By Varun Khaitan
Roommates at IIT, Varun Khaitan and Abhiraj Bhal, had always wanted to solve a really big consumer problem in India by leveraging mobile technology. After graduating from IIT, Abhiraj went on to IIM Ahmedabad, while Varun joined Qualcomm as an engineer. Eventually, they both joined the Boston Consulting Group. While in the US, a common friend introduced them to Raghav Chandra, an engineer at Twitter who shared their vision.
After returning to India, the three realised that the industry of local services had seen no innovation for at least a decade, and decided to focus on solving this problem. UrbanClap was launched in November 2014, in a tiny office at Bhikaji Cama Place in South Delhi, offering services in 5 categories and with 100 partners on board.
The organisation grew rapidly as the team grew from 3 to 35 odd members and, by April 2015 UrbanClap raised $1.6 million in the seed round of funding, from SAIF Partners, Accel Partners and the founders of Snapdeal, Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal. At the time, the service offering had grown to 46 categories and 2000+ professionals were registered on its platform.
Barely two months later, as UrbanClap expanded to other metropolitan cities in India, the company raised another $10 million, in Series A funding from its existing investors SAIF and Accel Partners.
“Being early investors in product ecommerce in India, we believe in the power of a marketplace for services,” said Subrata Mitra, Partner, Accel India.” Meeting the UrbanClap team, we realized how the problem of local services is elegantly solved with smartphone based reverse auction/booking solution as opposed to a classifieds list.”
To use UrbanClap, a customer first selects a category and then answers several questions on the app or the website. The platform’s recommendation engine uses the information from the questionnaire and locationbased data to match him or her with the relevant service professionals.
Abhiraj Singh Bhal, Cofounder of UrbanClap says, "The focus was always on building a trusted company that Indians will love, and which will make their everyday lives easier. We wanted to make a product that would both benefit customers and service professionals. With our model, customers benefit because they can book services easily at standardised prices, while service professionals can focus on their craft since we take care of the marketing and promotion."
It was the strong emphasis on innovation and improvement that led the team to realise that iOS users formed a large part of its core target group. Soon, the UrbanClap app for iOS was launched in September 2015 the first company in the industry to do so.
In November 2015, as UrbanClap stepped into Pune, the company announced that it had raised $25 million, with Bessemer Venture Partners leading this round of funding. The platform has become extremely popular amongst service professionals because of the opportunity it creates for them to work independently and grow their income.
Smrita, a salon specialist registered on the platform, was employed in one of Delhi’s leading salons, where she was earning Rs 18,000 a month. Now, she says, she’s able to make almost Rs 40,000 while being able to choose her own working hours. But the company’s popularity isn’t just restricted to professionals, customers find it simple to find verified professionals who will be willing to cater to their specific needs.
According to Pallavi Swaroop, a customer who used UrbanClap to look for professionals for her wedding preparations, "I’ve booked a photographer and makeup artist from UrbanClap. I’ve met them both personally and was impressed with the ease with which the service could be booked."
Currently, UrbanClap has operations in 6 cities, with over 36,000 professionals on the platform, which receives between 4000 to 5000 requests, each day for services across 125 categories. Meanwhile, the UrbanClap app has had over 10 lakh downloads across the iOS and Android platforms, and the company has served 5 lakh customers so far.
Speaking about the journey, Varun Khaitan reminisces, "Creating a successful product and team was an unprecedented challenge for all of us. All along the journey, I've had the support of friends, excolleagues and mentors who have been part of our user studies, given constant feedback on the UrbanClap experience, helped us attract the right talent and so much more.
Advice to early stage startups be feverishly passionate about your early users and making them happy through any means. And as the company grows, have your eyes and ears open to feedback and criticism from all corners. That is what keeps you going higher."
The writer is the co-founder of UrbanClap.com.