Being a father of two adorable girls, Pravin Agarwala was constantly troubled by the news of child molestation, eve teasing issues etc. And then came the real trigger point – the unfortunate case of a little girl in one of the schools of Bangalore. There was lot of public protest and demand to streamline certain security processes. Looking deeper, Pravin realized that there was absolutely no utilisation of technology to keep the rogue elements out of the system; there was no technology-driven deterrent. So, Pravin called up Uday Singh, Group CEO of SIS, Asia’s leading Security Company and also a close family friend. After long debates and discussions they decided to create a system that could, in their own words, ‘SafePower a Billion people’ – a system that worked as a ‘Trust’ platform. Hence, driven by social needs as well as business potential, they finally ventured into BetterPlace, a digital background verification service.
From verifying the credentials of a potential tenant, hiring a maid, to fulfilling the workforce requirements of large organisations, BetterPlace aims to provide suitable safe living resolutions for all safety concerns through its web-based service and mobile applications.
So far, the company has been bootstrapped and expects to break even by the year end. However, they have closed their discussions with investors and maintain that “announcements would follow shortly”.
Making The Security Apparatus Work
BetterPlace provides simple cloud-based applications to seek or give feedback about an individual. It has a mobile app to make things handy. To hire or partner with somebody, one needs to do a simple search by name or mobile number or valid ID, request to see the profile and make an informed decision about the other person. One can even create a new request for profiling in just a couple of steps. The service keeps the complexities of the current processes completely out and does a near real time profiling at an affordable cost. BetterPlace has launched its product line through HireSafe, PartnerSafe and TrainSafe.
Says Pravin, “We have a vision to SafePower every citizen. We see the problem everywhere. In apartment complexes where we assume safety rather than demanding it (e.g., is the guard verified? is the visitor checked? etc.), in last mile delivery, in hotels and home-stays, in corporates etc. We have launched our services mostly in logistics, on demand services, facility management and private security companies. We will continue to add other segments as we go along.”
The Business Model
BetterPlace has “Safety as a Service” subscription model which organizations can customize based on their needs. Besides profiling, they also deliver online Safety Trainings for all citizens. For individuals and students, the services are completely free. Besides that, they have high-end apps like VisitorSafe, Digital Locker etc. which are part of the social safety awareness programs and are completely free. “We are well on track to close the year with over 50 subscription-based clients and conducting close to 3500 verification checks daily,” adds Pravin.
Piloted in Bangalore, BetterPlace has recently tied up with Commonfloor Groups team, an online apartment management solution provider, to enable instant verification of staff through Aadhaar card in their recently launched solution, Commonfloor Smart Guard. The product is a mobile app that helps housing societies secure their premises by capturing visitor (Staff/ Guest/Vendors) logs digitally and intimate residents on visitor arrival. With this association, BetterPlace aims to break fresh grounds in the B2C background verification space as today most companies in this domain only focus on the B2B segment.
Everyone’s Playing Safe And How…
The verification industry has been in existence for more than a decade now. The industry took off post 9/11 as the IT industry had to mandatorily check the credentials of its staff, especially while working with US clients. Overtime due to demand supply mismatch, there was a huge jump in profiles with fake education or employment certificates.
Observes Pravin, “Based on our data, we can say that around 22%-25% people furnish fake credentials. This is where most of the companies started checking the credentials of their employees before hiring. Today we estimate this industry to be north of $1.5 billion of which white collar verification services take the majority share. However with increased urbanization, digitization and new business models coming up, we are increasingly seeing a massive influx of blue collared and semi-skilled professionals entering the market in an organized manner. The numbers here are well north of 50 million people. As demand for verification of these new segments has picked up, the market size will scale exponentially.”
As far as both India and the world are concerned, there has been a steady rise in the number of companies and apps offering safety related services as a package. Some of the major players include, KPMG, Securitas, Veri Facts, HireSafe, BeenVerified, People Spy, Janta Khoj, Onicra, Matrix India and IBC India among others.
With security concerns on the rise and the global self-service technology market expected to exceed $31 billion by 2020, representing an annual growth rate of almost 14%, these companies are constantly innovating and diversifying their offerings. Broadly classified, these services include, Address Verification, Court Records Check, Criminal Verification (Police), Criminal Database Check, Drug Test, Education Verification, Employment Verification, Reference Verification, Social Media Scan, Court Database Check etc.
For Pravin, there were multiple challenges in the absence of structured data. And people looked at safety as a reactive versus a proactive need. Adding to that were other challenges like speed, complexity of processes and scale. However, Pravin claims that with their APIs, near real time data analytics and business innovation, they have enabled easy integration with client processes, simplifying the complexities completely and creating simple decision matrices. They also continue to build the central database, to keep the rogue elements out, which can be used for continuous tracking.
The Road Ahead…
Presently, BetterPlace has launched services for logistics, on-demand services, facility management, cabs and private security agencies etc., mainly focusing on the large blue collar workforce. Soon, they plan to launch services for more than 100,000 apartments pan India.
“We are going to add another 3 verticals this year. We would be launching our new services and be in all verticals early next year. Our focus has been on HireSafe so far. We are investing heavily on our technology platform to create a data driven real time profiling system. Besides that we would be adding new capabilities in coming months to ensure we have SafePowered citizens,” signs off Pravin.
Globally, India currently stands at rank 54 with a crime index of 46.82. Statistics from National Crime Records Bureau has pegged India with a crime rate of 58.11 per 1,00,000 of the population. On the other hand, there are close to 7500 companies in India, which operate just for providing fake employment and educational certificates, according to a report.
While these are sorry figures indeed, they also present opportunity for the safety-as-a-service market. With consumers increasingly opting for self-service products, doing business with a click or a swipe, there is tremendous potential for a service like BetterPlace to play, innovate and surge ahead.
However, there are already a number of a number of existing and established players in the sector. Faced with a security situation, recently, mega brands like Uber and Ola have signed up with safety-check giants like First Advantage and AuthBridge respectively. Operating in the same domain, BetterPlace is up against giants and to be a ‘giant killer’, it needs to continuously innovate, disrupt and build an envious clientele, to create a stir in the market.
[This article is contributed by Abhishek Chanda]