The ‘Whatever it Takes’ Company
By – Nikhil Shanker (Head, Partner Ecosystem)
I had joined Urban Company (UC) after a thoroughly enjoyable 4 year stint at HCL Technologies, where among other things, I had the opportunity of building ground up a marketing and technology partnership between HCL and Manchester United.
However, it gradually became clear to me that I wanted to do something where my work had more tangible impact on people around me. When the UC opportunity came up, it seemed like the perfect chance to build a business that had tangible consumer impact, and enable thousands of skilled professionals to earn well and lead respectable lives.
Over my three years at UC, we have grown over 10x in scale and improved our quality scores by 2x. This combined focus on growth + experience has been the philosophy of UC to build a long term sustainable business, and the key to this has been to enable thousands of individual service providers to deliver high quality services at home like never before.
Here are some of the things we have done to make this possible:
Finding the best service providers: When we decided to go with individual service partners in our cleaning services, the team spent a lot of time identifying the best service partners. We visited villages across different parts of Delhi (and similarly in other cities), met professionals, and found ways to identify and source the best professionals. We did the same when we scaled our AC services business, visiting villages in and around Delhi as far off as Moradabad. We weren’t alone in any of these visits though — we always had our service professionals by our side, helping us identify the best locations and onboarding the best professionals. They have ensured that 60%+ of our new partners referred by existing partners, on a platform which scales 3x every year
Training & upskilling: We set up training centres across all our cities of operation to enable our partners to get easy access to training. Each training program, just like any part of our business, has gone through multiple iterations of imagining, reimagining and building. Everyone from the founders to business managers have got their hands dirty trying to find the best ways to remove grease, fix ACs and do all sorts of tinkering to create the best skilling programs for service professionals. This has allowed us to understand multiple businesses deeply, and set up intensive 1–3 week government recognised training programs that act like finishing schools for our service partners.
Equipping partners: This was an area in which I was honestly earlier a doubter. I felt that it was our role to provide the best service professionals, and not get into enabling products for them. But as we do frequently here, when we looked at the problem of quality in services, it was clear that there were two variables — the quality of the service professional and the quality of products they used on the job. And thus it was clear that we had to get involved in enabling our partners with products. We therefore invest heavily in research on products to design differentiated, convenient and safe services. As examples, lightweight portable spa beds allow our massage professionals to deliver high quality massage at home services, roll-on-cartridge-wax allows our beautician partners to deliver safe, burn-free salon services , water jet spray guns allow our AC professionals to deliver the best AC servicing in the market, and personal protective equipment including masks, gloves, face shields and sanitisers ensure that UC service professions provide the safest services in these COVID times.
Financial support: Most of our partners come with no prior financial history, and have previously never received loans. We have therefore built partnerships that provide our partners access to loans to purchase kits to start working and even personal loans. So cleaning for example professionals use this loan to procure vacuum cleaners, shining machines, and cleaning chemicals.
Safety & well being: Our partners spend an extensive part of their day outdoors. They also work on jobs which can be hazardous. We have therefore gone deep to ensure the health and safety of our partners:
- An SOS helpdesk provides emergency medical assistance such as arranging an ambulance in the event of an injury or providing other emergency support to our partners.
- We have also put in place an insurance program for all active partners covering INR 6 lac for loss of life/disability; INR 70000 for hospitalization; INR 10000 for OPD.
- We have tied up with professional organizations to offer free-of-charge mental and covid related health support. Partner have access to free psychiatric support for mental health issues, and tele-medicine diagnosis as well as testing for any covid risks
Take home net income: Through all our services, we ensure that with demand and product support, partners are able to take home 60% of their gross business as net income. This translates into 3x of their net earning from their previous brick-and-mortar jobs, and creates many many heartening stories of partners buying their first car, their first home, sending their children to good schools
None of this has been charitable work. Our approach has been to do ‘Whatever it Takes’ to empower our service professionals to deliver services at home like never before, and ultimately allow us to create customer love as we build a long term sustainable business. This twitter thread of customer comments is a great example of the quality of services we have been able to build — https://twitter.com/dharmeshG/status/1301946734877093888
That said, we have tinkered, burnt our fingers and made many mistakes along the way of figuring out the right way of building this business. There are still many areas to work on and solve, and we still have a very very very long way to go in this journey. But the phenomenal team — from the founders to the customer helpline associate, the opportunity ahead, and the way we are building this business, has ensured that I, like many others, believe in what we are building.
So just like the long-term investments we have made in our partners, UC’s excellent employee stock option program (ESOP), which recently had its third instance of stock liquidation in our 6 years, has enabled me to stay financially vested in the journey I have undertaken with this ‘Whatever it Takes’ Company.
And as we look to build ahead, and create the best home and personal services business in the world, we will continue to do Whatever It Takes.