As I write this article, I find myself at a need for an electrician or a plumber. If you are having the same need, then you know the struggle is indeed real. There is always a need for plumbers, gardeners, electricians and even painters. When we do find them, there’s always that level of uncertainty as to whether or not they’ll do the job properly. There’s even a possibility that they would try to cheat by asking for exorbitant amounts of cash whereas if you were to do it, it would only take about a third of the entire amount you’re spending.
This is where Workforce comes into play. A product by Nishshanka De Silva, WorkForce is a platform that will connect customers with the ideal people to do a job. A graduate of the University of Peradeniya in the year 2005, Nishshanka obtained his Masters in Business Management from the University of Colombo in 2014.
From there, he worked at Virtusa and CAMMS as a Software engineer. There, Nishshanka realized that he had no interest in working to fulfill someone else’s dreams and he realized that it was the perfect opportunity to try out something new. Following that, he began his own web designing company called Gangbee. There, he setup a team of individuals who would help him set up WorkForce. The team comprised of:
- Udayanga Jayaweera
- Chameera Abeysekara
- Sandya Manamendra
- Chamodhi Uthpala
- Navin Haritha
- Sachin Udunuwara
- Damsith Pradeepa
Being a father of two children and managing household chores is a tedious task. Nishshanka soon found out that it is quite difficult to find people such as carpenters, electricians, computer technicians etc. As always, necessity is the mother of invention. Nishshanka needed some plumbing work done at his house and he realized that most of the platforms he used offered little to no information about plumbers.
It wasn’t as easy as 1,2,3
The platforms that did offer the contact details of plumbers were sketchy at best and there was no way to see how good their work actually was. Nishshanka identified this as a problem and set out to find a solution for it. It was here that Nishshanka had a brainwave for WorkForce. The concept was simple: a platform to link customers with the right person for the job. Nishshanka calls them service providers and the people who use the platform are referred to as users. Thus, work on WorkForce began.
They spent a total of 12 months collecting data of all service providers in a given area. By utilizing the resources of 100 university graduates from state universities, Nishshanka was able to cover almost all the villages and towns in the Colombo district. They would take a village and contact the Grama Seva Niladhari of each village and also would contact the Samurdhi Offices of these areas. With their aid, the team handed over a number of forms to be filled by people who are skilled in particular fields such as plumbing, gardening etc.
Finding proverbial needles in haystacks
After all this was done, the team amassed a total of 45,000 records. The applications were cut down from 45,000 to 20,000, simply on the basis of how they filled out their forms. Some had names missing, others had contact details missing. A few even had their listed skills missing. All these essentially proved the applications of no value, thus they were put aside. Those who did fill out everything properly amounted to 3,500 and were selected for the platform.
While developing the platform and adding data to the backend, Nishshanka and his team came face to face with another problem. Service providers such as plumbers, electricians, gardeners and painters either lacked the required IT literacy skills to post their profiles on WorkForce, were too lazy to do so or simply lacked the motivation to do so. They won’t check messages or will simply choose to ignore them. This presented itself as a fairly large problem. However, the team managed to coax the service providers and train them in basic skills and work resumed as usual.
After that, they were ready to go
All the gathered data was stored in the database ready to use. Nishshanka and his team could track a service provider within a matter of seconds based on the work he/she would do and also by their geographic location. This, he says, is one of WorkForce’s greatest assets as it allows the team to keep an eagle eye on exactly what is going on. Providing the service is not an issue at all for WorkForce, says Nishshanka. Where other businesses may have difficulty in providing the service, WorkForce excels at it.
Once the data was added and everything was up and running, the second problem presented itself. Users had no prior knowledge of the service provider’s skills and therefore were rather reluctant to hire anyone. As a solution to this, the team at WorkForce implemented a rating system along with a profile view of the service providers. Based on the service provider’s performance, users could leave either a positive or negative feedback. Thus far, from all the requests and jobs processed by WorkForce, there have been little to no complaints from both service providers and customers. Nishshanka accredits this to maintaining a strict rating system for both parties. Anyone who has less than the recommended rating is immediately blocked and taken out of the WorkForce platform.
They had an interesting business model
The team also had to get working on expanding their user base. They did this via a rather interesting business model. The user would post a job. For example, Person A needed a painter. No specific details about what needs to be painted would be posted, but rather all that would be given once a match had been found. He/she would then be contacted by Workforce via SMS or an email within 24 hours if a provider that matches that criteria was available. From there, the providers would then call the users to arrange a time to visit and review the work that needs to be done.
Once the user had met all of the service providers, it would be up to him/her to decide the best suited candidate for the job. This is where the previously mentioned profiles came into play, as it played a pivotal role in helping users make the right decision. The two parties can then meet and discuss terms such as working hours and payment etc. Once the job was complete, the user could leave their feedback and share their experience with others. They also have a separate section of WorkForce that deals with contractors for large projects or jobs that cannot be handled by a single individual.
Generating Revenue through the WorkForce Platform
In order to generate revenue from the platform, Nishshanka and the team implemented a Subscriber based system. Both Service providers and users could sign up on the WorkForce platform free of charge. Once a user posts a job requirement on the platform, he/she would be notified via SMS that they are required to subscribe to WorkForce in order to kick things off. This is where the subscription fee of LKR150/- per month comes into play. Because it’s a fairly low amount to pay, Nishshanka says that the team encourages subscribers to stay with WorkForce. If a cancels his/her subscription, they would be required to pay the subscription fee again even if it is within the duration of the same month. So the ideal scenario would be to just keep the subscription.
Nishshanka is confident that the freelance market will always exist. This is because once you get a contact of a service provider and get them to do the work, they can always get the upper hand and charge you more, simply because you approached them separately. If one were to approach through a platform such as WorkForce, things would be a lot smoother simply because it is community driven and both the customer and service provider can leave feedback.
Currently, WorkForce has approximately 6,000 subscribers from major mobile telecommunication networks such as Dialog, Mobitel, and Airtel along with manual signups as well. This is carried out via various campaigns such as TV promotions, advertisements in newspapers, posts on social media, and sticker campaigns on tuks. Similar to how eChannelling works, WorkForce has also partnered up with Mobitel to offer their services to Mobitel customers as a premium service. Further, they have also tied up with JAT holdings for paint supplies, Kelani Cables PLC for cabling and electrical work and Anton PVC for Pipe/Plumbing.
In order to ensure that the service providers are keeping up to the standard that Nishshanka and the WorkForce team expects, the team contact each user/customer each time a job is completed and get the feedback on as to how the service provider performed. They are then scored accordingly. Similarly, the service providers are also asked to provide feedback with regard to the customer. If both parties are happy, then it’s a job well done for Nishshanka and his team at WorkForce.
It wasn’t a bed of roses
With regard to challenges in developing and maintaining WorkForce, Nishshanka says that the biggest challenge so far is actually collecting the records. That’s where the 100 University students came into play. The challenge of maintaining the web development part of the platform was actually relatively easy because Nishshanka already had Gangbee in place. So any and all web related maintenance could be done in-house without the need for a separate web development team.
The WorkForce of the future
In terms of future plans, Nishshanka is determined to cover other parts of Sri Lanka as well. Now that Colombo and its suburbs are covered, the team is focusing on gathering service providers from Gampaha and Kaluthara. The tentative start day for that is September 2017. Once these areas are covered, they plan to cover the entire country.
This may look like a daunting task, but Nishshanka believes he has the magical component to carry this out. What is it, you ask? Well, he believes that if by the time Gampaha and Kaluthara are covered, potential service providers will simply use the WorkForce platform to advertise their skills. Essentially this could mean that Nishshanka and his team would not need to go to each and every village across the country, but rather, let the popularity of WorkForce speak for itself.
If you’re interested in giving getting your work done through WorkForce, then you can sign and post your job here.
Update: After remodelling their operations, the team at WorkForce have completely dropped the subscription model. They now operate on a commission basis where a rate of 5% is charged from the Service provider. Further, during the past 12 months, WorkForce has successfully delivered jobs worth LKR 12 Million to users of the platform.