RLabs launches new app to help small businesses

Bridgetown-based social enterprise RLabs, which uses technology to reconstruct communities, has launched an app to help small businesses retain their staff.

Marlon Parker, founder of RLabs and co-founder of the app, called Okazi, said he and his team thought they could use technology to help businesses that battle to hold on to their staff for long periods.

Okazi is a platform for placing salaried workers who have extra availability at other companies temporarily. The client company pays the host company, and the host uses that money towards the worker’s salary, allowing the firm to keep someone full-time instead of laying them off.

To explain this, Mr Parker used this example: “Imagine a small business employs a full-time cleaner who sets up the office before it opens, and cleans everything down after the office closes for the day. However, he has relatively little to do during the day at the office. The small business lists the cleaner on Okazi and makes him available for a few hours.

Meanwhile, a small cafe down the street doesn’t employ a full-time cleaner, but needs extra help cleaning up after the lunch rush. They hire the cleaner on demand to help out for a few hours in the afternoon, enabling the small business to subsidise the cost of the cleaner’s salary, and providing a little extra cash for the cleaner (he could get a cut of the extra work).”

Okazi started out as a purely offline test. Mr Parker and his team called around local businesses to see if they would be interested, and got a surprising response. Over a hundred businesses responded favourably to the idea. Once they knew they had an idea worth pursuing, they submitted the idea to Nextt, an idea accelerator based in New York.

They completed the programme towards the end of 2016 and won the best start-up of the cohort at Nextt.

While participating in Nextt, Okazi matched and completed over 20 business-to-business transactions worth $16 000 (more than R209 000) using only existing technologies, such as WhatsApp and Google Spreadsheets.

Now they’ve developed a web app that allows businesses to complete transactions and try and assist businesses with capacity within 24 hours.

Okazi is now open for businesses to sign up, list and hire capacity when needed and have already helped businesses earn more than $60 000 (more than R785 000) in revenue.

While the most popular type of employee on Okazi so far has been cleaning, administration and maintenance staff, Mr Parker sees potential for lots of workers, such as information technology support or graphic design. One potential business model he is especially interested in, is working with multiple franchises of the same business or restaurant.

“When people start using a word as a verb, you know you’ve landed. We are hearing people say: ‘We must Okazi,’” Mr Parker said.

By Monday February 20, a total of 180 small businesses had signed up. Small and medium enterprises, as well as non-government organisations, can sign up at