By Ashna Ambre
Engineers are trained to develop technology to make life easier for people. Rodney Lobo, 39, an engineer, does that by making minimal changes to existing technology. Lobo, an electrical engineer, has made life simpler for the average household in Mumbai with an array of carpentry, plumbing and electrical services. However, he has not developed technology to do this but used existing resources to achieve the same results. After securing an engineering degree from Metropolitan Technical Institute, Pune, in 1995, Lobo worked for two years in the corporate sector before joining a non-government organization, Bombay Natural History Society in 1997, where he spent six years.
In 2003 Lobo started his own distribution channel of telecom products. However, in 2006 when Direct-to-Home services gained momentum in India, they were beset with manpower problems. Customers often complained about shoddy jobs executed by technicians and unpredictable delivery of services. Lobo looked at resolving these issues and realized the business opportunity it presented
“Every house has some odd repairs like leaking taps, jammed doors, nails that need to be fixed. In addition, reliability, availability of handymen and prices charged for these services vary across locations. In most cases, someone from a hardware store has to be brought in to do the job,” says Lobo, founder of My Home Maker.
Statistical data, which revealed that Mumbai has 104 pincodes, each with 1,800 housing societies registered under it, gave Lobo an estimate of the total number of households in Mumbai. Deciding to test-run the market, in late 2011 he offered a set of services like drilling, fixing bulbs, changing wires, among other things, for 1,600 households, for a period of four to five months at a nominal price. The response was phenomenal, indicating that the idea could be developed into a full-fledged venture. Lobo launched My Home Maker in January 2012, self-funded with a nominal amount of Rs. 2 lakh, which was unimaginable in inflationary times. “This was because I had a fully functional distribution set-up. Costs relating to infrastructure, labor and other resources were taken care of. If I had to start from scratch, it would have taken Rs. 30 lakh-Rs. 40 lakh to set up,” says Lobo.
Nailing it Lobo set up a call center with the primary aim of detecting the urgency and nature of problems so that they could be resolved accordingly. “Setting up the call center took eight months. The team currently has 21 people,” informs Lobo, who started getting customers only in August 2012.
Customers are serviced with the help of 45 engineers on board who are certified in vocational training in three services: Electrical, plumbing and carpentry. “We are looking at providing technical services to ensure that quality is not compromised,” says Lobo.
Depending on experience, the English-speaking technicians are paid between Rs. 7,500 to Rs. 20,000 per month. “We are assigned calls according to the nature of the problems. The salary I receive is higher than what I would get if I worked for a hardware store,” says Avinash Gaikwad, an electrical technician with the startup.
Services are spread across three types of packages: The Classic plan is available on a fixed charge of Rs. 3,999 per year and includes 18 free calls, after which customers pay Rs. 49 hourly, per visit. The next plan, Classic Lite costs Rs. 1,999 annually, has four free home calls, post which each visit costs Rs. 99 per hour. The monthly plan option comes with a fixed charge of Rs. 749 per month with six free home calls, after which customers pay Rs. 149 per visit for an hour. A customer who does not subscribe to any plan can avail services for Rs. 199 per hour. Price points are relative‚ too. For instance, if the garden lighting needs to be repaired, it will be serviced within the plan a customer has subscribed to. However, if a new one has to be installed, then charges will differ.
“My Home Maker technicians have uniforms and identity cards. The company provides services no matter which part of the city I live in and even if I shift residence,” says satisfied customer Roshini Pandey.
Drilling new deals
Lobo has expanded scope of his business to include other services by tying up with 24 local vendors to create a service called the Live Easy desk. This provides errand and utility services like purchase of groceries, home delivery, payment of bills, besides specialized services like computer repair, chauffeur services, car cleaning, and volunteer assistance.
Vendors in the network directly charge customers for services and work on a revenue-sharing model between five to 15 percent with My Home Maker. The company services about 3,200 customers within Mumbai.
Lobo says the call center receives calls from five percent of its total customer base per day, which totals to about 160 calls on an average, but admits his technicians are underutilized. He feels‚ some serious expansion plans through three new distribution channels may change this. One is of affiliates, who will bring in new customers and earn a commission for it. Next, a direct sales agent model which will require agents to make an initial investment of Rs. 1 lakh-Rs. 3 lakh and set up representative sales counters, which could be in a mall or a housing society. Thirdly‚ franchisees, who will need to invest Rs. 12 lakh-Rs. 15 lakh for dedicated real estate space. Both agents and franchisees will earn on a revenue-sharing model. For subscriptions‚ they can earn eight-24 percent depending on volumes and for one-time jobs‚ about 10 percent of the net revenue.
Lobo plans to start an express service through the day, so that technicians are able to reach a destination in 30 minutes. He also wants to target housing societies as another vertical.
“It is cheaper for societies to subscribe to our plans for maintaining the general complex, buildings and staircases. They do not have to pay monthly salaries to plumbers, carpenters and electricians,” says Lobo.
Akshay Gaonkar, mentor to My Home Maker, feels it has immense growth potential. “The company has the ability to service customers through a direct sales route. They have a strong vision and a good workforce delivering quality.
“With most cities rapidly moving towards urbanization, there is hardly any space or people available for such activities,” he affirms. Gaonkar is also the Deputy General Manager at Idea Cellular.
By end-September 2013, Lobo wants to have a customer base of 15,000 and a staff strength of 100. He intends to open four offices in Mumbai and five franchisee outlets. He has currently closed a franchise deal in Pune too. “At this stage we do not need external support, but if we achieve our targets for September‚ then I will look at external sources of funding and expand to tier II and tier III cities,” says Lobo.
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