Bengaluru-based VOIZ is a gig work marketplace connecting middle-skilled workers with legacy enterprises and digital businesses
The startup has helped players in sectors like ecommerce, edtech, fintech, traditional banking, travel and automobile with full-time, part-time and one-time contractual hiring
It claims to have onboarded 16,000 registered professionals or ‘agents’, out of which 80% are women
Multiple waves of the Covid-19 pandemic seemed to have shattered the traditional job market. Millions of jobs were lost in the initial phase as businesses were shuttered and headcounts were reduced by companies gasping to stay afloat. The Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy (CMIE) revealed that about 78 Mn jobs were lost during Q2 2020, which coincides with the first wave of Covid-19.
But there was a flip side.
When companies set up work-tech platforms to enable remote working for continued operations, the new model attracted millions of jobseekers looking for work-from-home gig opportunities.
Employers, too, realised the cost and quality benefits of on-demand hiring. As gig workers are recruited for seasonal/project-based requirements, companies can reduce hiring expenses and the cost of fixed human assets.
The growing adoption of the gig model has led to a significant rise in grey-collar jobs – middle-skill occupations requiring technical knowledge but not top-level expertise. Given the scenario, several gig discovery platforms and marketplaces like Awign, Squadstack and GigIndia and Taskmo have emerged in the past few years.
VOIZ, the latest entrant in the gig marketplace, exclusively works in the grey-collar space and connects a vast pool of grey-collar workers with enterprises for remote gig roles in tele-calling.
“Blue- and white-collar gig jobs are fairly widespread in India. However, a bulk of these jobs require physical presence for work completion. With tele-jobs, there is no requirement for physical availability and hence opens up bigger opportunities and larger TAM (total addressable market). Now that most companies are open to hiring gig partners for routine-to-clerical work, we see a massive scope in this segment,” said Vineet Patil, cofounder of VOIZ.
Bengaluru-based VOIZ was founded in January 2022 by Rajesh Bernard, Patil and Sandeep Nyamati. All three founders are seasoned entrepreneurs.
Patil has previously cofounded on-demand laundry services platform Laundrokart and a gaming company which he exited in 2018. Bernard comes with extensive experience in the Customer Experience (CX) space and had previously founded a CX SAAS startup called SmarterBiz. Before VOIZ, Nyamati founded Automorphic, a tech services platform and customer data and engagement platform LivePinch.
Incidentally, companies hiring grey-collar workers primarily look for young graduates, professionals with an on-premises set-up. However, VOIZ claims that it is democratising these jobs by enabling remote workforce to join from anywhere via its platform. It targets the 30+ age group, primarily secondary income earners such as homemakers looking for supplement household income.
This is of crucial importance as a United Nations Development (India) report pointed out how the pandemic hit a large section of women in the formal sector. Hence, many of them have turned to gig work due to easy access to paid work and better work-life balance.
Aware of how the job market is playing out, VOIZ claims that including women in the workforce via gig work is the USP it is working upon. It claims to have onboarded 16,000 registered professionals or ‘agents’, out of which 80% are women.
Gig-able roles on its platform include customer service, sales, recruitment, data processing, telecalling, executive assistance, tech support, sales and online reputation management. Among these, telecalling, sales, customer service and recruitment are topping the platform’s list.
At the B2B level, the platform has helped 200+ businesses with full-time, part-time and one-time contractual hiring. It has helped players in sectors like ecommerce, edtech, fintech, traditional banking, travel and automobile. The hiring costs typically start at INR 15,000 for a month.
In July 2022, VOIZ raised $2 Mn in its seed round from Omidyar Network India and eyes INR 20 Cr in revenue for the current financial year.
Connecting Job Demand And Supply
Experts think that the number of gig workers will rise exponentially amid business shutdowns, an economic slowdown, massive layoffs and the onset of a long funding winter.
As the market is maturing, VOIZ has to compete with startups like Awign, Squadstack and Taskmo. These platforms have built a strong gig worker community by offering entry-level tech and on-ground support jobs to workers and providing digital companies with a large talent pool.
But the startup believes that its value differentiation lies in providing a skilled, dedicated and disciplined workforce, mainly for the tele-jobs.
“When we started, our gig workers were mostly fresh graduates and students looking for easy money. They rarely maintained work discipline, and the quality of work suffered. Moreover, the attrition rate was very high,” said Bernard.
The platform turned the challenge into an opportunity to refine its agent pool.
It reworked its target group and narrowed it down to women aged 30 and above who were secondary income earners with some years of work experience and are proficient in English.
Since then, Patil claimed that the situation has improved dramatically. He added that, unlike young workers, these women are very disciplined and they/their families depend on this income.
This (kind of income) is a life-changer, especially for women in locations with fewer openings, he revealed, citing the example of a teacher from Srinagar who chips in as a part-time telecaller and earns INR 10,000 a month.
“We also have female workers from places like Jamshedpur, Guwahati, Varanasi, Lucknow, Jaipur, Coimbatore and other Tier 2 and 3 cities. Earning INR 10-15K a month is a big deal for them,” he added.
Patil told Inc42 that the platform has identified a total addressable market (TAM) of 10-15 Mn women (in the 30+ age group) looking for gig work and wants them to join the growing tribe of independent contractors.
VOIZ rarely has problems reaching out as it has grown organically and does not rely on big-bang marketing to gain traction. But its focus is primarily skewed towards women looking for one-time or part-time jobs. Hence, it targets potential agents on social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn.
Applicants can sign up for free, after which they are profiled based on several parameters like qualification and experience. Next, the startup’s AI system matches them with the most relevant job posts.
For example, if someone comes from an engineering background, the algo will suggest tech support or B2B sales jobs..
The process does not end here. Potential agents are also required to clear a number of assessments to ensure their suitability for the job. If they can clear the tests, they will be eligible to apply for the openings VOIZ has featured.
For those who don’t, there is a self-learning programme.
“Most of the content generated for the training is in a public repository maintained by the companies working with us. So, they don’t have to spend time and money training new people. Businesses upload all relevant content, and those who can finish the training get certified. They are given the highest priority when hiring takes place,” said Patil.
Companies can opt for a DIY or outsourcing model (we will get to that later) and get their jobs done with the help of VOIZ’ state-of-art tech capabilities.
Servicing Businesses in the Post-Pandemic World
The startup has a dedicated sales team in place for onboarding business partners. But instead of a company-to-company approach, it leverages broad use cases to identify industry-level requirements.
For example, a credit card company may require people to send out payment reminders; an OTT platform may want its agents to call existing users and remind them to renew their subscriptions. On the other hand, an ecommerce company may want to run a first-level order confirmation.
Based on these use cases, the startup allows them to choose between two agent engagement models – a do-it-yourself (DIY) format and an outsourcing module.
DIY: In this case, companies registered on the platform can directly reach out to agents. A business can start a project, and agents can match their profiles in real-time to land the job. Companies can leverage VOIZ to manage the lifecycle of the agents, track project targets, timelines, progress and also make payments.
Outsourcing: VOIZ does end-to-end project management for companies outsourcing the work. The startup’s Project management team reaches out to the company to understand its requirements and SLAs/KPIs (service-level agreements/ key performance indicator) before setting up the project.
Plus, there are other benefits. VOIZ claims that running a project on the platform is 40% less expensive for businesses as remote work does not involve capex/opex. Besides, all VOIZ agents own the hardware like headsets, laptops and mobile phones. This saves operational costs.
Finally, there is immense scalability due to the availability of a massive pool of resources in a single platform, without the need of physical infrastructure.
“Since gig workers have no predefined commitments, we have a very flexible workforce. From four hours a day to six days a week, there’s a person available for any schedule,” said Patil.
An Interconnected Journey?
Will the gig economy be the future of work, away from office cubicles? Will it provide enough and fulfilling work to men and women on par with the traditional work people were used to before the pandemic?
More importantly, can it bring the dwindling female workforce back to its feet? As of now, women account for 19% of the total workforce in the formal sector.
There are two sides to the gig coin. Given the kind of growth a new entrant like VOIZ is targeting, it is safe to assume that the gig economy is going to thrive in the long term.
Plus, with the emergence of the grey-collar job market, the lines between the formal and the informal sector are blurring. This will give a big push to middle-skilled gig jobs.
According to Bernard, the startup plans to add 25,000 active agents and 800+ business partners by FY23. Starting next year, it aims to grow its agent network globally to help the UK and U.S. companies find a flexible, cost-efficient and dedicated workforce.
It will also add more jobs in the future and aims to provide gig employment to at least 10,000 additional Indian women by the next financial year.
“Women inclusion is a very big deal for us. The future of work will have a specialised vertical for the grey-collar workforce, which will see big participation from women who can do simple online jobs right from home,” said Patil.
Industry data also shows that women’s participation in the workforce has significantly increased post-pandemic due to the gig work culture.
But the critical question of quantity versus quality will tend to haunt most gig workers. Simply put, will platforms like VOIZ continue to bring in well-paying but low-expertise jobs in bulk?
Consider this. In June this year, Quess Corp mentioned a 73% rise in vacancies for blue- and grey-collar jobs, compared to the previous quarter of FY22.
We may soon witness a paradigm shift as more and more top-quality jobs and experts’ roles get ‘gigified’, and the traditional workspace slowly disappears.
Until then, gig marketplaces like VOIZ can help women (and men) access the most suitable jobs from the comfort of their homes and ensure gender parity of sorts in the digital world, while businesses go beyond flexi-hiring and democratise work.