An Indian entrepreneur’s new start-up is sparking worldwide investor interest as among the first companies of its kind globally to offer consumers the option to book plumbers, electricians and other services using its unique conversational artificial intelligence (AI) software.
Opened for a funding round recently, Anuj Gupta’s GreenVan uses a simple WhatsApp interface. It is designed as an Amazon of Services’ offering that intends to transform the way people book essential tasks online.
It was born out of Gupta’s own experience of relocating from the US to the UK around five years ago and finding the experience of sourcing reliable trade people a rather cumbersome word-of-mouth process.
We were often left in the lurch when chasing trades people and were hit with a system that was too idiosyncratic, Gupta, in his mid-40s, told PTI in an interview.
As I delved deeper into the industry, I could only find more and more problems largely because 87 per cent of it was driven by mom-and-pop shops which is classically one owner and one or two members of staff. It’s very, very fragmented, more so than even the mini cab industry in the pre-Uber days, he said.
His research showed that he had hit upon a highly lucrative marketplace with immense profits, despite all the inefficiencies. In the UK, it is estimated as a USD 120 billion market with USD 20 billion of profits, he said.
We could see that the time was ripe to inject the technology and make it efficient, at a time when conversational AI was becoming available from the adjacent to the mainstream, he explained.
The St. Stephen’s, Delhi University graduate, who went on to complete an Executive MBA from Harvard Business School, felt it’s practical life experiences that have played a major role in his entrepreneurial journey.
GreenVan was then born in 2020, just before the COVID pandemic struck, and found itself in a serendipitous trial phase at a time when the world was embracing technology as more and more things moved online. Gupta’s team has since then spent these few years perfecting GreenVan’s on-boarding conversational technology.
It’s not about telling John’ to do what he’s been doing for 30 years, whether it is fixing boilers or faucets. He’s been doing that for 30 years. The big change was the fact that our conversation engine could onboard thousands of customers on one platform. So, we have on-boarded over 50,000 customers in that entire phase of perfecting the AI, said Gupta.
His focus has been on keeping the interface as simple as possible, with consumers able to book in regular tasks such as moving home or repairs with simple messages to WhatsApp. With GreenVan employing hundreds of these specialists on their books, they claim to be able to provide competitive rates and also offer the trades people a guaranteed income. Its market trial across 15 cities in the UK has included London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Nottingham, covering thousands of transactions through over 100 contractors as it fine tuned the booking process.
So essentially, we’re consolidating the trades industry, which is a very large USD 1.7 trillion industry globally, and USD 120 billion in the UK which makes it 10 times the size of Uber, said Gupta.
After launching in the UK, in the coming months, GreenVan has an eye on the US market and a few years’ down the line even India. I’m from India and therefore I would love to look at India. But I think the ecosystem is not ready there because in terms of traffic predictability, transaction value, credit card penetration, smart phone penetration all need to be at a certain level to percolate at a mass level. So, the UK is a great incubator and the next ripe market would be the US, he said.
We read all around us that climate is crashing, and democracy is dying and problems are permeating. But I believe that there is a better tomorrow. My belief is that we can use human intelligence for the betterment of the common man, he said.
With GreenVan, Gupta hopes to have hit upon that perfect harmony between human and artificial intelligence. And, as part of its green agenda, the company’s policy includes offering eco-friendly companies like itself to advertise free of charge on their fleet of electric vans used by its contractors.