One day, when Meenakshi Gupta Jain’s maid failed to arrive to perform her daily duties at a time when guests were due, her husband jokingly said to her that a directory of maids in their area would be the perfect solution to their seemingly huge problem. That’s when the idea of Helper4U came about.
Having done her schooling, graduation and post-graduation, as well as a Masters in Linguistics from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, Meenakshi has been a school teacher, corporate trainer, project manager with NIIT and Lead Instruction Designer with Tata Interactive Systems before turning entrepreneur with ClickForCoach and now Helper4U. Having won Innovation of the Year Award and 2,50,000 USD from Internet.org for Helper4U, Meenakshi is fulfilling a huge need and providing a platform for semi-skilled and unskilled workers to get jobs at no cost to them.
Helper4U provides an internet-based classified listing of semi-skilled and unskilled workers looking for a job – domestic maids, babysitters, drivers, delivery boys, cooks, patient care personnel etc. – in the process doing away with the need for a middleman, and allowing for immediate, cost effective direct hiring, benefitting both sides.
The process is fairly straightforward: a Job Giver views profiles on Helper4U, subscribes to view mobile numbers of potential employees, calls the candidates and hires the one (s)he likes. A Job Seeker registers with Helper4U.in, gets calls from potential employers and gets hired at absolutely zero cost!
Meenakshi says the two challenges she faced initially were hiring people to work in slums and financing the venture. They managed to get some good workers over time by giving them something aspirational to look forward to, like involving them in important discussions and meetings, and by treating them as corporate employees by arranging for lunch meetings, remembering their special days etc. She also worked overtime and funded the venture through freelancing, for about a year.
Unique Selling Proposition
She considers physical agencies and online placement agencies – mainly for domestic workers – as her main competition. But she insists Helper4U is unique as it focuses on the bottom of the pyramid – only unskilled and semi-skilled workers, especially women, looking for employment in the domestic/small businesses sector are in their database. It also enables a direct connect between the Job Giver and Job Seeker, without involving agents or middlemen. Through this, it is promoting a self-service model, using internet and mobile, even for Job Seekers. The variable cost to service a customer is very low and will continue to come down, which is how it’s able to maintain costs and charge a minimal amount to Job Givers.
Helper4U has been bootstrapped up till now. Having recently won the Innovation Challenge Award from Internet.org and getting 2,50,000 USD as prize money will help them expand to new cities. Their revenue model is simple. Job Givers subscribe and pay a small, one-time fees to access contact numbers of Job Seekers they like, pay a fees to facilitate their interview process with suitable Job Seekers and pay to train their staff. Helper4U also carries out and charges for police verification and background checks, if the employer so demands.
Talking about herself, Meenakshi says she is a very family-oriented woman, yet independent and adventurous. She loves to take up challenges and work towards winning them. She never regrets anything in life.
Her mantra is: if you can change something for the better – do it, if you cannot – don’t cry about it. Recycle the situation to achieve the best possible outcome. She believes in this because her personal life story is a testament to it: she studied to be a doctor, but missed getting admission into a medical college in Delhi by just 3 marks. By some twist of fate she landed in a girls’ college studying English literature. Since there was nothing she could do to change it, she did her best to make the most of it. Though she has been working all her adult life, she has often had to let go of good opportunities to either let motherhood take over or move cities with her husband. She attributes her making-the-most-out-of-every-situation attitude to her constant inter-city movement. She has constantly reinvented her skill set to fit in her new circumstances and believes it has made her what she is today.
Elaborating on the best advice she has received, from her husband, she says – the paying customer is as important as the job seeker. Don’t focus on one at the cost of the other. Her advice to women starting out would be to do what makes them happy and to not feel guilty for being happy. Everything else will fall in place.
Talking about an incident from her startup journey, she says, “This was when we won the Internet.org award in the migrant’s category, and someone who just heard it said, “Oh, so you won it because you are a migrant in Mumbai.” It was so funny, though the gentleman sincerely believed that to be the case.”
She believes that more than anything else, women need support at home in terms of sharing their responsibilities, and making them feel free to pursue their dreams, even if there are chances of failing, which will require a lot of change in the current mindset. She says that the government is doing its part to support them through simpler policies, loans etc. and women don’t need any other special treatment or reservations. Rather, women need to be treated at par within families which will inspire them to do what they want, without giving a thought to society’s expectations of them.
What the future holds
She sees Helper4U as the platform of choice for Job Seekers at the bottom of the pyramid looking for a job as well as for Job Givers employing these Job Seekers. Also, she wants to go a step further and use increasing penetration of technology to enable e-learning to up-skill these Job Seekers. Currently operational in Mumbai and Pune, Helper4U is looking to expand to a couple of more cities and planning to go pan India by the end of 2017.
P.S.: Helper4U was earlier Maid4U. When requests for registration started coming in from unemployed and uneducated males, Meenakshi changed the name to Helper4U to make it gender-neutral. Way to go!