Hugo was so huge that he needed special care. Monica Chaturvedi, a human resource trainer in Mumbai, had taken the furry St Bernard to pet salons, but wasn't happy with the outcome. Then one day she saw an advertisement on Facebook. A service provider had on its list a pet groomer. And he was willing to come home.
"He spent three hours shampooing Hugo, cutting his belly hair and trimming his nails. Hugo loved it," sighs Chaturvedi, happy to fork out Rs 1,500 monthly for this home visit.
In metros across the country, people like her are relying on the Internet or their mobiles for services at home. Hugo, for instance, got his home grooming because of the services offered by timesaverz.com, launched in Goregaon and Juhu in Mumbai in April 2013. Chaturvedi is now keen to try out their pest control services.
In just a year or so, a number of such home service providers have sprung up. Among them are Jack on Block, Mr Right, Zimmber, Getmypeon, Hammer and Mop, Housejoy, Taskbob, Easyfix.in and Urban Clap mobile app. They offer a plethora of services to deal with the nitty-gritty of daily life.
The services include home cleaning (floors, sofa, windows, car, etc.); repair services (AC, microwave, refrigerator and so on); plumbing or painting jobs, providing clients with a beautician or just running errands - such as depositing a form at the transport office or picking up a lab report. Rates vary - for Rs 300 for a small task to Rs 35,000 for painting the house. The companies usually take 10-20 per cent from each transaction conducted.
"The trusted Man Friday who did all our odd jobs around the house no longer exists in our lives," points out Debadutta Upadhyaya, co-founder and CEO of timesaverz.com, which can also be downloaded as an app. So these young companies work as substitutes.
Online retail giants such as Amazon and Snapdeal too have entered this segment. Snapdeal started its home utility services last year and puts the market size for handymen at $15 billion.
"We got fewer than five orders a day when we started and now we have 150-180 orders. We are looking at taking it to 1,000 orders a day in the next two to three months," says Saurabh Bansal, assistant vice-president, home and general merchandise, Snapdeal.com. The company offers furniture installation, pest control, plumbing, electrical and carpentry work, and home cleaning services.
Last year, Amazon started similar services in some cities in the US and there were reports of a service starting soon in India. The company, however, refuses to divulge details.
Clearly, a huge market is waiting to be tapped. "With consumers demanding an ever-increasing range of services online and on mobiles, and with an increasing number of people asking for professional-grade services, the market for such services is expected to grow," says Neeraj Trikha, analyst at the Bangalore e-commerce tracking company, tracxn.
According to a 2012 report by market research analysts Frost & Sullivan, at least 5,000 urban Indian homes require carpentry, plumbing and electrical services every day, and at least 18 Indian cities qualify for this requirement.
"Even if an average of Rs 500 is charged per home, it amounts to a Rs 25 lakh daily opportunity per city," points out Srikrishna Ramamurthy, partner, Unitus Seed Fund, Bangalore.
Not surprisingly, young graduates from the IITs and IIMs are giving up jobs to start such ventures. IITian Varun Khaitan, for instance, quit a job in the US and along with two others set up the mobile-based marketplace platform, Urban Clap. "Young people are leaving their eight figure salaries to come up with solutions for long-standing consumer problems," he says.
Likewise, Sharath Vatsa realised this was a sector with enormous potential when he moved to Bangalore with a new job. The constant demand for plumbers and carpenters - and their erratic services - prompted him to set up Jack On Block.
"This is a two-decade old recognised industry in the West - companies delivering handyman services to homes. But in our country, we still rely on our local hardware store to guide us to a plumber," Vatsa says. After studying the market demands for two years, he launched his company in 2012.
The sector, industry watchers point out, is growing because middle class families - often with working couples - do not have the time to look and wait for servicemen. Many people are also unwilling to let strangers into the house.
Promoters of the sites and apps stress that for such services to flourish, the focus has to be on reliability and safety. Workers are recruited after police verification, Vatsa says. The company then trains them in basic English and etiquette.
Business is also picking up because Indians are now comfortable with apps, which wasn't the case two or three years ago, points out Zimmber co-founder Gaurav Shrivastava. It was keeping this mind that he and a few other young engineers started the app-based home service provider in Mumbai and Pune in October 2014.
The servicemen are happy, too, "Electricians and plumbers today are seeing how drivers have benefited from Ola cab and other taxi services and are willing to co-operate," says Aseem Khare, co-founder of Taskbob.com, started by four IITians in December 2014. The mobile-based app service provider for the Powai area outside Mumbai got Rs 50 lakh from India Quotient as the "most valuable" mobile app.
The entrepreneurs point out that for the business to flourish, relationships have to be built with the workers. Shrivastava points out that they reward their handymen for good work done every month.
"Our employees are our strength so we pay a lot of attention to their salary, training and well being," Vatsa adds. Their plumbers earn Rs 9,000-18,000 a month.
Trikha stresses that though the home services market in India is still highly unorganised, young entrepreneurs are excited by success stories in the US.
"The local services American start-up Thumbtack facilitated $1.8 billion worth of business to local firms in 2014, according to Forbes, and home services start-up Handy raised $45 million in funding within two years of its launch," Trikha adds.
Gourav Bhattacharya from Matrix India, a Mumbai investment firm, agrees about the potential of the sector. "We think local service is the next big area of value creation in consumer Internet," he says. However, Matrix has not funded any home or local service providers yet.
Of course, not all sites succeed. The Chennai-based www.fixall.biz, which started in 2012, shut because it could not control or supervise the workmen. Promoter Vaidyanathan Ramachandran had complained that they would start "moonlighting" and were not punctual.
Financially, the services are still to strike gold. Nobody is breaking even as yet. But the companies say they are growing. Timesaverz claims to have grown 10-fold in one year. Bharat Ahirwar, founder of getmypeon.com - which runs errands for client - says that it has been growing by 30 per cent every quarter.
Vatsa's company, which started with 23 employees, is now a 90-member workforce. With a task force of 1,000 agents, timesaverz.com, which has now expanded to Bangalore and Pune, has handled 5,000 orders in 23 months. These "agents" or handymen are not on their payroll but have signed up with them and are armed with an agent mobile app.
Upadhyaya explains that once a request for a task is made, a trigger goes off on the mobile of the agent from the relevant category. Then the customer and agent details are shared; once the job is done, the customer rates the work. The agent gets future jobs according to the rating.
"We are busy getting the fundamentals in place and building a steady business. It will be another 24 months before we break even," Upadhyaya says. It earns about Rs 12 lakh every month for handling 1,000 orders (at an average rate of Rs 1,200 for each order). The company got an undisclosed amount of funding in October 2014.
Jack On Block started with Rs 15 lakh from an angel investor and then received Rs 1.2 crore from venture capitalists Unitus Seed Fund and Mumbai Angels. It now intends to raise Rs 5 crore in the next three years.
"We are planning to open up 150 franchisees in cities such as Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune and Kochi," Vatsa says.
Delhi-based company Easyfix.in, which operates in the National Capital Region, Bangalore and Mumbai, started with an initial investment of Rs 70 lakh and clocked in revenues of Rs 3 crore this year. "We are now in talks with venture capitalists so that we can spread to 50 more cities," says founder Shaifali A. Holani.
Ramamurthy points out that with the purchasing power of the middle class going up, the demand for such services will rise. "So booking a carpenter or a car washer through an app for a premium price is going to grow by big numbers," he adds.
Mumbai homemaker Adora Shaikh is among the happy clients of such services. When she and her husband moved into their new apartment in Andheri two months ago, they needed a plumber. So when they saw an advertisement for Zimmber on the back of an autorickshaw, they called the number. A Zimmber team landed up at their home and taught them how to book their order on their app.
"We had booked an electrician, plumber, someone for AC servicing and a mason. It was not expensive, except for the masonry, we thought," Shaikh says. She rates the experience a 3 out of 5.
"We are tasked with organising an unorganised sector," Khare holds. "People stopped trusting servicemen because they didn't give quality. We need to solve this problem and make a happy India."
Well, Chaturvedi, for one, has no complaints. And Hugo certainly doesn't.
SERVICES ON TAP
Easyfix.in (app coming soon): Plumbing, carpentry, electrical
Area: Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore
Mr Right (app available): Electrical, pest control, car spa, plumbing, carpentry, RO water service, AC & fridge servicing
Timesaverz (app available): Home cleaning, plumbing, AC services, errands, pet grooming
Area: Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune
Zimmber (app available): Electrical, plumbing, AC services, painting, carpentry, home cleaning, mason services, sofa and carpet cleaning.
Area: Mumbai and Pune
Urban clap (app available): Home cleaning, interior design, salon services, yoga home instructors, nutritionists
Area: Delhi and NCR