One in five households in Singapore now has a maid which is no longer seen as a luxury but as a necessity and a service that is relatively cheap to obtain. Maids are typically recruited from countries such as the Philippines or Indonesia and will look after your kids, clean the house, walk the dog, cook and serve your food and even look after your elderly parents. It is very common for Maid Agencies not only to charge employers a placement fee but also to require the maid to pay the agency between one and two months of her salary when she is already in Singapore, and between three and six months of her salary when she is hired from abroad.
David Bensadon wanted to make a difference and help maids who generally come from poor backgrounds and are desperate to support their families back home. He therefore founded an ethical business to disrupt what he saw as the unfair practices associated with domestic help. Here he speaks about how he got started with ‘We Are Caring’ a Maid Employment Agency, his challenges, personal rewards and what advice he has for someone who also wants to disrupt an industry and start an ethical business. Since starting the business numerous awards have been won for its ethical practices.
|PHILANTHROPIC FOCUS||Supporting maids from the Philippines and Indonesia in Singapore by allowing them to work without having to repay a loan|
QUOTE YOU LIVE
YOUR LIFE BY
There is no better exercise for your heart than reaching down and helping to lift someone up - Bernard Meltzer
|ROLE MODEL||My parents|
Why did you choose to set up an ethical business and why did you select the maid service industry in Singapore?
I fell in love with Singapore’s dynamism, its vibrant people and its multifaceted culture during an exchange year at NUS Business School while I was doing my MBA in 2014.
At that time, I was living in an area in Singapore called Bukit Timah and regularly bought groceries at a shopping mall where many maid agencies operate.
I was shocked to see so many potential maids just waiting there all day long hoping to find a job. I was not comfortable about seeing them like this; they seemed unhappy and I quickly found out that they would often have to pay huge fees if they get a job and would not receive any salary for several months.
These maids were pushed into debt by an entire industry of employment agencies and were left without any alternatives as their life back home is stricken by poverty.
Once I completed my studies in January 2016, I sold my small apartment in Paris and decided to stay in Singapore to set up ‘We Are Caring’, which is the first smart & ethical employment agency in Singapore for families and maids.
Please tell us a bit about your business and how it works
We make the recruitment process to hire a maid easier for families. We have two options: either the family can screen applicants on our online platform and connect directly with them to arrange an interview or we can shortlist candidates according to the individual family’s specifications and set up interviews. Once there is a match, we handle the complete administrative process entirely online. Moreover, during the whole employment period, we provide a high-quality customer service for which the Singapore Ministry of Manpower ranked us #1 from the top 100 agencies in Singapore on their website. This recognition is something that we are very proud of.
Our revenue model is based on a one-time fee on successful placement and so far, both families and maids are really happy with it. Therefore, instead of spending money on advertising we put our efforts towards being efficient, friendly and ethical which resulted in many customers becoming ambassadors and recommending us to their friends and family.
What gives you most joy about your business?
I am proud of the positive impact that we are able to have on thousands of families and maids by arranging a service that takes away the stress from families looking for help.
We provide an easy and transparent recruitment process, as well as assisting maids in finding a suitable employer to improve their future. It gives us huge joy to hear that a mother is relieved because she hired a great person to take care of her children, or when a maid can send money back home to support her own family only a month after being employed as she doesn’t have to pay any agency fees herself.
What are the biggest challenges in managing your business? What keeps you up at night?
Since we don’t charge the maids and we offer an affordable and high-quality service to families, we must be much more efficient than other agencies in order to be sustainable. I am constantly looking at ways to serve more customers while delivering a better service to all.
Although I don’t have an IT background, I understand the crucial aspect of having a great IT infrastructure, so I regularly spend my nights learning about platforms and automation!
The key really is to automate certain processes so the staff can spend more time with our customers.
What is the greatest lesson you have learned so far by setting up an ethical business?
When I started ‘We Are Caring’, I mainly emphasized the social impact of our business in every conversation with potential customers. That was probably a mistake. I realised after a few months that focusing on delivering a convenient, fast and reliable service was the best strategy to attract more customers and maximize our impact.
Having a first-class experience when hiring a maid ensures that more maids and families choose to rely on ethical hiring.
So far, the feedback is extremely positive and word-of-mouth does the rest as can be seen with the number of new clients we have recently taken on.
How does your typical day look like?
The day usually starts by a breakfast with the team (thanks to a French bakery at the corner!). We then handle our daily operations in the morning and focus on IT developments in the afternoon. Building a business is stressful, so I run two evenings per week around River Valley and Marina Bay to relax (I wish I could do more!). And we have a team dinner every Sunday at Din Tai Fung, a nice Chinese restaurant with excellent dumplings!
What is the aim for ‘We are Caring’ over the next three years?
Our goal is to enable ethical hiring of migrant workers on a regional level. Therefore, we want to open our own agencies in the Philippines and Indonesia to ensure we have full control over the entire hiring process to make it completely ethical.
We also know that migrant workers in the services, retail and construction industries face a similar situation as maids with excessive fees and salary deductions being the norm. That is why we plan to look closely at the scalability of our business model to potentially serve many more people.
And finally, what advice would you give to someone who is considering setting up an ethical business?
Get your first customers as early as possible. Their feedback will help you to refine your idea.
And don’t hesitate to target people outside of your usual social and business environment. If you convince them to use your solution, you have a good business case!