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Uber platform for mechanics Fixxr wins R500k from IBM in pitching competition

Mobile car repair platform Fixxr has won R500 000 from software multinational IBM following a pitching competition last week.

The pitching competition took place last Wednesday (14 November) at the conclusion of a four-week bootcamp programme which was aimed at black-owned startups and run by IBM and the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct.

Johannesburg based Fixxr, which was founded by Curtis Young (pictured above) in April, beat six other participants to gain the top spot.

The startup qualified for the support from IBM because Young’s wife Nomathamsanqa (who works part-time in the startup providing mostly social media assistance), who is black, owns the majority stake in the business.

At current Curtis Young is the only full-time employee. Both the startup’s chief experience officer Mawethu Soga and its chief operations officer Bayabulela Jolobe work only part-time in the business.

Johannesburg mobile car repair platform Fixxr has won R500 000 from software multinational IBM in a pitching competition

As part of their collaboration with IBM, Fixxr, will introduce automated booking and ordering processes, integration with part suppliers and IBM Watson to provide intelligent systems to customers.

The six other startups that took part in the bootcamp programme were: Excel at Uni (placed second in the pitching competition), JoBoX App developers (placed third), Loyal1, iMed Tech, SmartSentials and KL Corp.

The bootcamp included modules on various business and technology topics targeted at startups, including design thinking, an IBM cloud overview, Internet of Things (IoT), the basics of UX / UI to move from MVP to a product customers want, wire-framing and rapid prototyping and content marketing for a digital startup.

‘Startup to use R500k to build API, chatbot’

Young says the startup plans to spend the R500 000 on making the ordering process for parts more seamless by building an API that allows the platform to integrate with the IT systems of autoparts suppliers.

The startup also intends to use the investment to bankroll an AI-driven chatbot that will allow the startup to communicate online more easily with customers, he said.

Young previously ran a digital consulting business and founded the platform after battling himself to find an affordable and reliable backyard mechanic. In one case he says he went through “five or six” such mechanics, some of whom stole parts of his vehicle in the process of fixing it.

He says the platform aims to service out of warranty vehicles and can offer mechanics at about 20% cheaper than what the average dealership charges.

Challenges

The platform provides independent mechanics with a way to source work and then handles sourcing of any parts that may need to be ordered.

Mechanics who the startup vet and approve, must agree to a set R400 an hour labour rate (the startup takes a 25% cut of whatever the mechanic invoices the client). This, as well as agreeing to travel to clients has been a sticking point for some mechanics, admits Young.

Another challenge has been where the repairs are carried out — many apartment blocks and townhouse complexes forbid car repairs (with the accompanying noise and oil mess) to be carried out on their premises.

But Young points out that clients are free to then arrange a repair job elsewhere — such as their place of work. In addition, the platform rates mechanics on the cleanliness of their work.

So far the platform has handled just 85 client bookings — all in Johannesburg — and had so far signed on just two mechanics (after sifting through a pool of 20 applicants) and had fulfil.

Hopes pinned on code

Young however is pinning his hopes on a code for the automotive sector published by the Competition Commission in September last year, to drive more work to smaller vehicle repairers (the code in particular aims to boost black-owned firms).

Currently vehicles under warranty must be attended to by manufacture-approved mechanics if clients are to avoid losing the warranty on their vehicles.

The Draft Code of Conduct for Competition in the SA Automotive Industry calls for drivers with vehicles under warranty to be allowed to make use of any mechanics — regardless of whether they are manufacture-approved or not.

The code is not mandatory for industry members to obey, but rather they can do so voluntarily. Young will be hoping that industry members like dealerships do so. Until this does happen, he may have his work cut out convincing more clients to use the platform.

Featured image: Fixxr founder Curtis Young in conversation with an unidentified delegates at the ITU conference in Durban, held earlier this year (Supplied)