How betterplace cracked the success code for the blue-collar economy
600k+ background checks, $0.5m+ salary processing and 100k+ job seekers per month. That’s a peek into the scale at which betterplace, India’s largest life-cycle management platform for the blue-collar workforce operates today.
A business with a purpose
Starting out in 2015 as a background verification company for the blue-collar workforce, and optimising the operations for over 700 companies saw betterplace evolve into a complete lifecycle management company. Today, it is one of the largest and most trusted companies to hire, manage and engage the blue-collar workforce.
“We started with a vision to help the people in the blue-collar economy. We believed they were underserved and deserved better. While we wanted to grow our business, it was not the only motto we worked towards. We wanted to touch people by facilitating inclusion and make their lives better. All the solutions that we have launched in the last four years have been governed by that philosophy,” says Pravin Agarwala, Co-founder and CEO of betterplace.
Betterplace comes with the largest breadth of coverage in India and enables companies to reach out to blue-collar talent in any part of the country, as local as they need to go. Its range of solutions include an all-in-one customisable digital platform that enables companies to undertake background verification, attendance management, automate salary disbursals and automate compliance. It also offers chatbot based training solution that enable blue-collar workers to upskill themselves, telemedicine services, health and life insurance solutions, credit solutions, among others. The startup has now taken an omnichannel route for its operations with the launch of its experiential centres, a service that it launched in early 2019. The experiential centres are on-ground centres that act as accessible convergence from companies’ point to hire, onboard, train talent. These centres are run by betterplace on behalf of the company.
All this has made betterplace the destination for over 1000 big and small companies alike. This includes companies like Amazon, Flipkart, Ola, Dunzo and Swiggy, among others.
An outside-in approach to winning
According to the CEO, while its focus on enabling inclusion and a strong execution team have been key growth drivers, a third and equally compelling growth driver has been betterplace’s strong connect with its customers. “When we work with our customers, we either win together or fail together. That’s how we see it. That’s how our customers see it as well. Because they are a party to the game, they don’t find issues but rather spot opportunities to either solve a problem or to solve them better.”
Pravin shares the example of bettermoney, betterplace’s Neo Banking Service, a facility that it launched earlier this year to further illustrate his point. “Offering a banking solution was not on our roadmap two years ago. We were managing the HRMS for a client that offered security services. During conversations with the client, they pointed at a challenge they were facing w.r.t. salary disbursal. The challenge was primarily due to the fact that the employees, most of whom were migrant workers, were finding it challenging to open a bank account even when the company had tie-ups with banks.”
The first challenge was that the employees were often distributed. So to get them to come to a designated point was challenging. Second, even if they made it to the designated point, the documents were often incomplete or irrelevant, which meant that on an average, it took anywhere between two to ten days between collecting the relevant documents and getting the eKYC and verification done. Sometimes, all of this also led to a loss of a new or potential hire. “That’s when we realised that there was a need to digitise the entire process and offer a digital banking solution.” It took betterplace, eight months to study these issues on the ground and come up with a practical and NBFC-compliant solution.
In May 2019, betterplace soft-launched bettermoney. Today, it takes just a day for a betterplace’s client to open zero balance bank accounts for the blue-collared employees. In addition, the employees can avail facilities like sending and receiving money 24x7, access to an ATM card and more.
With the soft launch, betterplace was able to deep dive into the nuances and make tweaks to their offering. “For instance, we observed that people were withdrawing the entire salary from the bank account on the day the salary got credited. We found this surprising. When we spoke to them, we figured that most people would send a significant part of the salary to their families. While they had access to digital money transfers, their families didn’t. Which means they were paying 2-4 percent remittance charge.
Factoring this observation, we enabled an Aadhar-based transfer wherein the families could go to any kirana shop to withdraw the money through an Aadhar-based link.” Similarly, observing the usage very closely, identifying usage patterns and gaps, betterplace added features such as video KYC and bill payments to bettermoney. Since the launch of the solution, betterplace has onboarded over 9000 people on its banking services platform. “So far, we have been onboarding at the rate of 100 people a day. We should be touching 600 people a day, from January when we are likely to launch the solution at scale. And, by the end of the year, we are looking at growing that number to 5000 a day.”
Pravin calls this as the ‘outside-in’ approach. “We look at a problem that exists and work towards a solution. Unlike many other startups or businesses which develop solutions, look out for users and spend a significant amount of money acquiring them, we already have customers and users. We only look at solving their problems and developing solutions in tune with their needs. And, in turn, we get paid to do that. Our user acquisition cost is zero.”
Rajat Malhotra, COO - West Asia, JLL, agrees with Pravin. Infact, the large real estate services business has been working with betterplace for the last two years to address the challenge related to their large and distributed workforce. “Nearly 100,000 contracted workforce work for us every day across client locations. To say, this scale and spread is challenging is an understatement. But, the way betterplace addresses industry problems with their all-in-one platform for the last mile workforce is incredible. Be it compliance, quality or engagement, betterplace, makes it look so easy. The highlight for us, however, has been betterplace’s openness to the feedback that we get on the ground. This openesses ensures that we are able to make the right tweaks to address the challenges.” Rajat believes digital is the answer to manage the blue-collared workforce, especially at the scale they operate in. “It not only makes managing the workforce more efficient, but by bringing them on to betterplace’s platform, we see greater transparency and visibility, which helps us manage risks more effectively.”
Betterplace’s journey has been a testimonial to what a startup can achieve when it has unwavering faith in its vision and combines it with strong execution. “Today, we have made lakhs people creditworthy. These were the very same people who once did not have a digital presence. They did not have any information to put forth that could help financial institutions reach a decision. With betterplace, we have been able to create a digital footprint and over 200 data points per person that help to define the creditworthiness of individuals in the blue collared economy. Backed by this data, it is possible for blue-collared employees who have the desire or need to avail credit to get access to credit. This to us is an achievement that we take pride in,” says Pravin.
Having started as a B2B company, today it has expanded its scope to service the B2C segment. “When we started off, we didn’t know how big the opportunity was. But today we do,” says the CEO. In the next five years, betterplace wants to cater to at least 10 crore Indians in the blue-collared economy. “When you think big, it changes your perception. It changes your strategy. It helps you to think about ideas which you would not have dared otherwise. It opens up new opportunities.” In the last three years, betterplace has achieved 25x growth and currently touching a turnover of USD7 million. “We are positive about achieving a 3x growth next financial year and targeting to reach USD20 million turnover,” adds Pravin.
Betterplace is placing its bets on bettermoney and its experiential centres to drive its growth in the subcontinent. “We believe will bring a paradigm shift in the blue-collared economy. It will be a game-changer for the ecosystem as much as it will be for us.”
Betterplace is also looking to expand its reach outside India. “We also believe that there is a large blue-collar economy in the Americas, Africa, Middle East, South East Asia, that in many ways is similar to India. Having built a successful business model back home, we now know what it takes to break into those markets.” The startup is in the process of setting foot in Mexico and following it with Dubai and Sri Lanka.
“We want to be the place that companies come to when they think of hiring or managing its blue-collared workforce. Be it a company with just one employee or 100,000. On the other hand, people who are looking for jobs, looking to grow, reach their aspirations and skills, they think of us first. So, for both the touchpoints, we want to be the choice by default across the world,” signs off Pravin.