From ET Realty
Sarabjeet Kaur, an employee with a horticulture company in Mumbai, wanted her geyser fixed but did not know any electrician, until she heard of Taskbob, a home services startup which connects customers and service providers through a mobile application. Kaur’s problem was fixed in quick time, once she registered for the service.
However a lot of work goes on in the background to ensure that such service is delivered. The initial challenge being to convince servicemen like plumbers and electricians and carpenters of the benefits of working with unknown digital entities.
Amit Kumar, chief operating officer of Mumbai-based Zimmber, recounted how he with his cofounders Gaurav Shrivastava and Anubhab Goel went to the many housing colonies in Mumbai searching for servicemen. “We sat, interacted and had tea with the servicemen and their families so that we could understand their psychology. We wanted to connect with them and know their aspirations,” he said.
They urged the servicemen to attend a workshop, bringing along their associates, to be inducted into Zimmber. Six turned up. Kumar and team kept repeating the exercise, and each workshop had more servicemen coming in. Presently, the platform employs close to 700 servicemen, whom it calls ‘champs’.
After spending much of last year hiring or aggregating handymen and putting rudimentary systems in place for background screening, training, acquiring customersthe startups will be focused this year on solidifying their business structures, and staying alive. “The sector was a small baby in 2015, now maturity will come in,” said Aditya Rao, founder and CEO of Tiger Global backed LocalOye.
An important aspect of ‘maturing’ is ensuring consistent service quality, easier said than done when that involves managing thousands of blue-collar workers. In other words, execution the bane of Indian startups has to be topnotch. Startups also have to be able to convince more customers that it is not only convenient to use their services, but also safe to allow their men into their homes. Towards this, a lot of planning is underway.
Services startups are striving hard to put in robust systems, first to get the right people onboard. They are engaging background verification companies to whet scores of handymen, and conducting core skills tests, face-to-face interviews and behavioral tests. After induction, the servicemen undertake with customers, be on time, be wellgroomed. Housejoy plans to get established brands to train their service providers, such as bathroom fittings maker Jaguar to train their plumbers on the best way to fix a faucet. “We are also planning to have customised training modules for our service providers. Much of quality is also on reaffirmation of processes. We need to keep stressing on how to do a particular job. We would feel extremely satisfied if we ensure that 100 percent of our servicemen reach the homes of the customers at the exact said time,” said Saran Chatterjee, CEO of Housejoy, which recently raised `150 crore funding led by Amazon India.
Feedback ensures underperforming servicemen are weeded out. “If a serviceman gets less than a three-star rating for more than three times, he/ she is delisted immediately,” said LocaOye’s Rao. Several home services companies have become prominent in the past year, grabbing the attention of investors and customers by stitching together a highly-fragmented market pegged at close to $100 billion (`6.6 lakh crore) in India. But the space has become hotly contested and is set for a round of consolidation, sparing not more than two-three large companies. Which means the startups have to rush headfirst into a maturing phase to sustain.
“How do you focus on consistent customer experience? How do you differentiate the service of one brand from another? What is the customer experience differentiator and how do you define quality, what goes into it? The one who answers this quickly will be the winner,” said Prateek Srivastava, founder and CEO of Basil Advisors.
Srivastava also said monetization will have to become more intelligent, maybe by allowing established brands associate with these home services startups to get closer to customers.
“We saw lots of companies come up in the services sector in the last 12 months, mostly seed-funded. However, since not a lot of series-A financing is happening and funds are pulling back, this year I anticipate a bunch of startups shutting down,” said Mukul Singhal of venture capital firm SAIF Partners, which as backed UrbanClap. “Companies that have reached critical mass of financing and scale will lead some amount of consolidation. It will be a good way to expand teams and (fix) product gaps.”
The startups are in a rush. “This year, we want to reach 10 times the number of customers,” said Varun Khaitan, cofounder of UrbanClap. “We are also improving our speed of service to truly become ‘on-demand’. For example, a customer presently has to wait for two hours to get an electrician. We want to bring it down to half an hour. We also want to aim for a ’round-the-clock’ model.”
Many also want to expand beyond Mumbai, Delhi-National Capital Region, Bengaluru and Pune, increase the number of services to meet a customer’s every need. This would ensure that these startups do not go down the way of US based on-demand house cleaning startup HomeJoy, which shuttered in July.