Entrepreneurship exists in every industry and sector.
Most entrepreneurs gravitate towards industries that attract young people, such as technology, media, e-commerce, and food and beverages. While few would think about traditional industries such as cleaning, there is every opportunity to tackle challenges in the space.
We speak to Daniel Thong, the young thirty-two years-old co-founder of Nimbus to find out what drives him to start and run a cleaning company.
Driven By A Mission To Uplift The Cleaning Industry
Cleaning can be seen as an unglamourous industry and one that is typically shunned by most young Singaporeans looking for work. However, Daniel has a different take on the cleaning industry and had recognised its essential nature even before the pandemic.
To him, starting a cleaning company is more than just seeking a profitable enterprise but making a difference in the perception of the industry.
“There are many jobs out there that would make no difference to our quality of life and society if they were suddenly gone tomorrow, but just one day where frontline blue-collar workers do not perform their work (like the clearing of trash), the impact will be keenly felt. Yet, such essential jobs are often lowly paid, due to the rampant sourcing of cheap labour that takes place in the industry.
This is why I started Nimbus, to change the perception of cleaning, and to make a difference by giving good livelihoods to workers in this industry through good service and more efficient ways of performing the work.”
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Challenges Of Running A Cleaning Company
One thing that Daniel did not realise when he started Nimbus was how regulated the cleaning industry is. “Apart from licensing and compliance matters, the biggest challenge by far, is hiring quality workers.”
Unsurprisingly, hiring is a hurdle as most locals would shun employment in the cleaning industry.
Instead, Daniel focused on setting up a business model and operation geared towards quality. To move beyond an ordinary cleaning company, Daniel has pushed his business to use technology and broader base offerings to provide a seamless integrated facilities solution approach. He also expanded the scope of work for Nimbus to provide a full-suite office facility management solution for every cleaning package.
Even so, this was difficult during the pandemic. Nimbus’s commercial operations were affected by the closures of offices and gyms. Many commercial clients cut their cleaning requirements, which consequently affects Nimbus’s operations.
“As a company, we made a principled and difficult choice of continuing to pay our workers in full even though the commercial side wasn’t doing so well. This was even before the Jobs Support Scheme JSS was announced. Of course, once JSS was announced, this helped to relieve the financial pressure on our business, so we’re thankful for that.
While this crisis was extremely challenging for us, these episodes strengthened our unity as a company and camaraderie. It also led to one of our most innovative periods in the company which is the creation of our housekeeping brand, Rooma.”
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Innovation In A Time Of Crisis
Daniel and his team quickly adapted during the pandemic, realising the gap in household services due to the border restrictions and work-from-home arrangements.
“We expanded our services to housekeeping during the pandemic period as 1) a way to retain our workers by giving them alternative jobs and 2) fulfil what was clearly a growing demand in housekeeping as more and more people work from home and require help to manage their homes while they are working.
This was what led us to apply for the Household Services Scheme and to hire even more workers to fulfil the growing demand.
We also created our own booking platform to create a seamless experience for the homeowner to instantly schedule a cleaning service and re-book the same housekeeping crew for their space.”
Progressive Wage Model For Cleaners
As a cleaning company that hires its workers full-time, Nimbus has to implement the wage increments according to the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) for cleaners.
During the National Day Rally 2021, PM Lee also announced that all companies who hire foreign workers will be required to pay all their local employees the local qualifying salary (LQS). As the cleaning industry is known to hire significant numbers of foreign workers, Nimbus would be affected by the proposed changes.
However, Daniel is positive about the changes.
“We have been long-term proponents of progressive employment and higher wages for cleaners , because we believe it is not only good for the worker, but for the customer as well.
I have always stated that freelance work is too precarious and there is an absence of CPF and other benefits that are important safety nets for workers so it’s good to see it now formalised under the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) which sets a fair benchmark for all firms in the industry.
At the same time, the PWM increases year-on-year quite significantly, so that is certainly a stretch goal to see if customers will accept increasingly higher prices. But I am optimistic.”
Daniel also believes that as consumers, we would have to chip in and pay a little more. While the better wages for lower wage workers are positive, the cost of higher wages will have to be shared by everyone. Quoting PM Lee’s statement, “Workers have to reskill and become more productive. Employers have to absorb part of the additional wage costs. The Government will help them with transitional support but businesses will still have to pass on some of the costs to their customers.”
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Fall In Love With The Problem
Despite the challenges of starting a company in the cleaning industry, Daniel remains optimistic for Nimbus and the work they do. For new entrepreneurs, he has the following advice:
“Fall in love with the problem, not the solution. You have to be passionate about your mission and purpose when doing business.
Because there will be too many things you will never foresee even if you have listed down all your risks and rewards, pros and cons. At the end of the day, in your toughest and darkest hour, it is your mission that will sustain you. Focus on the work.”
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