From plumbing and interior designing services to wedding photography and yoga classes, Ratan Tata-backed UrbanClap wants to become the partner of choice to help consumers find all kinds of service providersAbhiraj Bhal, co-founder, UrbanClap
“We wanted to start a business that will solve a real problem and also have potential for a lot of disruption,” states Abhiraj Bhal, who co-founded UrbanClap along with his batch mate Varun Khaitan from IIT Kanpur and an engineer, Raghav Chandra. The trio arrived at local services as a business idea and incorporated UrbanClap in 2014 as a mobile and online services marketplace for urban residents in India. However, initially, they were working on a different business plan which was based on travel, entertainment, movies and the like. “We were looking at a screening services business. While, it was not a new idea, it was quite powerful. But after a few conversations with production houses we understood that they were not in favour of it,” says Bhal.
Today, Urbanclap operates in a services segment which is largely fragmented. An online platform, it helps customers find the right service professionals for activities (local services) such as plumbing, interior designing, wedding photography, yoga classes and more.
With a team of around 330 people and a presence 7 cities including New Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad, UrbanClap has almost 20,000 registered professionals and offers 60 to 65 services which include wedding planning, catering, photography, household service needs such as electrician, plumbers and carpenters, and personal care needs such as yoga, dance and fitness instructors. It currently serves around 5,000 customer requests on a daily basis, and has recently entered Pune market.
The market evolution
“The whole process of hiring a service professional has evolved over the last 25 years,” opines Bhal. While in the 90s, directories played a major role in identifying these service professionals (remember the good ol’ yellow pages?), or recommendations from family and friends took the lead, today, thanks to Internet, one has all information available at the click of a button. So, what differentiation is UrbanClap attempting to bring? The team has positioned the company as an end-to-end-fulfilment partner. Bhal explains. “For instance, if someone wants a plumber, their problem is not the contact – they can find the contact anywhere. We take the onus of getting the job done. We take details about your requirements like work required to be done, timing suitable to you and so on. Then, a background verified plumber will show up to fulfil your requirement.” It is a highly personalised and curated platform which solves problems pertaining to local services – such as trustworthiness, consistency in service charges and standardisation. “These are the real problems that we are working on solving,” says Bhal.
When it comes to basic home services, customers don’t even want to get involved. “Finding an electricians or a plumber is a direct assignment. There is no option of choosing,” states he. It is only for other services like finding a yoga teacher, or an interior designer for your home, that the company allows the customer to choose between five professionals through its chat application.
The talent crunch
When it comes to adding professionals to its platform, the company follows a clear process-oriented approach, and ensures that the professionals adhere to UrbanClap policies. It does multiple things to identify service professionals in each locality; such as local tie ups, city deals and online marketing campaigns to get the service provider’s interest. But before that, the team gets onto the platform, where the company has its own set of check lists that allow them to be listed on it. It first does basic hygiene filtration like identity and address check which is done through third party service providers. Next, the company verifies how trusted and skilled the person is for which it looks at their accreditations, past customer testimonials, experience and certification which is different for every category of services. Only after this is done are the service providers listed on the site. “We also ensure standardisation across the country on aspects such as the kind of people we list and quality around their certification,” says Bhal.
As a part of its marketing strategy, the company gave away free helmets with an inscription of the UrbanClap logo to anyone spotted without a helmet on Chennai roads. Next day 1,500 UrbanClap helmets were spotted on the roads and everyone was asking, what is UrbanClap?
Incidentally, the biggest challenge it faces is in identifying and retaining high quality service professionals. “We are in the business of offering trusted services by the professionals. The value we deliver is in the fact that we are able to bring to customers a panel of high quality professionals, instead of having the customer choose which is right for them,” says Bhal.
The company believes in trying something indigenous for marketing its services. For example, in June last year, it helped residents fill potholes in Mumbai’s Bandra suburb under the UrbanClap banner. Before that, it helped New Delhi’s local authorities clean up areas that were covered in garbage after municipal workers went on strike. Recently, in Chennai, it gave away free helmets with an UrbanClap logo, to anyone who was spotted without a helmet on the roads. “Next day 1,500 Urbanclap helmets were spotted on the roads and everyone was asking what is UrbanClap,” recalls Bhal. The founders believe in spending money but spending it smartly as there is a lot of clutter in existing channels such as television and social media.
Growing the market
While the company was initially set up with funds from the founders, it eventually raised funds from private equity companies a year later. In December 2015, Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, invested in the company in his personal capacity. In November, the company raised US $25 million in a Series B round led by Bessemer Venture Partners with participation from existing investors SAIF and Accel Partners. Earlier this year, UrbanClap had raised US $12 million across two rounds from SAIF, Accel Partners and founders of Snapdeal. The company plans to utilise these funds to increase its team size to 600 and add new service categories such as academic tutors and so on. It also plans to enter new cities by taking its services to almost 30 cities by the end of next financial year. It aims to serve around 40,000 to 50,000 customers a day by next financial year from the current count of 3,500 customers. “After scaling our services and increasing our presence in India, we would like to take our services into the global markets,” says Bhal on a concluding note.
Year of incorporation: 2014
Founders: Abhiraj Bhal, Varun Khaitan and Raghav Chandra
Concept: An online platform that helps customers find the right service professionals for activities that are important to them.
Funding: Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, invested in the company in his personal capacity. In November, the company raised US $ 25 million Series B funds led by Bessemer Venture Partners with participation from existing investors SAIF and Accel Partners. Earlier this year, UrbanClap had raised US $ 12 million across two rounds from SAIF, Accel Partners and founders of Snapdeal.
Five things you need to succeed in this business
- Remember nothing matters more than your customer’s opinion, keep talking to them
- Be personally involved in onboarding of professionals, have the best ones on your platform as they can make or break your organisation
- Keep processes nimble and easy to execute. Complicated processes cause unnecessary delays and the scope of error is much higher.
- Ensure that you are your biggest customer. Keep using and testing your product and services as you’ll be the best judge of what’s going right and what’s not.
- Never over promise and under deliver. It’s the worst thing you can do to your brand. Be transparent and tell your customers the truth. They make not like hearing it but they won’t resent you. You can always make it up to them.