure constraints have forced consumers to turn to mobile solutions for almost everything.



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