In this series of posts titled ‘Part of The Solution’ read about imaginative yet realistic entrepreneurs, working towards a positive social difference in India. Read on for more!
At STW we were delighted to speak with Sharath Vatsa, Founder and CEO at Jack On Block, a facilities management company talks about his world class service and team. In 2010 he identified a critical problem with the quality and availability of simple handyman and repair services in India from his own personal experience.
In 2012, he decided to activate this learning and revolutionize this disorganised labour sector. Here’s how it all happened.
Sharath Vatsa’s story about the start of Jack On Block (JOB) is as much a personal journey as it is an entrepreneurial one. With a background in Hotel Management, Sharath knew beyond a shadow of a doubt his calling was in an intersection of marketing, hospitality, events and operations management. While his career progressed from strength to strength at companies like Jet Airways and Ticketpro, Sharath knew better than to ignore the voice in his head telling him he could start and run a business. He let his creative juices flow, even in a recession struck economic environment, into an event business in Bangalore called Livetree Entertainment. This was a full-fledged event planning and production company that worked with big brands like Airtel and Times Of India and specialized in music and corporate events.
While riding the wave of this success, Sharath purchased an apartment in Bangalore city. The idea for Jack On Block took shape from the simple recognition of a common problem. He encountered a whole host of inefficiencies and issues while dealing with electricians, carpenters and plumbers. He identified his own pain points to be around accessibility, reliability, safety and affordability of handymen or technicians. Sharath started JOB as a facilities service company with an all rounded mission. Not only do they provide reliable, affordable and trustworthy quality services to homeowners and corporates, they also provide steady employment opportunities for a fairly disorganized job sector. Both the customer and the technician benefit.
The BIG Idea and Solution
JOB, based in Bangalore, is the much-needed connection between customers and job seekers in the repair and maintenance space. People from low-income families are trained and hired for the job by JOB, thus providing them the requisite skills to work in this space. Once hired these men and women form an organized and skilled workforce, that can be deployed in homes, apartment complexes and small businesses including offices, budget hotels, restaurants and educational institutions for cleaning, repair and maintenance services.
JOB not only addresses a critical urban need for maintenance staff but is also facilitating a stable job environment. In training individuals from low income or seasonally employed groups, they guarantee employability and create respectable employment options. These workers then enjoy enhanced income that will benefit both them and their families. They are also brought into the formal sector where they gain access to retirement benefits, healthcare and health insurance, life insurance and more. Added benefits include access to many services including bank accounts, credit, and education for children.
Highs and lows
JOB has had some great commercial success stories since beginning operations in 2012. In 2013, they were chosen as the preferred Housekeeping Agency for managing the housekeeping activities at all hospitality and VIP stands of M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore for the Indian Premiere League matches. Since beginning Sharath tells us he has many of the original staff on board, speaking of the true value and opportunity JOB has created for them. With higher than market rate salary offered as both a retention tool and to ensure a better standard of living for his employees – Sharath and his team have ensured a loyal workforce.
However the start was not as simple as it appears. Early on Sharath had consulted his mentors and peers on the feasibility of this solution and working in this space of disorganized labour. While most appreciated his idea he was strongly discouraged from working with this particular group of job seekers. He was warned that they could not be trusted and that building an entire service around this work force would prove to be challenging and unsuccessful. Sharath essentially embarked on this endeavour with no real believers. Starting out Sharath hired Manohar Arasan, who had over 10 years’ experience working with facilities management companies, as the head of operations. The first few employees were hired through word of mouth references, and through Arasan’s contacts. By August 2012, when operations began, the firm had 25 employees, most of them with underprivileged backgrounds. Another serious challenge has been with funding. Typical venture capitalists tend to view the JOB service as a ‘dirty business’ against the backdrop of e-commerce or IT businesses. Proving potential and abilities becomes all the more relevant in this scenario.
That Secret Sauce?
The reasons for their quick and accelerated success may be attributed to their strong ability to aggregate and retain a quality workforce. Sharath says that this is mainly because of the dignity and respect they have created for the job. It is not only compensation but also a sense of job satisfaction that is keeping the technicians and handymen committed to JOB. Most practices – from benefits to perks and training – are in line with what any IT company in Bangalore would offer. Additionally JOB also honours the Employee of The Month award through a certificate and gift voucher to a different high-performing employee each month. Birthdays are celebrated, where a mason who may have never cut a cake before in his life is now suddenly blowing out candles on one. Working conditions are maintained at the highest standards, ensuring that the company leads by example. All employees then automatically feel a strong sense of belonging and motivation to conform to the high standards of hygiene and cleanliness maintained by their employer. All employees have a uniform and ID card and receive their salaries in bank accounts. Employees enjoy different types of leaves as well and Sharath shares that even socially their lives tend to be improving – including their potential grooms! the JOB team provides their workforce with requisite soft skill training as well – on how to handle a customer query, converse in basic English and even self-grooming. The JOB opportunity has been transformational for their work force.
Sharath says that their operational excellence and standardization of procedures has been a huge differentiator for JOB. Creating organizational structures where none existed before has been both disruptive and extremely beneficial to their success. Their services and offerings are bundled optimally and the right price points giving customers of all types great value in using JOB for their repair and maintenance needs.
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