Brief introduction about yourself and tell us something about your unique platform for unskilled and semi-skilled workers, Helper4U?
About me and my family: My father was in the army, and we traveled the country with him. My mom was often left alone to take care of the three kids in the house. That has shaped my personality to a large extent and made me independent, and sort of fearless. My brother started his own software company in the US at the age of 23 and my sister is also an oncologist there. My husband is an IIT, IIM graduate, currently heading a Tata group company. I completed my MPhil from JNU and have largely spent my life teaching, training and designing trainings across various mediums. I love writing and have written some books and stories for children.
Helper4U.in is a simple, quick, affordable and scalable solution to the problem of employment for ABCDE: Aaya, Bai, Cook, driver, elder care and similar unskilled or semi-skilled helpers. It enables a direct connect between Job Seekers and the ever-growing middle class Job Givers using the mobiles. Helper4U.in is different from an online agency in that the platform does away with the need of a middleman for both the sides.
A multifaceted personality, highly qualified professional with years of expertise, you could have chosen any flourishing domain for a start-up then what led to inception of Helper4U?
I am a problem solver at the core, and also a feminist to a great extent. I started out to solve the problem of maids and domestic employers unable to find each other, within my society. But, early on in the process I heard stories of the women desperate for a job succumbing to a “demands” of security guards in high rises and at times the so called agents who promise to get them a job in the city. I have also heard how women are hired in pairs from small towns with a promise of job in the same house in a metro, but once in the city the elder one of the pair is placed in a house and the younger one is pushed into flesh trade. This ensures that the elder one never leaves the house she is placed in. All these stories made me cringe with disgust and shame, because as middle class women our favourite discussion topics are related to “maid bashing”. We don’t realize the problems and insults these women face. So it became a challenge for me to solve this problem if I could.
I realized that the main reason of this exploitation was that they had no way or medium to directly reach out the prospective employers. The solution was simple: find a way to bypass the middleman. Their only connect to the world outside their family is a mobile phone. So, I decided to use that to get them connected with employers. Slowly we expanded our range to cover anyone and everyone not educated enough to be on a Naukri.com or Monster.com.
My vision is that anyone in any far flung area should be able to register on Helper4U.in and get interview calls before they even migrate from there. It has started happening sporadically, and now we are planning on how to make this a mass movement, with a win-win for Job Seeker as well as the Job Giver.
You head another platform dedicated to connect mentors and protégés ClickForCoach, please tell us something about it.
I have seen the advent of computers and mobiles in India, and have experienced firsthand how technology can be a great enabler. As a teacher, and then as an e-learning specialist I wanted to explore the potential of technology in connected the learners and trainers. The vision there is to enable learners in small towns to find suitable teachers anywhere on the globe, for anything and everything, and connect with them using the internet and mobiles.
Whilst realizing your entrepreneurial dream did you face any challenges?
Nothing really that would be a show stopper. Maybe because I have a very encouraging family, who supports me at every step.
The challenges have been the normal ones for any business: Money, being a non tech person trying to run tech platforms and hiring the right people. I have often worked 20 hours a day and done a lot of freelancing work to fund my dream projects. And it is now after about one and a half years that I have started finding the right people who are ready to work for me in the slums where our target users are.
What piece of advice would you like to give to the aspiring youth who wish to pursue their dream of becoming an entrepreneur?
Believe in yourself when you set out to solve a problem and be ready for the long haul. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely and tiring at times. Don’t decide to be an entrepreneur for the glamour that is now a days attached to it.
According to you, what are the top three essential skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
- Being Passionate about what you are doing
- Being ready to multi task
- Ability to learn constantly and change tracks on the way
How do you manage the work-life balance?
I am lucky that I am not forced to work to make ends meet. So, I don’t really have make too much of a conscious effort to maintain that balance. I keep it simple: Enjoy what I get into, be it my work or having a family, or indulging in hobbies. Don’t do things to please others, do what you feel will make me happy. All else falls in place.
What are your views and opinions towards the ambiguous need to promote women entrepreneurship and women empowerment in India?
I think for our country to really progress to the next level, women empowerment needs to be started from the women at the Bottom of the Pyramid or BOP. The women there work the hardest and against all odds, not because they want a career, but because they have no other option. But, they are also the most neglected ones. Have we ever thought of our domestic help as a “working woman”, and tried to give her some of the advantages that we ourselves demand from our employers or government?
I come across so many women who ask for work they can do from home because they have young kids. When we are unable to provide them “work from home opportunities”, we ensure that these women, and consequently their children, remain stuck in the same category of BoP. In the process, we are also losing out on so many working hands that could be helping us in the Make in India movement. If we can focus on creating entrepreneurship opportunities for them, we will also empower them and skill them to move up in their lives.
A large women population at the bottom of the pyramid is uneducated and technologically challenged even when it comes to using a simple phone. Imagine if we put some focused effort there what a massive change we can bring to them and their families, and ultimately to the country. I strongly believe technology can play an important role in this. Helper4U.in is doing a small effort by using technology to help them network. But, there is much more that can be done.