Getting an electrician, plumber or carpenter can be a hassle to any homeowner. But Jack on Block has addressed this demand for service technicians by putting them on its rolls and providing a constant stream of income coupled with benefits
We are all familiar with the woe of not finding an electrician or a plumber when we need one desperately; of his not turning up at the said time even after we find one; of the work not being done to our expectations if he turns up.
Sharath Vatsa, who had moved back to his home city of Bengaluru after a short stint in Mumbai, faced a similar problem when he bought his house. Vatsa, who at that time was running an event management company, Live2, decided to address this woeful state of affairs. He studied the service segment in detail for two years before launching Jack on Block (JOB) in Bengaluru in 2010.
A snapshot of a technician’s life
“I belong to a middle class family from Bengaluru but have always been interested in watching and learning how businesses are run,” says Vatsa. He studied hotel management but found that he was more interested in marketing and sales than in cooking and housekeeping.
So he joined the e-commerce division of Jet Airways in Mumbai, following which he served a stint in an entertainment company. He soon moved to Ticketpro, which shut shop suddenly. In 2008, he returned to Bengaluru to set up Live2. It was in this phase of establishing a home that Vatsa found the sourcing of service technicians to be quite a challenge. But rather than crib about it, he looked at it from the technician’s point of view. Over a period of two years, he made it his mission to study their lifestyle. They had no reliable job and would hang around hardware shops in the hope of finding some work. Their families depended on their erratic income and so they would charge a high fee to make up for the days they did not get work. But even if they got a hold of money, remaining idle made them gravitate towards liquor, which made them unreliable. They were caught in a web of their own doing, unable to get out and find steady employment.
Vatsa found four problems plaguing this segment: accessibility, reliability, safety and transparency in billing. Internationally, corporatized facilities management business is a multi-million opportunity. In India too, there are several facilities management companies focused on offering services to large apartment complexes and corporate houses. The small residences and office segment goes unserved and depends mostly on individual service technicians. Vatsa saw a huge opportunity in this segment and as the event management business was also going through a flux, he decided to switch gears and start a venture that provides reliable, qualified technicians to handle the smaller jobs that homes need.
With a seed fund from Mumbai Angels, Unitus Seed Fund and a professor from London School of Economics, Vatsa along with co-founder Vishal Talwar, set up JOB in Bengaluru in 2010. The company’s services can be booked through the website or web applications. JOB offers a subscription-based service where a customer can sign up a contract for Rs 1,999 and avail unlimited services. Alternatively, clients can also call JOB for a specific job and are charged Rs 300 per hour.
The company further trains its employees in the areas of professional behaviour and communication which in turn, assures better safety. Through this process, JOB is able to meet the expectations of its customers with a swift and reliable service.
Changing a mindset
Where JOB really makes a difference to service technicians is that they are on the rolls of the company and not called upon only when there is a job. And so, it is particular about running a background check before employing them. The company further trains its employees in the areas of professional behaviour and communication, which in turn, assures better safety. Through this process, JOB is able to meet the expectations of its customers with a swift and reliable service.
But what gives Vatsa great satisfaction is that through JOB, he has been able to contribute significantly to the lives of his employees by giving them a purpose. “Such people start drinking to pass the time, when they do not have regular employment or regular hours,” he points out. The company’s employees have been given a uniform, ID card, vehicles, bank account and regular salary with ESI benefits and a tool kit. They get recognised for their contribution through the ‘Employee of the Month’ award, which earns them a Rs 1,000 gift voucher for Big Bazaar to enjoy a shopping experience that might have otherwise been beyond their means. Their birthdays are celebrated and they are entitled to leaves. Most importantly, they have an opportunity to grow as their skills are constantly upgraded and they have job security. Of course, initially breaking through their mindset was a challenge as they viewed his efforts with suspicion, but Vatsa is now planning on scaling up and expanding.
Currently, JOB employs 80 people and has one office in Bengaluru. It plans to expand to 200 employees in a year and reach out to 10,000 customers from its current number of 5,000 in the same period. Revenues are also expected to go up from Rs. three crore this year to Rs. seven crore in the next two years. To expand its reach in the city, JOB intends to follow a ‘hub and spoke’ model.
While online marketing has been a means to spread the word, with advertising costs escalating, Vatsa is relying on word-of-mouth to bring in more customers. Technology is expected to play a very important role for tracking, monitoring and scheduling jobs for the service engineers. “We need more funds for our expansion plans but that is proving to be difficult as people think this is not a scalable business,” points out Vatsa. There is a certain demand for such organised services across the country, but a lack of funds is likely to stall expansion. At present, Vatsa has drawn up other plans to meet the growing demand for skilled labour.
The Impact, in brief:
Vatsa believes that JOB has had a two-fold impact on the society. While on the one hand he has been able to provide regular employment to service technicians and improve their quality of life, he has also addressed a pain point for people living in Bengaluru.
Company: Jack on block
Founder: Sharad Vatsa
Investors: Mumbai Angels, United Seed Fund
Industry: Organised technical services for home-based jobs
Altacit Global is a boutique legal firm specialising in Intellectual Property and Corporate Legal Matters. Altacit Global has partnered with The Smart CEO, to present a series of articles on Impact Ventures. Please visit www.altacit.com for more details.