As more and more people in Japan join the workforce, demand for domestic help has become a booming industry. TASKAJI is one company that has risen to meet this demand, providing a unique internet matching service. Mihoko Suzuki is a GLOBIS University graduate and founding member of TASKAJI. She shares her experiences navigating the ever-intensifying competition of this growing market.
First, could you explain a little about TASKAJI?
TASKAJI was founded in November 2013 and launched as a sharing economy housekeeping service in July 2014. Starting at 1,500 yen per hour (the most competitive rate in the industry), registered users can request help not just with cleaning, but a wide variety of other domestic services such as cooking and childcare. Our user base is mostly families with children.
Did you always want to start this kind of service?
Not at all—not until I entered GLOBIS. At that time, I was a secretary at a foreign-affiliated company. My own children were still small, and I found it very challenging to balance my responsibilities at work and at home. That was when I first thought that I wanted to help working moms like myself. And that didn’t go away, no matter what classes I took or how much I tried to think of other business plans.
Before graduating from GLOBIS, I started thinking about my next job. Should I join an existing housekeeping company or start my own business? Becoming an entrepreneur seemed like a pretty high hurdle. Not to mention, I didn’t have the funds or experience to draw up a business plan.
That’s when fate brought me to Sachiko Wada—a senior female entrepreneur I’d come across in a 6-month group research project. One of my GLOBIS classmates had told me that Ms. Wada was already doing the kind of thing I had in mind. I met with her and, long story short, decided to become a part of TASKAJI, which was still in its first year.
So you two hit it off right away?
In order to start a successful business, you have to have a clear vision. My goal was to help working moms, to give them more freedom. Ms. Wada had the same kind of vison. We both wanted to start with solving our own social problem.
How is TASKAJI different from its competitors?
One similar service to TASKAJI is CaSy, which automatically pairs users with housekeepers. Users can get more personalized service through TASKAJI. We allow users to search for what they’re looking for, then choose from the candidates. You can see their profiles and reviews, and set specific instructions for things you want done and by when. It’s also possible to set house rules. For example, if someone is coming to cook for you, you can specify “no mushrooms.” If they’re cleaning, you can say, “Please just wipe this" or "wash that like this.” And because you’re able to get the same person every time, they remember your preferences. You don’t have to give the same instructions to new people every time you call in help. Traditional housekeeping services are all standardized. They have a particular way of cleaning that they train their people to do—how much of something to wash, what method to use, and how long to take. This becomes less and less effective as you’re cleaning for more people in a household. There are more preferences to take into account.
Our business model is a sharing economy. Users can tailor the service closely to their own needs for a personalized service. Essentially, we offer a platform to find housework partners, not just a housekeeping substitution service.
How do you keep marketing costs down?
Well, it’s not easy, but in the beginning it simply had to be done. It takes a long time to start making a profit with a new business. We had to focus on finding ways to market for free. Publicity was a big one. Getting picked up by the media was key. We also relied a lot on word-of-mouth in the Filipino community, rather than recruitment through advertising.
Why the Filipino community?
The Philippines has a particularly strong culture of teaching children how to do housework. Young children learn it as a useful skill they’ll be thankful for later. Even housekeepers teach this to the children of the families they work for. Personally, I think it would be great if our Filipina housekeepers teach this to Japanese children, as well.
The concept of having housekeepers wasn’t really known in Japan when we started out, so we used the skill of our Filipina workers to our advantage. Later, we started to balance them out with more Japanese TASKAJI-sans. There’s a lot they can offer, too. Originally, about 90% of our housekeepers were from the Philippines, but our user base has grown to a point where now it’s only about a third.
How do you maintain quality control?
TASKAJI relies on contracts between individuals, so we have an evaluation system. Traditional housekeeping service companies can offer a quality guarantee because they train their people. We rely on user feedback. Users write reviews after receiving the service.
To be honest, if someone tried to enter the market with this business model now, I don’t think they would succeed. There’s a lot of competition, and several companies have already failed. It’s hard to keep up revenue. The biggest threat, though, would be a company like Amazon coming in.
What are your plans for the future?
Our biggest bottleneck is a lack of workers—we only have about 1,100 to meet a much bigger demand of 38,000 registered users. Most of our workers are in their 40s and 50s—less in their 20s and 30s. Lots of housewives want to work in their downtime, and actually really enjoy it. Housewives hardly ever receive complements or evaluation, but the truth is, everyone wants to confirm their value, Managing a house is not easy work! You can’t do it without experience, and it takes years to master.
TASKAJI-sans get paid, but they also receive gratitude. This inspires them a lot to grow. Some look up new recipes in order to have more variety on their menu, and others are even studying for qualifications. The participation rate for our training courses is quite high. We want to link that further to the community, both for our benefit and theirs.
*Adapted from GLOBIS Chikenroku (Japanese)