Lack of funding is the number one challenge faced by startups these days, thanks to a bleak investment environment. The era of drift funding is over and a new era of deft funding has set in.
Finding the right talent is perhaps the second major challenge dogging startups. One the one side, they are struggling to find suitable talent, and on the other they are striving to keep attrition in check.
While there are umpteen job sites to plug this gap, the problem of finding suitable candidates still persists. Independent consultants or consulting firms are not helping either.
Harshdeep Rapal sensed an opportunity in this area while at the helm of Printvenue (Southeast Asia), a Rocket Internet startup. So, he quit the company last year to start Feelance Co, an online platform for clients to discover and engage with verified and vetted senior independent consultants/consulting firms for short-term projects and interim roles.
And his bet has paid off.
“There are two major issues that clients face while hiring independent consultants. One, they do not have access to the consultants with required skill set. Either they get to know about them via word of mouth, or through manual search on LinkedIn (or other such platforms). The bigger issue comes when multiple skills are required for executing a single project,” says Rapal, Co-founder and CEO.
“Secondly, even if the client is able to find the consultant, there is no validation/verification for the skills of the consultant,” he adds. “The client comes to know about his/her skills (or lack of the same) only after he/she is engaged with the project. This is where Feelance fits in.”
Rapal founded the startup in Mumbai in November 2015, exactly a month after he left Rocket Internet, along with Subir Mitra (CTO). Feelance provides clients access to highly-rated independent consultants and consulting firms to engage in an ‘on-demand’ model. Not only does the client gets a one-stop shop form hiring consultants, they also get the assurance of verification of skills by Feelance Co.
Companies moving into core-flex model
“Globally, organisations are moving into a core-flex model — where all the core functions are managed in-house and anything beyond is managed via on-demand talent. The increase in demand and availability of on-demand talent has made freelancers the fastest growing section of the workforce globally. Across major geographies, the workforce is growing at 30 per cent to 40 per cent annually,” he said.
Although the high end spectrum of the independent consultants (1.5 million) execute projects worth US$2 billion a year, there is no platform or ecosystem around this segment currently. The problems are both on the demand (client) and the supply (consultant) side. The clients are not able to discover the required talent. Even if they discover the consultant, it is next to impossible to validate the skill set of the consultant. On the consultant side, the ecosystem for supporting the independent consulting practices does not exist. It is this challenge which Feelance aims to solve.
“For instance, Buxah, a startup for storage services, was looking for a branding strategy consultant, but they had budget constraints. After talking to more than a dozen independent consultants and consulting firms they reached out to Feelance Co. We made introductions to two of our preferred partners and the project got started within eight days of sharing the requirement,” Rapal says.
Feelance provides verified and vetted partner services for three major service buckets: Marketing & branding, HR services, and startup support services via a network of preferred partners. It banks on four revenue streams: commission, subscription, pay-per-use, and advertisements.
Currently, commission and ads streams are live.
Partners on the platform are charged 15 to 20 per cent commission on the total project value. No fee/commission is charged from the clients. It is now in the process of rolling out premium features for both clients and consultants which they can avail via subscription or pay-per-use.
Rapal says after its formal launch in January 2016, the platform has on-boarded 32,000-plus users. More than 500 clients have posted 700-plus assignments on the platform worth more than US$480,000.
Feelance has received seed funding from Hunt Partners, a leading CXO and executive search firm in Asia. Rapal claims the company is getting further interest from investors.
“We have been approached by many investors over last six months, but wanted to raise funding at an appropriate time. We are currently raising our second round, of US$500,000. We are currently in talks with multiple investors,” he said, while declining to share the details.
As of today, there is no direct competitor in India and Southeast Asia, the two markets Feelance is targeting, Rapal says. The current platforms in the market mainly deal with freelancers in the tech space, majority of whom offer their services in the range of US$10 to 15 per hour.
Feelance, on the other hand, offers services of consultants with mid- to high-end skills and works with consultants offering services at US$40 to 50 per hour and above. Additionally, Feelance consultants are verified and vetted by the company itself.
“Lastly, Feelance is not just limiting itself to just an online platform for consultants but is building a complete ecosystem for consultants to offer their services in a seamless fashion. We have started offering consultants various tools and services via the platform to help them engage with other consultants, build virtual teams and use available tools to execute their projects,” Rapal adds.
As per Feelance, the US has the largest number of freelancers in the world, with 53 million. India, with 15 million, comes second. Out of these 15 million, the top 10 per cent is referred to as ‘super-temps’ which Feelance is targeting. This segment of consultants execute projects worth US$1.2 to 2 billion a year.
For the first year, Feelance looks to make the most of India, the fastest-growing market, before moving to Southeast Asia, in the next 18 months. After that it plans to expand into Singapore, also a hot market for freelancers, followed by Hong Kong, another major business hub in SEA.
“Post that, we will look at Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Malaysia. I have an extensive experience of starting and scaling tech platforms in many of these countries and know the markets very well,” he concludes.
Image Credit: Feelance Co