Modular kitchens, wooden flooring, digital locks…. these and many other home improvement projects are essentially of SITC nature – supply, installation, testing, commissioning. And to achieve pan-India growth, home improvement companies must first overcome the ‘installation, testing, commissioning’ challenge. Tech-driven start-up Wify is helping kitchen brands and other home improvement companies grow by taking over the responsibility of pre-sale inspection, after-sale installation and warranty management.
Wify Technology, which is an acronym for We Innovate for You, has cracked the field services code for enterprises, its co-founder Vikram Sharma tells me. “We are providers of skilled services for a gamut of pre and post-sale operations. Through a technology-based service platform, Wify is helping kitchen brands such as Livspace and Homelane and a wide range of home improvement businesses grow.”
Sharma elaborates. “A kitchen project cannot be considered complete unless all cabinetry and hardware are properly installed. As materials become more and more technology-based, their assembly, alignment and finishing require extremely skilled and trained manpower. Therefore, a kitchen company will not be able to enter markets where it does not have dependable installation support. Wify provides that support wherever the kitchen company wants to expand.”
In 2019, when Sharma was seeking validation for his disruptive idea, he had given a preview of Wify’s services to industry leaders gathered at India Kitchen Congress. Two years down the line the start-up is servicing some 200 enterprises in the furniture, smart home, doors & windows, appliances, water purifiers, wood flooring, access control and kitchen space. It counts IKEA, Urban Ladder, Spacewood, Hettich, Homelane, HomeTown and Livspace amongst its marquee clients.
The heart of Wify’s technology platform is a SaaS-based dashboard that clients can subscribe to. “When a client logs in, he can visualise in real-time the status of all the service requests he has sent to Wify, including out for service, completed, customer feedback, pending issues, etc. All status updates are supplemented by mobile messages to the client’s service team as well as their customer. This transparency enables our clients to improve their customers’ experience significantly. This becomes their competitive advantage.”
According to Sharma, Wify is providing pre-sale inspection and measurement services and post-sale installation and warranty management services in over 60 cities. “Our wide presence is enabling our local clients to become national operators, and national clients to become local players. With Wify as a service partner they can open up e-commerce in any PIN code of the country.”
But how is Wify able to assure skilled services across so many product categories?
Sharma says that Wify’s goal is to transform blue-collar workers into highly skilled technicians. “We have empanelled over 3,000 technicians, whom we have trained and certified in various trades through a rigorous assessment mechanism. Our team size is continuously growing as we gear up to service the increasing list of clients. We have several women technicians as well on our rolls, and expect to train and empanel around 300 by this year’s end. I’m proud to say that we are the first organisation to develop women carpenters in the country.”
Wify is investing heavily in building a training and assessment infrastructure, which will allow it to continuously ramp up its team of technicians. It is developing best-in-class curriculum that is relevant today, and is allying with institutes such as Hettich Poddar Wood Working Institute and ITIs to deliver that education. It is also recruiting technicians from institutes such as Tata Strive.
Further, Wify is creating a pipeline of digital content to facilitate distance learning. According to Sharma, Wify is a first-of-its-kind phygital blue-collar training platform ever built anywhere in the world. “What’s unique about this platform is that besides assessment and training, it also provides employment, and backend support to those who wish to grow as entrepreneurs. We are the first organised trainer and service provider for the B2B segment in India.”
The standard operating procedure for recruitment at Wify involves assessment (of trade and skill level); 1-12 week training (including on the job); test-based certification; and onboarding. The program assesses the workers for their cognitive, trade-related, experience-related, soft, and tech-related skills.
“For trained members who remain on the platform Wify offers lifelong learning, providing them the latest training for their trade, so they can remain relevant and increase their earnings. We follow an apprenticeship model, to help these trainees grow in their career.”
There are nearly 300 million blue collared workers in India, of which 100 million are engaged in the building sector, not counting the construction industry. The sad reality is that less than two per cent of them are sufficiently skilled for the job they are doing. Wify is addressing this market, where per capita incomes range from Rs 70,000 to Rs 80,000 ($1,000) per year on average.
“Through our focus on skilling and upskilling we are helping to more than double the per capita incomes of blue collared workers in India. We believe that this would give a significant boost to the livelihoods of entire families, and open up several avenues for their growth.”
Interestingly, Wify does not work on a commission model, which is a norm in the third-party service industry. Instead, it offers its clients a rate card of charges, while the technicians get a fixed work rate depending on their skill level and work description. There is no disparity between what is paid to men and women technicians.
Wify’s proposition seems to have been sufficiently validated by the industry, enabling it to raise Rs 25 crore ($3.12 million) during seed and pre-series A stages, from marquee VCs including Unitus Ventures, Blume Founders Fund and Singularity Ventures, and existing investor Hepo NL. “All our resources are directed towards building a technology stack and training our growing team of technicians. We are operationally profitable and have not had to spend on advertising ever since we started operations.”
Modular kitchen installation, which Sharma considers to be among the more complex home improvement projects, is a focus area for Wify. “This industry has a large number of small regional players who operate within their limited geographies. They are unable to expand their business due to a lack of dependable installation and service support in other regions. We have built a complete service program for such companies, and this includes the installation of cabinets, countertops, appliances, sinks and faucets. We also offer pre-sale inspection and measurement services. Wify is helping kitchen brands grow.”