If an MBA student can pop into LinkedIn at any time of the day and look for job opportunities that perfectly match his/her skills, why does a carpenter or an electrician not deserve the same luxury? It is the answer to this question that Nirmit Parikh set out to seek in mid 2019. To understand the problems which plague the blue- and grey-collar hiring scene, Parikh went undercover in the cities of Ahmedabad and Mumbai — working as an electrician at times, or as a delivery person, and even spent time drinking tea with warehouse workers.
“I realised that this marketplace is very community-driven,” he says. What this means is that if a carpenter has 10 contacts, his opportunities are limited to those 10 people. Which is why the scope of work of many such workers is limited to one corner of the city, maybe within the radius of a few kilometers. But by expanding his/her community, the prospective employees can find more opportunities and build on their skills. And thus, the light bulb went on in Parikh’s head.
In December 2019, he launched Apna — a job portal for blue- and grey-collared workers. Having worked with companies such as Apple and Intel, and also having co-founded two other start-ups — AI solutions platform Cruxbot, which was acquired by Intel in November 2013 and Incone Technologies, a start-up building control systems in hydropower automation and IT sectors — he had sensed an opportunity in the hiring space, early on. “I personally used every hiring platform and found that most of them were simply connecting candidates with employers, and not providing them with opportunities to grow,” he says. These portals, Parikh explains, had built a classified marketplace for jobs, think of Indeed or Monster. So, Apna had to stand out to make a mark.
Its edge comes from the peer verticals and professional communities that the start-up offers. Once a candidate signs up on the platform and lists their skills, a virtual visiting card is made for them that gives them a professional identity. Then, they can start applying for jobs and more importantly connect with relevant peer groups, where candidates help each other learn and discover new opportunities. The platform has around 60 such communities, including those of accountants, tele-callers, technicians and delivery boys. One of the groups is also dedicated to learning the English language and another is for connecting budding entrepreneurs.
Given India’s socio-economic background and educational divide, one might wonder if the platform is reaching the people it is supposed to cater to. To ensure that, Apna operates in the Hinglish (Hindi+English) language to make commands simpler. Currently, it has over 300,000 users, 100,000 recruiters and 500,000 active job openings across seven cities — Mumbai, Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru, Pune, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Ranchi. It has fulfilled staffing requirements at Fortis, Teamlease, Dunzo, Byju’s and Flipkart among others.
While the platform is currently free for all, Parikh is working on revenue streams such as upskilling courses and premium recruitment products. Apna does not currently charge the workers or the companies. According to a Betterplace Job Report 2020, over a million blue-collar workers lost their jobs due to the lockdown with income loss pegged at Rs.24.67 billion per month. So, Apna’s entry into the market could not have come at a better time.
Since its launch, the start-up has raised around $11 million from Sequoia Capital India, Lightspeed India, Greenoaks Capital and Rocketship.vc. With this, Parikh hopes to expand Apna’s operations across India and even to international markets. “The country has over 250 million blue-collar workers. With increasing internet usage, Apna can definitely play a meaningful role in democratising access to jobs and skilling,” he says.