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Apple alum’s jobs app for India’s workers raises $12.5 million

A startup by an Apple alum that has become home to millions of low-skilled workers in India said on Tuesday it has raised an additional $12.5 million, just five months after securing $8 million from high-profile investors.

One-year-old Apna said Sequoia Capital India and Greenoaks Capital led the $12.5 Series B investment in the startup. Existing investors Lightspeed India and Rocketship VC also participated in the round. The startup, whose name is Hindi for “ours,” has now raised over $20.5 million.

More than 6 million low-skilled workers such as drivers, delivery personnel, electricians, beauticians have joined Apna to find jobs, and upskill themselves. But there’s more to this.

An analysis of the platform showed how workers are helping one another solve problems — such as a beautician advising another beautician to perform hair dressing in a particular way that tends to make customers happier and tip more, and someone sharing how they negotiated a hike in their salary from their employer.

“The sole idea of this is to create a network for these workers,” said Nirmit Parikh, Apna founder and chief executive told TechCrunch in an interview. “Network gap has been a very crucial challenge. Solving it enables people to unlock more and more opportunities,” he said. Harshjit Sethi, Principal at Sequoia India, said Apna was making inroads with “building a professional social network for India.”

The startup has become an attraction for several big firms including Amazon, Flipkart, Unacademy, Byju’s, Swiggy, BigBasket, Dunzo, BlueStar, and Grofers who have joined as recruiters to hire workers. Apna offers a straightforward onboarding process — thanks to support for multiple local languages — and allows users to create a virtual business card, which is then shown to the potential recruiters.

The past six months have been all about growth at Apna, said Parikh. The app, available on Android, had 1.2 million users in August last year, for instance. During this period, there have been 60 million interactions between recruiters and potential applicants, he said. The platform has amassed over 80,000 employers.

“Apna has taken a jobs-centric approach to upskilling that we are very excited about. Lack of accountability has been the core issue with current skill / vocational learning alternatives for grey and blue-collar workers. Apna has turned the problem on its head by creating net-positive job outcomes for anyone who chooses to upskill on the platform,” said Vaibhav Agrawal, Partner at Lightspeed India, in a statement.

Image Credits: Nirmit Parikh

Parikh got the idea of building Apna after he kept hearing about the difficulty his family and friends faced in India in hiring people. This was puzzling to Parikh as he wondered how could there be a shortage of workers in India when there are hundreds of millions of people actively looking for such jobs. The problem, Parikh realized was that there wasn’t a scalable networking infrastructure in place to connect workers with employers.

Before creating the startup, Parikh met workers and worked with them to understand where the core challenges they faced. That journey has not ended. The startup talks to over 15,000 users each day to understand what else Apna could do for them.

“One of the things we heard was that users were facing difficulties with interviews. So we started groups to practice them with interviews. We also started upskilling users, which has made us an edtech player. We plan to ramp up this effort in the coming months,” he said.

Parikh said the startup is overwhelmed each day with the response it is getting from its customers and the industry. Each day, he said, people share how they were able to land jobs, or increase their earnings. In recent months, several high-profile executives from companies such as Uber and BCG have joined Apna to scale the startup’s vision, he said.

The app currently has no ads, and Parikh said he intends to not change that. “Once you get in the ad business, you start doing things you probably shouldn’t be doing,” he said. The startup instead plans to monetize its platform by charging recruiters, and offering upskill courses. But Parikh maintained that Apna will always offer its courses to users for free. The premium version will target those who need extensive assistance, he said.

As is the case elsewhere, millions of people lost their livelihood in India in the past year as coronavirus shut many businesses and workers migrated to their homes. There are over 250 million blue and grey-collar workers in India, and providing them meaningful employment opportunities is one of the biggest challenges in our country, said Sethi.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Months-old Uni raises $18.5 million seed round to expand India’s credit card market

Even as close to 1 billion debit cards are in use in India today, only about 58 million credit cards are in circulation in the world’s second most populous nation.

According to industry estimates, between 30 million to 35 million people in the country today have a credit card. Part of the reason why the vast majority of the population has not made the cut is because they don’t have a credit score — or if they do have an eligible credit score they don’t see any appeal in the paltry rewards most credit cards offer in the country today.

The credit card industry in India appears to be stuck in a deadlock. Part of the reason why so few people in the country have a credit score is because banks and credit card companies are still relying on age-old methodologies to determine someone’s creditworthiness.

Most banks in India are only comfortable with issuing credit cards to individuals who have a full-time employment with one of a few hundred companies listed in their spreadsheets that they last updated years ago.

Through his new startup called Uni, Nitin Gupta wants to address some of these issues. And he is one of the few individuals in the country who is positioned to do it. He co-founded PayU India, and then ran ride-hailing firm Ola’s financial services business.

During his tenure at PayU, the startup established a dominance in the payments processing business in the country. And at Ola, he launched Olamoney Postpaid, a service that allows customers to pay for their rides at a later stage. Olamoney, which was valued at $250 million last year, is now one of the largest financial services businesses in the country.

Serious VCs are now willing to bet on Gupta’s new venture.

Nitin Gupta, a veteran in the financial services business, has co-founded Uni

On Tuesday, Uni announced it has raised $18.5 million in its seed financing round led by Lightspeed and Accel . The startup currently does not have a product, but it took Gupta only two months in the middle of a global pandemic to raise what is one of the largest seed financing rounds in India.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Gupta said at Uni he is joined by two more senior executives — Laxmikant Vyas and Prateek Jindal — who have stellar records in the financial services business.

He declined to reveal what exactly Uni’s product — or line of products — would look like, but suggested that Uni is building the modern age consumer credit card. “It would seem very obvious when it comes out, and people will wonder why nobody else thought of it,” he said, adding that he is working with multiple banks for partnerships.

The adoption of digital payments has grown exponentially in the country in the last five years, but the credit card business is still struggling to make inroads, he said, adding that he sees an opportunity to expand the credit card base to 200 million over the next five years.

Bejul Somaia​, a Partner at Lightspeed India, said, ​“Nitin and Uni’s team are passionate about unlocking the power of financial services for millions of Indian consumers using new tech-powered solutions. We are excited about their mission and proud to support them from day one.”

Apple alum’s jobs app for India’s workers secures $8 million

Javed, a middle-aged man, worked as a driver before losing that job earlier this year as coronavirus spread across India, prompting New Delhi to enforce a nationwide lockdown and temporarily curb several business activities.

There are millions of people like Javed in India today who have lost their livelihood in recent months. They are low-skilled workers and are currently struggling to secure another job.

An Apple alum thinks he can help. Through his app startup Apna, Nirmit Parikh is helping India’s workers learn new skills, connect with one another, and find jobs.

Parikh’s app is already changing lives. Javed, who could barely speak a few words in English before, recently posted a video on Apna app where he talked about his new job — processing raisins — in English.

In less than one year of its existence, Apna app — available on Android — has amassed over 1.2 million users.

The startup announced on Tuesday it has raised $8 million in its Series A financing round led by Lightspeed India and Sequoia Capital India . Greenoaks Capital and Rocketship VC also participated in the round.

In an interview with TechCrunch last week, Parikh said that these workers lack an organized community. “They are daily-wage workers. They rely on their friends to find jobs. This makes the prospects of them finding a job very difficult,” he said.

Apna app comprises of vertical communities for skilled professionals like carpenters, painters, field sales agents and many others.

“The most powerful thing for me about Apna is its communities — I’ve seen people help each other start a business, learn a new language or find a gig! Communities harbinger trust and make the model infinitely scalable,” said Vaibhav Agrawal, a Partner at Lightspeed India, in a statement.

The other issue they struggle with is their skillset. “An electrician would end up working decades doing the same job. If only they had access to upskilling courses — and just knew how beneficial it could be to them — they would stand to broaden their scope of work and significantly increase their earnings,” said Parikh.

Apna is addressing this gap in multiple ways. In addition to establishing a community, and rolling out upskilling courses, the startup allows users — most of whom are first time internet users — easily generate a virtual business card. The startup then shares these profiles with potential employers.

In the last one month, Parikh said Apna has facilitated more than 1 million job interviews — up more than 3X month-on-month. During the same period, more than 3 million professional conversations have occurred on the platform.

Parikh said he plans to use the fresh capital to expand its offerings, and help users launch their own businesses. He also plans to expand Apna outside of India.

There are over 250 million blue and grey collar workers in India and providing them meaningful employment opportunities is one of the biggest challenges in our country, said Harshjit Sethi, Principal at Sequoia Capital India, in a statement.

“With internet usage in this demographic growing rapidly, further catalysed by the Jio effect, apps such as Apna can play a meaningful role in democratizing access to employment and skilling. Apna has built a unique product where users quickly come together in professional communities, an unmet need so far,” he added.

A handful of other players are also looking for ways to help. Last month, Google rolled out a feature in its search engine in India that allows users to create their virtual business card. The Android-maker also launched its jobs app Kormo in the country.