‘Nobody was looking into it, and the problem is everywhere. We’d been thinking over it for a long time, and decided we should do it.’
That, in a nutshell, is why Nischay Nahata and Rajat Garodia, friends and schoolmates, started honestcollars.
If there’s one gripe about living in the big city, it’s the difficulty in finding help, whether you need someone to cook, clean or fix.
Blue collar workers are a dime a dozen in India, but access to the best is hard. It’s a disorganised and chaotic sector, so the opportunity to bring a semblance of organisation to it is huge.
An NITian, Nahata says, ‘So, initially, we discussed it over a lot of phone calls. A lot of problems like trust issues come with blue collar job sector. We thought it’s not like these people can’t be organised properly; we can give them some kind of incentive that motivates them to do better. We like using websites like Zomato, and this rating thing seems to work well.
‘In this particular sector it might work, too.
‘Then, we tried to explore the different categories of people, like cooks, maids, plumbers and electricians. We started talking to people; we’re still talking to people, trying to understand what kind of requirements and needs they have.’
The primary problem with workers is issues with timing, delays or workers simply don’t come. At the same time, good work is seldom rewarding. Currently, Nahata and Garodia want to tackle one problem at a time, starting with building a profile registry of blue collar workers in Bangalore. With focus on cooks, maids, electricians and plumbers, honestcollars will eventually look to more variety in the sector. The ratings system is still in its development stage.
Only a month old, the task of compiling this registry is pure manual work. They started with the workers they knew through friends and family. Surprisingly, compiling the category for cooks was the easiest, as Nahata and Garodia found high levels of networking in this group.
‘What we try to do is meet them personally. It’s a big number of people. We went around, met these people and tried to explain it to them – they don’t use internet, but they do have some ideas about it.
‘They ask their employers to rate them. Then, the total summary of his ratings show, and gives him an idea of where he stands.
‘We need to tackle one problem at a time. We’re thinking of how to use technology to enable them to access their profiles through easy interface, android apps, or, maybe, some centre they visit to get see their profile and ratings,’ says Nahata.
The profiling is done through information provided to honestcollars from a government ID, like a PAN card or ration card. As honestcollars is still beta testing, they've enough room to learn and modify their administration and models. This is why they’re not yet looking at angel investors, and prefer to be bootstrapped.
‘Our idea was to make this,’ says Nahata, ‘show it to more people, and see where it goes. It’s been just a month. We’ve covered half of Bangalore in some categories already, and we’ve got very good responses from both workers and the people who need them.’
Garodia adds, ‘The response we’ve got is fantastic. More than 2000 visits in total, not only from Bangalore. More than 100 users have signed up for reviews. We’ve already got ample amounts of ratings. What we have seen is that it’s not so easy to get these numbers. You have to ask your friends, neighbours.’
The focus for honestcollars isn’t on generating revenue, yet, but problem solving. So, all their resources go into perfecting the product, so it can be scaled eventually.
Garodia says, ‘A person on an average requires a number of these people 5-10 times a year, including plumbers, electricians and maids. What we can do is we can let them know what work they can get near their homes. Eventually, our focus will be to give these people modular training, like a cook who can cook according to a dietary requirement.’
Still building the database, app development is for a much later stage. In just a month’s working, the numbers, however, are encouraging.
‘Right now we have around 200 profiles,’ says Garodia, ‘and it’s up to us if we want to increase it to 200 more, but the 200 profiles are sufficient for now to develop an efficient model. By December-January our target is to cover other parts of Bangalore. By then we’ll have 2000-3000 profiles. Then, we’ll focus on marketing.’
23% of their traffic comes from returning visitors. If the trend keeps going, honestcollars hopes to expand into other cities, primarily Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi.
In the end, Garodia says, ‘An electrician or cook is as equally important as a doctor or lawyer. Even now, people in India don’t give much importance to blue collar workers. We don’t feel their importance. But, in other countries they get so much respect for their work. We want to bring them to the right position they deserve. It is important work. Without them, it won’t ever be possible to live.’
[Update: The startup has since pivoted their entire model and are currently only focusing on Home Interiors.]