Home services start-up UrbanClap is helping blue collar professionals in realising their earning potential, and as the operations scale up it plans to start a certification programme as well
Organising the blue collar professionals’ community is a herculean task that has never been attempted before. Plumbers, carpenters, electricians – all have operated independently and have never been bound by a charter or code. Besides, there has not been even a semblance of a work quality standard to which they can be benchmarked. That is, till now.
Skilling the handyman has acquired a new momentum, following the emergence of nearly 150 entrepreneurs who are eying the $100 billion but fragmented market for home services. Their business models range from aggregation to fulltime on-boarding, from B2C to B2B to backend support. Though just a handful of these start-ups have managed to achieve investment and scale, a new industry has indeed taken shape. While the most visible benefit to artisans is guaranteed minimum wages and perks including professional training and certification, the challenge is of availability of manpower.
Abhiraj Bhal, co-founder of Gurgaon-based start-up UrbanClap feels that in such a scenario, home services companies coming together for developing and nurturing a talent pool may be a way to counter the shortage of skilled workforce. The company has received investment to the tune of $36.60 million (`240 crore) from Accel Partners and SAIF, and is one of the three most well-funded operations (`100 crore plus) in this sector besides Housejoy and Quikr. “Three of us put `10 lakh each as seed money and set up UrbanClap in October 2014. We have had three rounds of funding since then totaling $37 million.”
In an exclusive interaction with Sourcing Hardware, Bhal depicts the current scenario in the Indian home services space and what his company is doing to bridge the skill gap.
What prompted you to enter the home servicing space? How has the journey been so far?
UrbanClap was born with the objective of creating a large tech business to solve a primary customer need in India. We realised how fragmented the local services industry in the country really was, and how difficult it could be to find and hire the right service professional at the right price to do a job. That’s why we decided to launch a start-up to solve this problem by leveraging mobile technology.
We set up this company with a passion for solving large problems typical of India. The idea was to help consumers find the best services easily, and at the same time provide a large base of individuals or small businesses with a platform to manage and grow their business. For all professionals, it is the ultimate portal to run their business, manage their reputation and become a powerful black-hole network.
Based on a few simple, intuitive questions and without any phone calls, customers get ready access to a list of service providers who are ideal to meet their specific requirements. The professionals then offer proposals that include detailed quotes, work portfolios and reviews. The two parties can chat and quickly work out the most suitable arrangement
How challenging is it to make space for a company like UrbanClap, given that you are not only competing against numerous other players, but also challenging the very nature of a highly unorganised and personalised profession?
When it comes to the product and technology that we are using to solve the problem of a fragmented services marketplace, our product is far superior. This is simply because our algorithm identifies professionals that are closest to the customers’ requirements and then presents these options, thereby eliminating the unnecessary hassle, and still giving both, the professional and the customer, the option of choice.
The second thing that differentiates our services is the promise of trust and quality. Not only do all our professionals undergo a stringent verification process, they also have to pass a quality check as well. Apart from that we also offer several guarantees and insurance for many services.
UrbanClap uses technology to simplify the process of finding the right service professional. So far companies like JustDial have just created listing platforms. The objective of UrbanClap is to go a step further and enable users to find and hire the right professional for all their needs. In essence, when choice is not a priority (eg. carpenters, plumbers) customers can go ahead and book a service on the app, and the professional will show up at the pre-appointed time. When choice and other factors come in, for instance in the case of wedding photographers, yoga instructors and makeup artists, then we match the customers’ requirements with professionals who can fulfil these needs. The customer can then pick from the choices available to her/him, directly from the app.
What process are you following as far as bringing in professionals like plumber, carpenter or electrician is concerned? What about on-ground recruitment?
The checks to get a professional on board are quite stringent, especially since they visit people’s homes. For all blue collared professionals, we do a thorough background check as well as police verification. We also take only those professionals who are married.
In Delhi currently we have over 300 electricians, plumbers and carpenters and we would like to increase this number to 2,000 by the end of the year. Overall for all cities, we would need to have at least 10,000 plumbers, electricians and carpenters to fulfil demand.
In India blue collar workers are very much unorganised, and lack of standardisation is a big issue. For building a brand in this space, quality and standardisation of services is key. So, how do you ensure quality and standardisation?
We have started with standardisation of rates in PEC categories where we have hourly rates as is the case in the west. The outcome of this exercise is that the unorganised workers have started valuing their time. We think this is the first step towards standardisation.
There is clearly a lack of skilled workforce in the segment, as stated by various industry bodies like IPA. So what are you doing to develop the talent pool? What skilling initiatives have you undertaken?
At the time of on-boarding, every provider undergoes a skill test which is conducted by an SME. Moving forward, we are looking to tie-up with NGOs to give on job training and continuous skill development. We are currently focusing on professionals who have the skill but are not realising their earning potential. Moving forward, we will start a certification programme. We are in the process of finalising a certification partner. We had also reached out to NSDC to seek their guidance and that was quite helpful.