In 2014, a six-year old girl was allegedly raped in one of Bengaluru’s elite schools, VIBGYOR. The school shut operations for nearly two weeks following protests that questioned its lack of safety mechanisms. This incident triggered Praveen Agarwala, an IT industry veteran, who was then heading SAP’s cloud-based computing division, and a father of two daughters, to find a solution that could assure safe living to every citizen.
In less than a year, Agarwala put together a carefully selected team of researchers, who over a period of eight months conducted an extensive market study to understand every aspect of safety – from the individual as well as professional perspective. For instance, in a study of 10 logistic companies, each with an average employee strength of 1, 500 blue-collared professionals, Agarwala found that since the attrition rate was high, it was leading to supply-demand imbalances. Therefore, the company was running only basic verifications using government IDs as proof; no continuous evaluation or consolidating of data electronically was being done. In another study, which included 25 apartments in Bengaluru’s IT corridor area, with close to 60 informal employees (maids, cooks, security guards and drivers), none of the staff was verified.
A number of similar findings led to Agarwala co-founding BetterPlace Safety Solutions, a company leveraging technology and data analytics to restore the growing trust deficit across multiple sectors. Recently, Unitus Seed Fund, one of India’s active seed funds invested in the company to accelerate its technology development, operational capabilities, and geographical presence.
Speaking about the solutions on offer, Agarwala says, “Imagine a company hiring aggressively across all levels – from drivers to software engineers. With each employee coming on board, the company is establishing a mutually-beneficial relationship. Yet, the most important question that remains is if the company can trust the person. How does one ensure that?”
BetterPlace solves this very issue by providing a range of mobile- and portal-based solutions that ensures comprehensive profiling of every individual across five aspects – personal, professional, employment, criminal, and training. The company follows a hybrid model – technology and ‘feet on street’. In the former model, the company leverages multiple data sources such as Aadhaar, digital footprint, and crowd sourcing from social media, fusing it with data analytics to create a detailed report.
Nandan Nilekani, former UIDAI chairman said,
I have always believed in the power of Aadhaar to leapfrog development and transformation in our country. BetterPlace has been able to leverage the Aadhaar platform and utilise it for a broader social need by offering an innovative, integrated, and continuous safety as a service (SaaS) offering.
The other service on offer is a value-add, wherein the company’s designated employees go physically to do a traditional background verification, which has proven advantageous if a prospective employee is coming from another city.
Currently, BetterPlace offers four product solutions – Hire SAFE (employ the right people), Live SAFE (hasn’t yet launched, but aimed at individual safety while on the move), Partner SAFE (tenants, taxis, visitors and guests) and Train SAFE (currently in pilot mode, this is an online and offline training module enabling users to deal with issues like sexual harassment, bullying, road and fire safety) – that are a healthy mix for professional and personal requirements.
The most adopted solution has been Hire SAFE, which has also been marketed quite aggressively than the rest, admits Agarwala. It has also helped establish the company as a market-leader in verticals such as hyperlocal logistics, on-demand services, facility management, and cash logistics to name a few. Companies such as Common Floor, RoadRunnr, Swiggy and Housejoy are among the 100+ clients pan-India who are using their solutions.
Agarwala says, “The main challenge for a majority of companies is bad hiring, which results in multiple problems such as loss of assets, information, or simply a negative influence in the team.”
He further says,
Through Hire SAFE, we have noticed that, on average, at least 30 per cent of employees furnish wrong information. BetterPlace is aiming to avoid all that and our experiences with clients shows that our solutions are resulting in less attrition and higher ease in managing employees.
When asked about the company’s future plans, Agarwala says,
Ultimately, we want to reach out to every citizen. We should be the blanket solution to every industry.