GetNinjas, a local services marketplace startup based in São Paulo, Brazil has closed a $3 million Series A round backed by new investor Otto Capital, with existing investors Monashees and KaszeK Ventures also participating. The latter both invested in GetNinjas’ 2011 seed round, which raised a total of $700,000.
GetNinjas’ offers an online platform for a diverse range of professionals and tradespeople — from mechanics and manicurists to nannies, illustrators and school tutors — to advertise their services, and also for consumers to find the particular professional they’re looking for. This sort of local services business necessarily tends to be a regional operation — with a plethora of startups going after similar services offerings in their own backyards, such as Red Beacon and MyTime in the U.S. or Eruditor in Russia.
The rule of thumb seems to be that if a services transaction requires a service provider to actually meet with the customer — rather than being able to deliver a digital product remotely, as is the case with most of the services offered on PeoplePerHour, for instance – then the business tends to be more geographically bounded. Language barriers, location-specific client and service provider networks and the need to understand marketplace idiosyncrasies all play a part in keeping the startup’s focus regional.
GetNinjas’ focus is firmly on Latin America, says founder and CEO Eduardo L’Hotellier, competing in the Latam services marketplace with the likes of recomind, bougue and Workana. Its aim is to become “the Latin American player for local services,” he says — which he argues is plenty of territory to scale local services into a very big business. ”[Ecommerce/auction site] Mercado Libre built an amazing $4 billion (market cap) company focusing in Latam; I think a services player has the same potential in the region,” he says.
GetNinjas plans to use its new funding to ramp up its headcount, especially by adding more developers to work on making its platform more responsive — so that “clients and pros have a great response in great time”. It’s even looking as far afield as the U.S. to hire developer talent, says L’Hotellier, thanks to fierce competition in the local market for software smarts.
“We have a lot of things planned out to smooth the user experience from both sides (for clients and pros), and having a strong engineering team is vital to get that done with the quality and timing we want. It’s also a huge challenge, as the ‘war for (developer) talent’ in Brazil is pretty hot right now, so much that we are currently interviewing people from all over the Americas for a São Paulo job,” he tells TechCrunch. “We’re working on projects and our internal processes to improve response times and rates for the business we mediate in all of Brazil’s key markets.”
Other plans for the funding include “redoubling our marketing efforts, evaluating new channels to reach the broad base we need, and investing in the infrastructure and costs (telecoms, third party apps) we need to get those ideas to improve the user experience rolling”.
Rather than focusing in on a particular services niche — be it health or education services — GetNinjas’ strategy is to throw the services net wide, which it hopes will help it scale up the business, fuelled by repeat business as customers can use it for multiple services needs. “That, of course, also means we have a very diverse set of challenges to overcome, but we believe the advantages more than make up for them, and we can also leverage ideas and learnings across different categories,” he says.
The startup, which was founded in April 2011, is currently processing “around 30,000 service requests per month” — which are “roughly distributed throughout Brazil”. São Paulo is the single biggest location, with just under 15% of the requests, but L’Hotellier said that percentage mirrors the city’s size in Brazil. “That broad base of clients is one of the pillars of our strategy, and one we’re pretty happy with currently,” he adds.
Looking ahead, L’Hotellier says the plan is to expand to other “key markets” in Latin America, as well as continuing to improve the services offering within Brazil.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done before we get the ‘online local services marketplace’ to the level of sophistication and ease of use we want. And I believe that’s true not only of GetNinjas, but of all players trying their hand at this relatively new business,” he says, when asked whether it might look to launch additional products on top of the services platform.
“It’s still a huge, wide open opportunity, so starting shooting at other targets right now would be a waste of energy we can put towards our number one goal – to be THE solution to find local services online in Brazil and in Latin America.”