Hot 100: Race to Grace 2015 winner Helper4U connects semi-skilled and unskilled workers with employers looking to hire. By Shweta Gandhi
Like all great startups, the idea for Helper4U.in came when its founder discovered there was a need in the market that no one yet fulfilled. The germ of the idea can be traced back to the day when Meenakshi Gupta Jain’s domestic helper didn’t show up. “I realised at the time that I should have a database of all the domestic helps in our colony,” she recollects. And so the enterprise began. What started as a simple exercise in her housing society in Powai, Mumbai, has now expanded to the rest of the city and Pune. Meenakshi’s next stop is Delhi.
Founded in March 2014 by Meenakshi and her husband Punit Jain, Helper4U.in is an online database of domestic helpers, cooks, drivers, security guards, office boys and call centre employees among others who are looking for a job. Those looking to hire can sign up for a paid package that allows them to see the phone number of the desired person, thus ensuring hassle-free, direct one-on-one communication.
The website went live in August 2014, but it was upgraded till December 2014. By January 2015, Helper4U’s mobile app had launched too. “Winning the HOT 100 Award has given me visibility in the digital space,” she says, “Now people recognise me. My Twitter following has increased too.” Meenakshi holds an MPhil degree in Child Speech Development from JNU and worked as a researcher before starting up Helper4U.
How does Helper4U work?
On visiting the app or website, potential employers can filter their search choices on the basis of city, services required and the working hours for the same. After this, verified profiles matching the search criteria show up along with the person’s preferred work location, experience, address, etc. Their contact numbers are available only to paid subscribers.
“Initially we charged Rs 100 for three months and then we made it Rs 300 for a month when we started gaining traction,” Meenakshi says. Over the last financial year, Helper4U has generated revenue of Rs 1 lakh and Meenakshi aims to see it grow as they expand.
How can helpers register?
How do you reach out to a population that barely reads and writes and is not connected to the Internet? It is here that the team resorts to old-school methods of promotion. They distribute pamphlets in low income group areas with a basic message and a number. Those interested call and speak with customer care. They are asked for their details, and all queries are answered. After the details are verified, they are told to keep an eye out for calls. Meenakshi says she has taught the call centre executives to attend calls with patience and tact since not everyone understands how providing a phone number can land them a job.
The number of registered helpers has gone up 100 per cent—from 2,000 to 4,000 in the last three months alone. A helper even got a full-time live-in position in Mumbai after she called Meenakshi and registered herself from a distant village in Maharashtra. Meenakshi says that in all 750 people have found jobs using Helper4U. But the battle is far from won.
The biggest issue Meenakshi faces is building her database and protecting it from fraud. Initially, subscription allowed access to all the numbers in the database. And if another agency became a subscriber, they’d be able to see all the information she’s organically gathered. So now, Meenakshi has a new subscription plan that only shows a limited number of numbers and profiles. “Initially, I used to go to the slums with helpers to talk and spread the word. Now I hire freelancers and they put up posters in Hindi.” She also constantly updates the data collected. And she’s looking to tie up with NGOs who deal in data collection to collect more numbers.
Following a bootstrap model, Meenakshi says she didn’t envisage so much expenditure as she didn’t start this as a business venture. “I thought we’d incur the minimum website costs. Our major cost has been promoting the service in the market,” she says. “The biggest learning was to not put all of your savings into your venture, which I learnt from my past two nearly-failed attempts at entrepreneurship. This helped lower my expectations,” she says.
What makes Helper4U different?
“We are a tech-dependent agency. We don’t intervene in the hiring process, we simply provide details for the employers, for an affordable price. We don’t even charge a commission,” she explains. “There are so many middlemen in agencies. One of the helpers told me she had to sell her mangal sutra to pay an agent to find her a job!”
The Helper4U team now has 15 part-time and full-time members, with an agency handling its marketing. They are looking to expand to other cities in the next two years, but their immediate goal is to go hyper-local within Mumbai.
So the next time you’re looking for help, you know exactly where to point your browser to.