This Mumbai-based platform helps companies hire reliable and trusted industry experts for their projects.
Shivakumar was in a dilemma. The 49-year-old marketing professional was wondering whether he should look at another job shift or take up consultancy. If it was the latter, then there arose a problem – how to look for organisations that required his help or consultancy services.
Fifty-year-old Shailesh Kantak faced the same quandary in 2010. The professional with experience in sales and marketing in the telecom industry was in between jobs, and considering options of either continuing his corporate journey or starting out as a consultant.
“It was during this time that I thought of an organised digital platform for independent professionals. However, the original idea was that of a networking/community platform that would serve to simply connect independent professionals,” says Shailesh, who launched Flexiventures in 2014.
Working along the idea
While researching trends in this space, Shailesh realised that the work ecosystem was transforming thanks to technology, and organisations were gearing up to align to this shift. Independent work was being adopted by both organisations and professionals.
After interacting with different people, he decided to start FlexiPort, a platform that helps companies hire reliable and trusted industry experts for their projects. He also discussed the idea with his ex-colleagues, following which, two of them evinced interest and expressed a desire to be a part of this venture.
Building the team and platform
Shailesh brought onboard his colleagues and friends Jeetendra Korde and Samdeep Das as co-founders and directors of the company. Since mentorship was an important part of the project, the team recruited Ajay Hiraskar and Chandni Sahgal, startup mentors based out of Pune.
Users generally register on FlexiPort as either work providers or individual users for free. Post that, they can choose from different membership plans – free or premium.
Work providers can also post their projects on the platform by filling out a form. This allows for each project to be curated before going live. Once approved, an algorithm notifies appropriate service providers via email and SMS, of the project relevant to their skill set.
They can now choose to apply to the project, initiating a screening process for the work providers. They will evaluate each applicant, connect directly and then hire.
Premium Membership for work providers comes with account management support. These include sourcing of service providers for the project, detailed due diligence of the applicants, a XPert-Match score for profile suitability and project management support, once the project begins.
Other premium features for service providers include, networking, posting a service and generation of business leads, showcasing work by creating a portfolio microsite and contact details.
However, the task wasn’t easy, the team had to build the platform without a techie. Shailesh explains: “The process was long and arduous, one that involved hiring a group of developers from Pune to build a prototype with basic features. It was then assessed by professionals from diverse backgrounds, all people known to us. Their feedback was sought, and the platform was further modified.”
“This cycle was tested around two to three times to ensure all feedback had been incorporated and the portal provided the services sought by prospective users. The iteration process took over six to eight months,” explains Shailesh.
“We also thought that rather than simply reaching out to those already settled within a freelancing lifestyle, it would make sense to create a pool of professional freelancers,” he added..
The next challenge was introducing the platform to prospective users and testing its proof of concept with real users. This involved educating them about how the platform would add value to their work and help improve their professional lives. For the first 18 months, the team offered its services for free and claims that this helped the user base to steadily expand to over 30,000 users and projects in the first year.
“Having achieved our first milestone, monetisation of various services were slowly introduced and after overcoming certain conceptual challenges in this area, our hard work has started paying off, and the purchase of monetised services is picking up pace amongst the users,” says Shailesh.
Discovering the right model
The team realised that service providers were reluctant to upgrade to a paid membership when a free membership option was available. Even though the features were watered down, they were good enough to seek work opportunities.
“Consequently, another round of brainstorming took place. Realising that every failure only has a lesson to teach, we modified our monetisation scheme and finally launched our new pricing in April this year,” says Shailesh.
The team now operates on a two-tier platform, an open marketplace where work and service providers can directly connect and collaborate, and a managed services platform (FlexiPort XP) that offers sourcing, verification, right-fit scores and project management support to work providers.
For the first tier, the freemium pricing continues. For the FlexiPort XP platform, work providers have to sign up for a premium membership. For projects posted by the FlexiPort XP members a 15 percent service fee is charged on the project value from the service providers.
The team currently claims to have a revenue run rate of Rs 2 lakh per month which is doubling month-on-month. In the near future FlexiPort is planning to aggressively push FlexiPort XP and hoping to break even in the next four to six months. They also are looking to leverage technology by integrating deep learning algorithms on the platform. This would enable work providers to identify and source the most appropriate service provider for their projects.