Building tech-enabled safety mechanisms for Indian society

Building tech-enabled safety mechanisms for Indian society

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Unitus Seed Fund-backed Betterplace is building a technology platform that links various government databases to conduct background verification on prospective employees in both B2B (drivers, deliver boys etc.) and B2C (tenants, maids etc.) settings.

Pravin Agarwala, CEO, Betterplace

From the Nirbhaya incident to those unheard of by the public, from the daily dose of mishaps reported in City pages of tabloids to the ones that don’t get spoken about as much, threat to personal safety, it seems, is on the rise in India. While the onus of being safe lies upon us, it seems as though we (especially in India), continue to respond only after an incident has taken place, rather than preventing it beforehand.

It was this and similar incidents such as molestation of young girls in different pockets of the country that prompted Pravin Agarwala – who has daughters of around the same age as such victims – to deliberate on this matter seriously and identify how he could improve the overall safety for people. “There were protests on the streets, but it hardly made any impact,” he cites. Moreover, one of the perpetrators who had a prior record of abuse and had been asked to leave the school he was working in, had ironically found a job in another school, where he repeated his crime. “We tend to brush these problems under the carpet or just dump it on someone else’s lap,” Agarwala adds tellingly.

Hence, keeping all this in mind, he decided that this societal problem needed a technology-based safety solution, which ensures ease of use and verification. In January 2015, he, along with Uday Singh, the Group CEO of SIS – a security solutions company, started Betterplace in Bengaluru. Today, Agarwala runs the company along with Singh’s son, Saurabh Tandon, who carries years of experience in analytics and marketing services.

The Safety Solution

For nearly six and a half months, Agarwala spoke to a variety of people from all walks of life – the government, the common man on the street and several others – to understand the concerns and challenges of safety. Although there was a need, reliability and the ability to validate data was a big challenge, especially considering the fact that while there were multiple touch points in data systems across government departments, the systems did not talk to each other.

Despite that, Betterplace went on to create a solution that connects to these data points and collates information about the individuals being verified in one place. While this could be used by a prospective employer or house owner to cross verify the credentials of the applicant/tenant, the applicant could also proactively provide this information. This solution took nearly six months to develop and was piloted in June 2015, across different geographies and environments – right from delivery boys to engineers. It went live in August 2015 and addressed the logistics and on-demand delivery services segment. Since then, it has only been adding more industries into its boutique.

A Mix of Tech and Feet-on-Street

Betterplace only recommends prospective employees whose profiles have been verified. “Each of us has an identity proof of some sort or the other – ration card, Aadhaar card, PAN number,” he points out and adds that they may also have a house somewhere – in a village, in a city or so. So, the possibility of conducting a minimum verification must be there, for a candidate to be considered for a job opening.

While Betterplace does online verification of these profiles, it also employs people on the street to do physical checking of claims. “Though there are others who are also into this verification business, we do a complete profiling and factor in the ecosystem, which no one else is doing,” he says. For the feet-on-street side of verification, it works with local partners.

Starting with three employees in the early stage, the company now has a team of 50, with an established partner network across the country. Agarwala cites that regardless of where a prospective employee comes from, Betterplace undergoes a verification process before taking them on board.


When it comes to public safety, we tend to brush the problem under the carpet or just dump it on someone else’s lap,” says Agarwala.


Pricing Right

The company has a different pricing policy for corporates and B2C, with the latter, which includes tenants, staff, domestic help, drivers and the like, being more cumbersome and costly. That being said, to encourage the B2C segment, Betterplace charges effectively a rupee a day for unlimited checks, which makes it economically viable. It also works with online sites such as Commonfloor and Adda to create awareness about its services. For corporates, the company has adopted a cold-call approach to be able to present its value concept better. It will look for value based revenue generation in the corporate sector and volumes in the consumer segment.

Where’s the money at?

Initially self-funded, the company roped in ex-Google India head (and the man who played a key role in Google Maps), Lalitesh Katragadda, as an executive board member and investor in November last year. In February this year, the company received an undisclosed amount of funding from Bangalore-based Unitus Seed Fund, with the funds largely being used for technology development, marketing and customer acquisition. When asked about future rounds, Agarwala states that further funding and team expansion will depend on business needs. Meanwhile, Betterplace will continue to focus on deepening its reach in its current markets; metros and Tier I cities such as Hyderabad, Jaipur and Surat.

The company expects to be able to empower every citizen of India. “Think of safety, think of Betterplace,” Agarwala quotes, adding that the vision is to be able to empower every citizen of India.


Snapshot

BetterPlace

Founders: Uday Singh, Pravin Agarwala

Year: January 2015

Concept: Develops technology-based personnel verification solutions for B2B and B2C clients

Investors: Lalitesh Katragadda (ex-Google India Head) and Unitus Seed Fund


Verifying For Better Safety

Trust is the foundation for any relationship, not just at the personal level but even in the public domain, in our social interactions. However, given the increase in the rate of crimes relating to breach of trust, cheating, abuse and violence, it has become of prime importance to now base that trust on background checks and verifications. Realising this, Bengaluru-based Betterplace, founded by Uday Singh and Pravin Agarwala, hosts a safety solution which collates information on prospective employees and tenants through offline, feet-on-street verifications and online checks. Funded by Lalitesh Katragadda, ex-Google India head, and Unitus Seed Fund, the solution culls information from various data points available in databases maintained by the government, as well as feet-on-street to cross check claims and establish credentials. It has 50 employees at present and a vast network of partners who do the actual verification work. Although there are other verification solution providers active across the country, Agarwala believes that Betterplace is unique because of its exhaustive coverage and right pricing. His vision? To make people think of Betterplace, when they think of safety.

Meera Srikant has been working with publishers and publications since 1993, writing and editing articles, features and stories across topics. She also blogs and writes poems, novels and short stories during leisure. Writing for The Smart CEO since 2010, she is also a classical dancer.

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