With Handymama, the Uber of Handymen, revolutionizing household services

If one was to name 10 most prominent start-ups in the country in the recent years, Handymama would undoubtedly hold one of the top positions. With its on-demand cleaning, repair and pack and shift services, Handymama has quickly and conveniently become a trustworthy name in the industry of household services.

Recently, HiFi Public met with its CEO Shah Paran and CSO Rezaur R. Robin over a cup of coffee discussing the story of Handymama, what makes them unique, their ambitious plan to go global in the future and the ups and downs in the start-up scenario in Bangladesh.

HiFi: To start with, could you tell us a bit about Handymama?

Shah Paran (CEO): To get the idea behind Handymama, Handymama is basically an on-demand platform for maintenance and handyman services. It’s like Uber for handyman services. Like Uber, Handymama connects users or customers with verified service professionals like painters, carpenters, plumbers, etc. Basically handymen. We launched in April 2015, so this is our third year in the industry. Our services are available all over Dhaka and so far, we have over 1200 verified service professionals on our platform who work actively and at the same time we have had over 30,000 users in thee 3 years. Besides from that, over 1500 business have also taken services form us, using our platform, that is. This is where most people make a mistake however. They mistake Handymama itself for a service provider. But we are only a platform where we connect the customers with the professionals and ensure fair pricing, safety and security and quality maintenance of course. This is what Handymama is.

HF: So, what’s your USP (Unique Selling Proposition)?

SP: Our USP, firstly, the convenience, of course. Then there’s a matter of safety and security. It’s a one stop solution, you get everything in one place. You don’t need to have separate contacts of plumbers, repairmen etc. You can get everything on this platform and it is easily accessible any time. So, the convenience and easy accessibility is our USP, basically.

HF: How do you source your partners?

SP: A very common question and an important one. You see, the blue-collar people in are Bangladesh are mostly uneducated and not even institutionally trained enough. What they do is learn by practice, or by non-institutionalised mentorship. They don’t have a certification, they don’t follow any particular standard. So, working with them gets quite difficult actually. Our supply development team are the key people here. We have a few steps to source them. Initially our team goes to them in person, they talk to them, make them understand what Handymama is and how it works, how working on this platform is beneficial to them etc. Some of them understand and agree, some of them do not. Those who agree go through several screening processes and trainings. We supply them with standard tools and instructions. There are a few steps like these and after completing them, we make them our service partners.

Handymama, the story of a startup revolutionizing household services in Bangladesh

HF: Why do you think it’s profitable for them to partner up with Handymama?

SP: Let me give you an example, we have finished some B2B projects in mid-2017 where more than 3000 painters have worked whose income has grown by 47% by working with us. And continuously they’re getting jobs! And this is what basically happens when they partner up with us. Maybe in a particular area there are a few workers, and people know them because they’ve worked in that area for a long time. But what about those who have started out recently? They have no marketing or exposure. Handymama gives them a platform. They get more call for works now, and they’re getting works on a regular basis. We do not only fish out work for them, we also train them in skills like how to use an app, how to follow basic safety measures, instruct them on effective communication. These skills are as important as the work themselves!

What’s the best part you ask, that is when they work on they’re own, and almost in all the cases they are not aware or simply do not care enough about safety measures. So, they are not liable to anyone for any unfortunate accidents. Here in Handymama we bring in insurance for them once we finish training period.

Then there’s the matter of payment. In many jobs on their own, they face haggling customers, and the payment is usually on the basis of a verbal negotiation. Someone might dupe them or pay them less than what they were promised and there’s virtually nothing they can do about it. At Handymama we maintain a payment card for them, Handymama Secure Payment System, as we call it. We give them separate bank accounts, and after every job, the payment is transferred to them securely. So, there’s the convenience of payment of course.

You see, the shared economy is a revolution. If you look at Uber, when Uber arrived in Dhaka, people slowly stopped using rent-a-car services and the rent-a-car drivers migrated to the Uber platform. Consumers found Uber to be cheaper and convenient and rent-a-car drivers started losing jobs and shifted to being Uber drivers and started earning more. The same goes for the household sector. In the future, people will start using platforms like Handymama more, thanks to their convenience and workers will find it more profitable to use platforms like these instead of going solo.

HF: Indeed. So, you’re obviously aware of your competitors. Why shouldn’t I use Sheba.xyz instead of Handymama?

SP: If you talk about competitors, the local service professionals are also our competitors! You may as well ask why one shouldn’t directly go to them instead of using the platform of Handyamama. Anyway, so we don’t think that we are at the competition stage yet. The industry is huge, you know. I think you could still fit 10-15 players in this industry.

Where we differ with Sheba is, you see, Sheba is like a marketplace. It accommodates vendors and lets you choose your services and vendors. The payment, the services, the quality all of these are based on the negotiation between you and the vendor you choose. The decision making is entirely up to you. What Handymama does is that it lets you of the hook, we connect you with the best vendor considering the prices, ratings and services. You do not need to go through the entire decision-making process, the pricing, the negotiation etc. We connect you with the best one in the market. And in terms if quality, we have more control. We can impose the quality and pricing. And not to mention the safety security. These are not up to the vendors when they’re working with us. We control the pricing and quality, minding of course the welfare of both consumers and service providers. So, considering all these and from the user perspective as well, I think Handymama is more convenient and user friendly.

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HF: Great. So, as the founder of Handymama, could you tell us a bit about your journey? Obviously, there must have been a few bumps you hit on the road.

SP: Of course! I started out in the late 2014s, and at that time, there was nothing like Handymama! There were a few websites, yellow pages where you can get numbers of plumbers and service people. But there was nothing organised! I’ve hit a few bumps when I started.

I was responsible for the entire office setup when I was setting up my first office. This was before Handymama. So, I needed plumbers, electricians, carpenters and I had to go out and walk on the streets and personally get the workers to help me set up my first office. It took an entire month for me to set up my first office. It was then the idea of Handymama occurred to me. When talking about challenges with Handymama, the biggest challenge was reaching out to the blue-collar people at first. Because at that time, there was nothing like Handymama. So, there was a big trust-gap between us and them. There was the matter of security, payment, convincing them to work for us and making them understand how this is better for them. It was very difficult to make them understand the appeal of the idea.

And of course, since we were a new start up back then and the concept was entirely new, we had a hard time getting people on our team. But times are changing and more people are open to the concept of working with a start-up. We’re getting quite a number of CVs these days. It takes time, you know.

Also, starting out as a start-up in Bangladesh was never easy. The ecosystem isn’t quite ready yet. There were a lot of issues, mentorship, investments etc. We didn’t use to get that many users in the beginning. There were of course trust issues and the introduction of a new concept, it’s never easy. We do get a lot of customers now. Repetitive customers even. We’re growing.

Running a legal business gets pretty expensive too! But times are changing now! They surely are.

HF: Can you tell us a bit about your users? What is the target group like?

SP: You see, the product we’re trying to sell is not tangible. We have users from two perspectives, the blue-collar people who use our platform to get to customers and the customers who pay them to get the services using our platform. And the customers, they don’t take these services for themselves, they take the services for their households, offices etc. so, technically our users are the households, offices and establishments. People just pay for that. In Dhaka there are about 2.2-2.3 million households and this is a very big, a very opportunistic market for us.

Now if you talk about Target group, it’s mainly the middle affluent class to upper class families in the city.

HF: How to you reach out to customers, who are, say not our generation. Older generation. Typically, they are the household heads in our society, so there must be a certain trust gap here. How are you reaching out to them?

SP: Well, you can’t change these common perspectives over night actually. Obviously, there is a trust gap, it’s a new concept for them. The convenience of technology was a new concept for them a few years back and it’s slowly growing. It’s only obvious that they’ll be reluctant at first but once the reap the benefits of the convenience of this platform, I’m sure they’ll come back for more.

We’re reaching out to them through different outreach programs and campaigns. It’ll take time. It cannot change overnight. We have customers aged from 20 to 60 or more years old. I think that’s a phenomenal feat!

HF: Do you have any strict payment policy, say, to deal with haggling customers? You must face cases like that.

SP: Of course! We do face situations like that actually. Not too often, but we do. In some jobs, people have to pay upfront, you know. There’s the case of buying materials and things like that. But in most cases, generally they have to pay afterwards. And we are working on a secure payment system to ensure that it gets down smoothly.

We have a specified time period of course. You have to pay within 72 hours of availing a service. Anyway, yes, we are working on a secure, specified method to ensure payment for services. It’ll take some time I’m afraid.

HF: Great. So, what are your plans for the future? Short term and long term.

SP: We’ll be expanding our service in a few other cities in the third quarter of this year. And Dhaka is a huge market for us, you know. We want to fully capitalise on it. We want Handymama to be synonymous for household services. May be in 5 to 7 years down the line. You could term this as a long-term plan. And hopefully by 2020, we’re planning to go global and expand in a maybe 3 to 5 countries. We’re working on it.

So, by 2019 hopefully we’ll expand to the major cities and by 2020, we’ll hopefully go global.

It was always our vision to take Handymama to a global stage and make it big enough.

Rezaur Robin (CSO): It was also our vision to work on employment and create at least 20,000 jobs within the next 7 years, specially focusing on women employment. We want service to be productized. We want people to buy services like they buy products.

Also, if we want to talk about impact, you see, people are losing jobs due to automation. Look at the RMG sector. So, the people in these sectors, what happens is that they have a very vertical skill set. They lose jobs if the industry adopts new mechanisms of productions that cuts off their need. We want to empower them with a diversified skill set. We’d like to train them and empower them with jobs, incorporating them into this shared economy. This is one of our core goals actually. To create employment.

HF: Do you think Handymama is leaving an impact?

SP: Definitely! As I’ve already told you, in one project we have employed around 3000 painters and their income has increased 47%. Also, what happens generally is we certify these workers. Since they do not have an academic or institutionalised validation, these certificated work as a validation for them. You get to know how skilled your serviceman is. You don’t have to rely on word of mouth. We even do police verification of these workers in many cases. Specially if they are going to work for our premium customers. And yeah, if we think about the user impact, as a user you don’t have to go around looking for a plumber if you want to get your plumbing fixed, just give us a call and we’ll take care of everything. You’re leading a very smart life that way.

RR: I can give you a breakdown. We have around 578 taskers who are getting works regularly, one in every 3 days period. Their income has increased about 200 times working with us. We have over 300 taskers who are earning an income of more than 1 lakh taka per month by using our platform. This is phenomenal isn’t it?

So, a cleaner who used to work small jobs here and there are now getting continuous jobs almost every day and earning beyond what they would’ve earned if they’d have worked solo. As you already know, we’re training them, providing them with tools, smartphones in many cases. We’re empowering the supply side and we hope that they pass these skills and trainings on others on their own. We’d want to create a chain like this. Create more trained and skilled workers. Transform the service sector.

HF: Can you elaborate on the premium customers that you spoke about? How does one avail the premium services?

RR: Our premium customers are specially the ones who are with us from the very beginning.  Handymama has been always a data driven and feedback driven service and the feedbacks of our early users has helped us a lot. So, we try to reward them with a premium service. Besides that, we have several CIPs and VIPs taking services from us, they get the premium services. These services include police verified workers, more skilled workers, early accesses to new services and the choice of requesting the same handyman for the next job.

SP: We’re planning to get the premium services under a more formal structure called Handymama elite. This is still in the works.

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HF: Great. Looking forward to it! So, that was a very insightful conversation about Handymama. Now, here’s a question for both of you. What do you think about the start-up ecosystem in Bangladesh? Honest opinion.

SP: I think the ecosystem is a lot more mature than it was in our time. Now with the accelerator programs and such, people are more educated about start ups and more welcoming. This is an indicator in the right direction, I’d say. But I think, as a very mentor-driven person myself, there is still a gap in the mentorship level. People who are experienced, who are expats, who work in HR, in marketing, in operations, they should come forward in helping out the young start-ups, because launching a start-up successfully is not an easy job. You need all the help you can get. We need to work on this. We need to nurture the young start-ups.

RR: I can vouch for that. Handymama had a huge backing from the Founders Institute and we have grown grammatically and the start-ups like us who has grown like these, they have collected money from very good sources and not just money, they have gained valuable mentorship, experience and guidance as well. We think this is important. Those who are entering this ecosystem needs to grow grammatically, taking all the help they can get. You need to seek outlet and knowledge on your own. Luck actuates effort you know. So, reach out for help.

SP: So, that’s it. The ecosystem is growing steadily, we think. And with a little goodwill and effort, this ecosystem will not buzz down anytime soon.

HF: Right. It was great knowing you both. Thank you so much for this very insightful conversation and the lovely cup of coffee. We wish Handymama a great success!