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Will Babajob Revolutionise the City's Blue Collar Job Market?

"Babajob has been envisioned from the ground up for the job seekers who make less than Rs 15,000 per month, so their needs as users have been thought of first" - Sean Blagsvedt. We review the business as they are well into their operations.

Even if its name might seem to patronise the working class, babajob.com is an enterprise that might give the city’s working underprivileged a shot at job opportunity in a presently unorganised scenario.

The job market for people who want to work as drivers or housekeepers or gardeners or such categories similar to that of domestic help, is not organised. Typically, people find people by word-of-mouth.

Inspired by an academic paper a colleague at Microsoft had presented, American Sean Blagsvedt discovered a gap between employers and informal labour, which is often used in India as domestic help.

According the company’s website, "...the study showed that poor families often left the poverty trap through income diversification i.e. they got other jobs. If a farmer started fixing tractors on the side or a young son got a better paying job in the city, eventually that extra income really did raise the real economic status of the family. How were these jobs obtained?  Well, the employee knew someone who knew someone."

Blagsvedt figured that getting the rural (or urban) poor networked in a ‘someone knows someone’ environment was the same as providing them with a LinkedIn for the villages. One thought led to another and babajob.com was born.

The company said that "...started as an experiment by (Blagsvedt), his step-father Ira Weise and (Microsoft colleague) Vibhore Goyal, to leverage the web, the mobile and social networks to accelerate the escape from poverty. It is an experiment – a possible solution to provide all levels of job seekers more with job opportunities while efficiently helping employers find suitable employees."

The company claims that job seekers at the lower end of the income spectrum don’t need the internet to list themselves. They can simply call a number and get registered. We checked on this. While one of our colleagues was able to get registered, we found the process was entirely manual. This raised questions about the company’s ability to scale across the country without needing a huge call centre to process the registration of say, the next one million applicants.

While these and other issues will need to get sorted out, it is clear that the site is of considerable use to the community. (Indeed, we just might find ourselves one colleague short as a result of his evident happiness at being registered and receiving a call back about a job opportunity.)

In an interview with Explocity, founder Sean Blagsvedt and COO Vir Kashyap answered questions, explaining their business model, technology challenges and why they were different from other job portals.

How is Babajob different from any other job portal like Monster or Naukri?
Babajob has been envisioned from the ground up for the job seekers who make less than Rs 15,000 per month, so their needs as users have been thought of first. For example, there is no requirement of a resume upload as there is on most other job portals. We have a simple-to-use profile creator where job seekers can highlight their skills and important factors such as location, desired salary, languages spoken etc.

We also have a broad range of interfaces for users, so a job seeker can make their profile on Babajob by making a phone call and answering a series of questions in their local language. In addition to voice, there is support for creating a profile and searching for jobs over SMS, Mobile Web (in several local languages), and of course the main website.

What is your revenue model?
We don’t charge per placement, rather our business model is based on charging employers who want to save money and time on recruiting and quickly connect with qualified and interested candidates.

What’s your site traffic like?
We don’t disclose exact traffic figures but we generate several million page views a month.

How do you plan to scale?
We aim to continue our growth trajectory to eventually have tens of millions of job seekers across the country as users on our site and connect them with better paying jobs.

Did you get funded?
We raised a Series A round of Rs 7 Cr last year and before that had done a seed / angel round. (Other reports have it that the company received over $1million from Gray Ghost Ventures and luminaries such as Silicon Valley VC, Vinod Khosla.)

What are the personal and professional challenges you faced/ continue to face?
One of the primary challenges was getting job seekers to connect with us. Initially we envisioned overcoming the challenges through referral networks with incentives for people who did have access to technology, to help those who did not. The mobile phone revolution in India also started in full force shortly after Babajob was founded and allowed us to connect to many job seekers via their mobile phone (SMS, Voice, Mobile web) in addition to our main website, Babajob.com.

So it was a combination of building many different channels to allow job seekers to reach us and also allowing the market to catch up with us. For example, in 2012 we saw over a 10X growth in our web traffic as more and more lower income job seekers got access to the internet, either via a mobile internet experience on their phone or in a shared computer (such as a net cafe) type of scenario.

How has your first year been?
We have seen a large increase in the number of users of the site, both from employers and job seekers. In fact, we have recently crossed an important milestone of having over one million job seekers registered on Babajob. Babajob is about bringing better job opportunities to the informal job sector (maids, drivers, guard, helper, nurse etc).

Why does your site also list jobs for white collar professionals such as salespersons, accountant, IT professionals and engineers?
A vast majority of our job posts are from businesses, ranging from small to medium sized businesses to larger corporates who are hiring employees in the Rs 5000-15000 range in monthly compensation. These are the categories that these employers are hiring in and we have to build a service that caters to that demand in order to attract employers to post jobs. So this includes jobs such as accountants and sales people. Their entry salaries do fall within that bracket.

The IT Professionals and Engineers are not focus categories, and we do continually re-evaluate which job categories we serve on the site. The supply/demand varies by geography and job category. This will continue to be the case but we hope that digital tools like Babajob will help to make the market more efficient and reduce the supply/demand imbalances in the future.

What are the ways by which a job seeker can register on Babajob?
We offer a variety of ways that a job seeker can register on Babajob.
Automated Voice - they can call 080 30635308, create a basic profile in English, Kannada or Hindi, listen and apply to jobs. There is no other verification needed.  Or SMS - they can SMS 55444 with the message like "JOB Driver mumbai" and receive SMSs back of relevant jobs. There is no other verification needed. Also they could  visit babajob.com on their internet-enabled phone (http://babajob.com/m) and see our mobile site in 5 languages (English, Tamil, Hindi, Telegu, Kannada). They need to give a missed call to verify their mobile after applying for a job.  All of these models require no manual intervention on our end.

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Sean Blagsvedt’s background:
Prior to founding Babajob, Sean spent 9 years at Microsoft, interning in 1996 and 1997 and joining full-time in 1999 in the Office group in Redmond as a Program Manager, owning features such as Messenger integration, speech recognition and what was to later become the Vista sidebar. In 2002, Sean moved to the Windows Vista User Experience team, designing the Messenger experience in Vista and how the OS represents people. Finally, in fall 2004, Sean moved to Bangalore as the 3rd founding member of the Microsoft Research India, heading the Program Management and Advanced Prototyping team, focusing on novel approaches to technology in emerging markets and new strategies in the mobile phone space.

Prior to his years at Microsoft, Sean also worked at the White House with the Internet Policy czar, Ira Magaziner and in Boston with the Lotus Corporation (IBM).  Sean holds dual bachelor degrees in Computer Science and Public Policy from Brown University (1998).