Episode 114 / April 25, 2021

Inside the mind of Pravin Agarwala, building BetterPlace, the operating system for blue collar workforce management

46 min

Episode 114 / April 25, 2021

Inside the mind of Pravin Agarwala, building BetterPlace, the operating system for blue collar workforce management

46 min
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In this episode, we chat with Pravin Agarwala, founder BetterPlace.


Blue-collar workforce management is one of the biggest industries in the Indian economy.


Urbanisation and deeper penetration of the internet have helped players like QuikrJobs, LinkedIn, Just Jobs, Aasaan Jobs and Google, among others to make inroads into this segment.


BetterPlace is India’s largest technology platform delivering digital solutions for blue-collar workforce management, throughout the entire value chain. Through its data-driven, tech platform, BetterPlace uniquely fulfills the requirements of both enterprises and the workforce in this fragmented and underserved ecosystem.


For enterprises, BetterPlace is a single touchpoint through which organizations benefit by managing their entire value chain – thus ensuring cost reductions, higher engagement levels, increased productivity, low attrition rates. For the workforce, BetterPlace is an employee engagement platform that gives access to a variety of upskilling, financial support, and medical benefits program.


Pravin started Betterplace in January 2015 as a background verification company. However, they eventually realized the need for an enabler to bridge existing demand and supply gaps in the ecosystem, thus moving to a B2B SaaS business model and creating a digital platform to enable the entire value chain.


During the podcast, Pravin talks about defining and solving for the challenges for the blue-collar workforce in India and also shares the company’s vision to go global in near future.


Notes –

01:26 – Coming from Dibrugarh (North-east India), working with SAP India

03:15 – Backstory behind starting BetterPlace

05:20 – Defining Workforce Management Solution for blue-collar employees

07:04 – Solving for improving productivity, attrition, time & attendance among other challenges

The first step in the product – Onboarding solution with background verification

14:39 – Current key customers, metrics & milestones. Journey to $10M ARR, growing 100% Year on Year.

16:09 – Challenges while raising funding for a SaaS startup impacting blue-collar workers

19:58 – Global expansion plans for BetterPlace

23:28 – Approach behind the valuation of early-stage SaaS startups

26:35 – Focus on: Customer value, Step-by-step approach, Team building among other elements

30:18 – Bringing an Angel Investor within the company full-time to build on core principles

30:31 – Value addition from investors

34:01 – Things he’ll do differently if he got another shot at building BetterPlace

37:25 – Starting early in your startup journey as a founder

39:40 – Why a founder shouldn’t have a Plan B while starting up?

Read the full transcript here:


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:00

Hi, this is Siddhartha Ahluwalia. Welcome to the 100 things entrepreneur podcast. Today I have with me, Pravin founder of BetterPlace. BetterPlace is the largest SAAS solution in India for blue and green collar workforce management. Welcome, Pravin to the podcast


Pravin Agarwala 00:17

Hey Siddhartha, thank you so much for having me such a pleasure to talk to you and your audience


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:24

Pravin, would like to know you know, your own background to start with which city you come from your family background and your professional journey till now.


Pravin Agarwala 00:34

Sure. I belong to a place called Dibrugarh, which is in the northeast of India in Assam, which is very close to the China border actually, right. Born and brought up there. Actually. person from Rajasthan my family moved, my father used to manage tea gardens, and grew up in the lush green tea gardens, did my engineering from Assam itself, then came to Bangalore joined a company called SAP way back in 96. SAP is the largest ERP company in the world, worked with SAP for 18 years, did different things with SAP started as a developer, during those days in C, c++, and grew into different roles. When we quit SAP in 2014, I was hitting the cloud ERP product globally for SAP. That’s called business by design. So, anything and everything around that product was my responsibility within the organization. In 2014, I quit SAP, took a break, and then did my market research and started with a place in 2015. And for last six years, enjoying the roller coaster ride with better place


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 01:55

So how did your idea of better place come to you? Like when you said you’re doing market research. So, what are different ideas were you considering before narrowing it down Better Place.


Pravin Agarwala 02:09

I was very clear that this is what I want to do. And the reason I quit my job is to do this. So why this idea came at all. My partner Saurav, his father runs the largest security company in the country, which is called SISi, it’s billion dollars plus company, they employ one and a half lakh plus employees, he has now taken retirement from the job. He was the group CEO of the company, we used to talk about blue collar and the challenges they face with all different respects, right. So, there were challenges from the individual in terms of opportunities, jobs, access, living conditions, and so on, right. And these were alien to us, right, as a white-collar employee, we always took it for granted. And all the software that we used to develop earlier were designed towards the white collar, like the HRM is the access to benefits and so on so forth. And we said that we need to do something around this space, right? So, we said, why don’t we build an identity of an individual, which they can carry any time with them. And then there was an Aadhar right to the identity, basic identity was solved with Aadhar principle, then we said, what is missing on top of Aadhaar is a score of that individual, right? If I go to a insurance company, I can show that data. If I go to a credit company, I can get a credit and so on so forth. We will talk about that as we go along. But the idea was that how can we help those 15-17 crore people who are in the blue-collar economy, who do not have access to opportunities. And while doing the research, we realize that the biggest challenge is billing the data about those individuals, right. And that’s where the genesis of workforce management solution came. So, what we do is that we provide a workforce management solution using that we build the data, and then we provide access as a platform to individuals to access various opportunities. Right. So that’s where the workforce management solution came into picture.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 04:12

Can you share in detail what are the different problems you solve with our workforce management solution? And also, how you solve it?


Pravin Agarwala 04:20

Sure. So, we define workforce management solution from blue collar enterprise into five categories, right? The first problem is, how do you source and onboard an individual right? in blue collar? This is a fragmented industry, it’s very distributed as well. If you look at a company with, let’s say, 10,000 employees in a security guard company, they might be operating out of 150 different locations, right? So, it’s sort of very centralized, one or two workplace kind of thing, right? And attrition is very high. attrition can go from 100% to 300%, depending on the segments and the season, and so on. manual process, you actually go source through an NGO people on the street and going and getting people through different sources, and so on so forth. It is not scalable, right. And that’s the challenge that every company is facing. And that challenge was actually becoming multi fold in the given situation of COVID and Corona, where people still want to hire but they cannot reach out, right. So, we convert that sourcing and onboarding to a digital program. You don’t need any manual process, you don’t need photocopies, Xerox copies of identity address proof, you don’t need physical forms, all you need is a mobile app. And then the whole process is done right? Including integration with garment system psi. So, everything that you need to do is taken care of is that the sourcing and onboarding? The second problem that the organization face is about productivity, right? Now that I have hired the person, how do I increase the productivity? When I was hired, at SAP, I had a month training program. And then the productivity starts in three months, six months’ time and your life with SAP is on an average, it could be five years, but I stayed there for 18 years in blue collar, the productivity has to start the very next day, because you cannot keep the person on bench, right? How do you ensure that the person is already skilled or skilled in a distributed environment? So, when we look into the program, we saw that a lot of people are coming, there is a classroom, companies are struggling to train them. So, we created a mobile app, which is based on a bot right. And now that bot takes care of upscaling the person based on their need, right? It could be learning as simple as English words, to financial literacy, to how to manage your work, app or work or, or learning something different that you would like to write. And this is done through a bot an interactive model. So, a person can learn whenever they want. But skilling is not the only thing. Productivity also has, I need a resource today, and I get it tomorrow, I don’t need it. So, I don’t want to create a bench strength. So how do you ensure flexible resource availability to an enterprise? Like, I get it when I need it? So, for example, if you go to, let’s say, food and beverages company, like McDonald’s or Burger King, right, they have a huge demand on a weekend. So, Friday and Saturday, they need more people during that time, rather than having them every day right. Now, how do you ensure that I have the people during that time. So that’s the flexible staffing that is also adds to productivity. So, we take care of that part as well. So that’s a productivity and there are other parameters on attrition forecasting, how do you project your hiring and attrition for future and then you plan your resources accordingly. The third thing is about time and attendance. In white collar, it’s very different. You go for a job, you are paid by the month you do your tasks, you are done right in blue collar, it has to be done by the hour, people are supposed to work for eight hours, if they work for 10 hours, you have to pay for those additional two hours, there is shift which is happening morning shift, Night Shift, evening shift, and so on. And all those things will be done manually, they’ll be registered to collect attendance, there are rostering, that will happen manually or through a call that you come now you come in the evening and so on, we have converted that completely to a digital mechanism. So there is an auto rostering happening, depending on your history, the system immediately suggests that these are the guys who should work in the morning shift. These are the guys who should work in the night shift. That also take care of the requirement because some people are supposed to work only 12 hours a day, you cannot force them to work 18 hours a day, you cannot make them work every day extra hours for them for the whole month, because there are compliance requirements. So the system takes care of all those things, right? Based on that we provide official base attendance solution. So the complete attendance can be done based on your geo fenced facial recognition system. So you go to a particular site, like you work in Amazon, you are in that location, then only the app gets activated, you capture it and then you can do lead management regularization, the whole complete workflow is taken care of. So that’s the time and attendance management. And this is one of the biggest challenges that all the organizations are facing right. Because if you do attendance through manually, the reconciliation of attendance takes a month right because you have multiple locations, you have to collect the data, you have to transfer it to an Excel, the principal employer has to approve it and some stuff. So that’s digitally done. Then the next step comes the fourth component is about is getting the salary within the time frame define with the right overtime pay the deductions down the PFA si paid and so on, so forth. Again, these things were happening manually, largely you have to register, convert this into an Excel, then Excel, you use the system, calculate the salary, then go to the bank, disburse the amount into the bank and, and then go to a PF side. Now, this whole thing is automated, the person comes, we take attendance, everything runs automatically, you don’t have to bother about anything from a payroll and compliance perspective, right. And the fourth thing is about benefits. No employee wants to give some benefits to the individual like insurance, they can do it to us. So, it’s a platform play. Now, what was the challenge in giving these insurances of credit and all these things, there was no data. So, if you have to give a credit, there is no credit underwriting algorithm, right? Because there is no data. Now, as we provide the solutions, we build a lot of data about individuals. And we use this data for the distribution of services. So, we partner with banks, we partner with insurance companies, we partner with health companies, and distribute services to the individual right. Now, these services can also be distributed directly to the individual. So, this is done through a business. So, a company, for example, you can buy for your employees, but the individual can buy directly, as well, directly through the mobile app that we provide to the individual, right. So that’s a B2C, offering that we have, in addition to B2B2C in terms of the service. And so, we provide individuals a mobile app where they can build their profile, they can learn things they can apply for loan, credit insurance, and all the other components that we offer. So that’s largely the solution components that


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 11:49

so, it seems like a quite an exhaustive solution, which might have taken, you know, years and years of building. What was the first hope that got you started? Right, you wouldn’t have actually waited to develop every module into the system in the workforce management. What was the first hook that you work with first?


Pravin Agarwala 12:10

That’s absolutely right. Siddhartha, you cannot do you cannot boil the ocean. Even now, while we talk about all the models, there are a lot of enhancements that we keep doing, we have a two years clear roadmap, what we will do, we looked at the lowest hanging opportunity, and the biggest problem. So, we identified two biggest problem in this space. Problem number one was, onboarding was a big problem, because there’s a lot of manual activity, Jacob credentials that do the background check of that individual as well. And the second problem was attendance and payroll, right? attendance and payroll are, is a bigger solution to implement, it takes time to really understand every aspect of the customer need. And it is not as simple as in white collar that we do any now. So, we decided to go with onboarding solution integrated with background verification. So that’s where we had started in 2015. We continued doing that for three and a half years before bringing in a new module. So, we continue doing that we want it to be master node that today, we are the largest in the country, when it comes to onboarding and background verification. And once we were clear, we had customer engagement and who then only we started picking up the next module. So, on the journey is still continue. So, while all the components I mentioned, there are things which we have basic version, there are a lot of enhancements happening. So, this is this is a long journey in the product department, you can’t do everything in one word.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 13:37

Can you tell us tell us about you know, your current metrics and milestones of the audio scanner understand the context? What’s the revenue, what are the employee numbers, and who would be the top 10 organizations as your clients.


Pravin Agarwala 13:53

Today, we work with roughly 1400 different customers in multiple different segments, out of which some of them are using our freemium model. So, we also provide some services, roughly half of them is using our paid model. We manage roughly 20 lakh people through our platform here on the right now to acquire our customers, right. And, and they use different models. So not necessarily that every customer is using all the models. And we do revenue of roughly 10 million in ARR today. And that’s one part of the solution. Right. On the other hand, we also have job seekers on our platform, who are looking for a new job, we have roughly 1.28 crore job seekers, on not from today, who are applying for different jobs on a on a daily basis, right for our customer requirements. So that’s largely where we stand today from key metrics. So, number of customers revenue, number of people that we manage, and the services that we distribute to our division. These are the four key metrices that we measure. honor.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 15:04

And can you share your fundraising journey like when was the time you raise your first round? And what happened? The subsequent rounds? What are the challenges in that journey?


Pravin Agarwala 15:16

So, let me start with the challenges right, blue collar is not a glamorous area it is not the sexiest area. And when we started in 2015, there were not many companies doing anything in the blue-collar space right. Today, fortunately, you see many more companies like Work India and Apna. And there are FinTech companies shubhloan, there are training companies and so on, but those days there was hardly anything. So, the challenge for us was educating the investors that there is a play while there is a purpose in our mind to impact the life of 15 crore people in the country. But there is a business as well, right? You can do roughly 7000 rupees per person per year revenue and if you have 15 crore people, you’re talking about billions of money in revenue, right? So, we have to take our time educate people on how this business will run, because they have no role models, there is no company that can be say that, okay, it is how done in USA or China, and no reference in India itself. So, we were the first ones to come into this space. So that was the challenge. But fortunately, in last year and a half, that is gone. There’s a lot of interest in this space, there’s a lot more money coming in a lot of scope happening. We started out fundraise. So, we first we funded ourselves Both Saurav and I did the initial funding in the company, and we continued running it, we did our first institutional raise in 2016 with United capital and Lalitesh, Lalitesh is the guy who was head of Google India earlier and he is also known as the creator of Google Maps. So, he brought in a lot of interest, and then Neeraj Arora also participated, Neeraj, who is the WhatsApp guy. So, they also helped us in building the company over time, we raised our series A in 2018 through 3one4, where all existing guys participated, and then we did our Series B last year, in October in during the pandemic time when everybody was hit with the business right there was job losses people were migrating back, especially in our segment, unfortunately, we could show growth and there was investment coming in and we have done an altogether roughly 17 million have raised so far. And yeah, that has allowed us to reach those 10 million in ARR is a heavy growth


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 17:56

and what would be the current growth YOY, if you can share that


Pravin Agarwala 18:01

we are growing more than 100% year on year right now, we overall in last five years, we have grown roughly 30X not counting the 01 right the beginning and we will continue to grow I mean if you look at our current projections will be at 130 140% growth point of view in a B2B. it’s very easy to predict the growth as well because you know the work orders you will have the contracts and so on. And I think 120-130 in an organic growth is very sound growth what we are also doing it from inorganic opportunities we are looking at and we are also in the inorganic path I think with that we might grow 170 to 200% this year from a number’s perspective.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 18:49

The biggest point for me you know from your journey is you build a very unique company SAAS solution for India from India, a $10 million ARR on SAAS like which is almost unheard of in other companies where you ask this question like build SAAS for global, why are you building for India and Indian still isn’t a deep market


Pravin Agarwala 19:10

I think when we started so, I always look at the business as an impact and the purpose right and we look at people So, there are 15 to 17 crore people and how can we help them right and then we looked at that, can it be a sustainable business right. Then we looked at the numbers that the companies are spending today that companies are spending roughly 20,000 rupees per person per year already spending. So, we are not asking for the new money this is the money being spent. So, we went to the companies some of these companies as part of our research and said Why are you spending 20,000, I will do this thing at 7000-10,000 rupees or so right and you will save 10,000 rupees. So, they said why not I mean if you can give us a solution, we will be happy so that’s when we started doing it. Now we will look at 15 crore people. Right and the countries developed countries where the pricing point is very high, the margins could go up the gross margin, India is always a challenge compared to other countries. But I think we don’t want to spread ourselves too thin. In the beginning, we believe that if we can solve the problem here, at scale, we will be able to solve the problem in all the other places as well. geographical expansion is definitely in our mind, we will be launching in Southeast Asia towards the end of this year, most likely in Indonesia and Philippines. But do you see a similar trend in Middle East Africa, Latin America, and in some developed countries as well, so we’ll definitely go international. But yeah, I mean, everybody asked this question and typically you have not seen in past that SAAS companies have built only for India, they have built in India for outside world right. And you will see many examples of but within India for India, very few. And


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 21:26

And then one important point he also shared in those cases, so ACV was not a challenge for you, I don’t


Pravin Agarwala 21:54

know, I mean, so, we are not doing 10,000 rupees right now, that’s a potential we do less than that per employee per year. But some of our customers, we do roughly 20-30 lakh rupees monthly revenue, so, it’s a larger than three crores are the potential to do with some of our customers and if I look at top let’s say 80 customers, we can do almost five crore rupees on an average or yearly revenue with them right. So, the opportunity size per customer is pretty large, it is not a small opportunity, I mean, there are companies, I was surprised when I was doing my research and I never expected that, but this is what the situation is there are security companies with 10,000 employees and there are many of those right? There are companies with 20,000-30,000 employees, if you look at the New Age aggregators or delivery companies, they have 100,000 plus employees right, our food delivery company or ecommerce company or a cap company and the opportunity size become very, very large with them right. So, there is no dearth of opportunity in this space for sure.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 23:06

And typically, how on the SAAS Company even valued like how in your journey, how are you valued by investors, whether it be on ARR or this current climate transfer or bull market, in spite of pandemic, how are companies and 10 mil ARR are building for India, for example, you valued in the market.


Pravin Agarwala 23:29

So, in the early days, it is not by ARR because that is not the right parameter to look into. Right, that was more done based on the potential of the company. So, Seed Fund is completely based on potential you come up with a number. Is there real science behind it? Honestly speaking, no, right? You just do it. Series A, you bring some science behind it. But still there is a potential by Series B onwards, you start looking at multiple SAAS multiple could vary depending on the margin, the gross margin and other things could vary between eight to 12. Right? If you have exponential growth, then it could go up to 15x as well, that depends on depends on your revenue, it depends on the gross margin and the growth, yearly growth. And the variation could be between eight to 15. On average in the market that you will see where the companies are listed and so on. On ARR, it will be around six to eight. So, anything between eight and above is a very good number to get as a multiple in a SaaS business.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 24:34

But don’t you think that’s unfair for Indian companies to be valued or that whereas peers in us are getting valued at 50x-100x? in SAAS?


Pravin Agarwala 24:45

No, there are no companies it depends on this. I’m not aware of any company that is valued at 100x. Right? But that might be on the on the gross margin then or it might be on the net EBIDTA. 100x is definitely not the case. of course, it’s a multiple, but yes having, there are some times in US, you get a higher multiple. The second thing is that the revenue per person is also higher there, right? Because just so if I work with 20 lakh people, and if I do the same thing and use 20 lakh people, I will be valued more than a billion dollar already, right? Because the size of the company and the multiple that you can get right here, it will be lessened. So, I mean, yeah, I mean, sometimes it is what it is, right? I mean, you can’t change that.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 25:45

Because just a recent example, like snowflake went public in US.


Pravin Agarwala 25:57

That’s unbelievable. It’s amazing.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 26:01

And Pravin up help us understand, right? You had already 18 years of experience in your pocket, when you started, what were the things that you learned from your experience that could you help you build a sustainable company, because you’re one of the first goals as you shared was that less growth


Pravin Agarwala 26:21

when we started to look into three, four things and we said we this is what we will always practice number one, that we will focus on customer value building, if we have customer value, we can price it right, we will not go and sell $1 for 90 cents. So, it is not about that you are doing 100 rupees, I will do 10 rupees, I will just acquire a customer, we will not do that, right. So, customer value is very important. That’s the first thing that we followed. So, the business itself has to be sustainable. So, in principle, we are always, we don’t burn much money, the bond that we do is only coming in our investment, not for running the business, right, running the business, we run in profitability. So that’s the first thing that we look at. So, customer value, and price it corrects. The second thing that we looked into is that you cannot boil the ocean, you cannot do everything on day one, you have to cause that by step. And you have to ensure that you bring the lowest hanging opportunity, and you get loyalty with your customers. So that’s the second thing that we look at. The third thing that we’ll look into is that the founders two of us Saurav and me can only do as much, right? Because it’s a knowledge issue is the bandwidth issue, you need a strong team in place who can run the business. So that’s the third thing that we brought in, and we gave them full power to run over there. And fourth thing that we looked into is that as you build business, you have to keep in mind your share of wallet, always that you can get with the customer. So how do you increase your revenue, per customer or individual as you go along the journey because that’s your pocket. But that’s a critical thing. That’s, that’s the fourth thing that we focused on. The fifth thing that I have realized, today in the brand places, how your customer treats you as a brand. And we believe that if we want to be a leader, we should behave like a leader, right? So that so when you take over some role, it is not only about taking a job of a customer, you are also trying to solve the problem, right. So, the brand building, the trust building has to be very, very strong. And there’s the fifth, the fifth element that we focus on, rest of his strategy and execution and operations and so on. But here are the five very important principles that we work on, from our strategy, overall perspective.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 28:53

And you will also be able to bring one of your early angel investors leverage full time in the company as a director.


Pravin Agarwala 29:01

Yeah, so that was very helpful. I mean, he was not full time. He was a director in the company, and he was spending a lot of time with us. He has his own philanthropic activities and doing multiple other things as well. But bringing him was very, very useful. He has built large systems with Google Map and other things. He understands technology like nobody else that I have seen. He understands strategy very well. So, he helped us in the beginning, shape of the company a lot from technical point of view, from strategy point of view, from long term perspective. Few things that he always told us that make the foundation strong, and then go big, but don’t go big when the foundation is not strong because then when you fall, it’s very difficult to rise right? multiple times. But if your foundation is strong, even if you fall, it’s very easy to stand up right. So those are the basic principles which I learned and he reiterated that, that also helped us. So very, very quick. And he continues to engage with us in various different activities.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 30:08

And then what are the other specific value that other investors brought in? In the company?


Pravin Agarwala 30:15

That’s Yeah, everybody has their own strengths, right? When we work with investors, and I will not name who brought, what do you work with them? What do what do you need from them? One is that you are looking for a new capital, can they bring capital themselves, or they bring investors who can bring new capital? I think we were fortunate enough to have the right partners with us, they’re always helping us to get new capital in the company, how to tell the story, what are the ppts, how to reach out to investors, new investors, and so on. And so that’s very helpful. And each one of them has helped us in that way. Second, is that they have their own network of enterprises where we can pitch our solution, right? So, connection with the customers or the network of customers that also helped us right, so opening some doors, which might be difficult or which might take longer otherwise, right? They helped us to open those doors in the early stage. So that was second thing very useful. They have a bigger perspective than we have right on various different aspects. We work with only one company, right. And we have only one view, they have multiple companies in their portfolio, they understand the ups and downs, right? So, they bring that experience, let’s say, when the pandemic happened, we will go ahead with our plan, but they came back and said, this is what is happening in India, in China and US, these are the things that you should look at how do you manage your costs, a lot of experience they have looking at different companies, different situations, ups and downs, and bring that experience into the company. Sometimes you become very bullish saying are very optimistic is a founder and typically very optimistic always, and you want to go to the moon, right? Then somebody has to pull you down and say, let’s be on Earth as long as possible, fly as much as you can. Right? I think they give the right some of our best talent we hired to their connections. So, our CTO was hired to one of the connections are individual. So, some of the best talents will also add to the network of our investors, so multiple different fronts. And I think it always adds value when you are having a partnership rather than a founder and investor relationship, you should have a partnership relationship with your investors. And that really plays well.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 32:54

Can you share the top three mistakes you made in building a better place that you could advise to, you know, your fellow entrepreneur, not to commit both?


Pravin Agarwala 33:07

There are many actually, that I don’t know which one to start with naming. But if I think if I have to redo everything from scratch, right, what are the things that I will do differently? The first thing I will do is that when we started building our team, we thought Saurav, and I can do a large part of it, and bring the senior executives at a later stage. Right? deeper, rather than going with 700 or 800 customers out there rather focused on 100 customers and went deeper into those customers and then expand it to multiple customers, right? So sometimes it is more I mean, it’s a strategy discussion, you want to go 200 customers with the same solution or you want to go 10 customers with multiple solutions, right? So that’s a strategy discussion, but this is what I would do that I would build more loyalty with a customer. Then Then otherwise, right. The third thing, I think we could have done far better, which we didn’t do. So, I said that branding and marketing is something we have learned and we wanted to invest. But we didn’t do enough in the first three years, right? We didn’t have any events organized. We didn’t talk about our videos, no YouTube channel, no media coverage, and so on so forth. I think it was hard to as to convince our customers in the beginning, that there’s something called better places in existence, right? There’s something called to the awareness has to be much larger, which also helps you to your investor’s awareness as well, your customer awareness, I think these are the three things at a very high level. But if you go deeper into it, one thing that we did our mistake, and I will definitely not repeat, and I’ll suggest everyone not to do it. When we were building our technology will look into the inputs, and we always focus on the building, then we will see how to integrate everything in the UI and everything, focus on user experience and integration on day one, right? Now, we after five years, we are redoing our UI completely. That’s an expensive process that I will never repeat again, right? So, and there are architectural changes that we have done for scale. So, we assume that we will have 10,000 or 50,000 users, but when we have 20 lakh users, our skill was not there. So, some of those fundamental things you have to keep in your mind, when you’re building a big business. Keep those big numbers in mind from day one, so that the basic architecture is sustainable, right over a few years. So, there are a few those things which are very outside in detail. But overall, these are the three things are very important for analysis.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 36:20

And did it help you to have like, you know, 18 years of experience in a leadership role SAP building better place? Do you think Pravin in 1996? could have been better place?


Pravin Agarwala 36:36

Very, very difficult Could I have done it? 10-15 years back? I think I could have done it. And I think I would have perhaps had. But from the energy point of view, I think I carry the same energy like a young, how I was twenty-five years back way. The advantage, I think it gives you more perspective, right? You don’t take a small failure as a as a setback, right? You have more patience, you have better communication, better interaction, you have more personal interpersonal skills. So, I think patience, persistence. There are a lot of advantages that you get. But there are of course, some disadvantages, as well. If, if I have a choice, I would always suggest people could do it. But as in mid 30s, and not later than that, because that’s where you perhaps could be best, and you have to three times to fail if you need more time, right? At this age, when you do it. If you fail, it’s very hard to think about a new venture, right? So, it becomes also very, very critical from that perspective, the emotional, social, other aspects as well.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 38:29

Did you have a plan B, when you when you started? If it doesn’t work out? I’ll go back in SAP.


Pravin Agarwala 38:39

So no, definitely not. I, when I quit my job with SAP, I had some headhunters, they knew that I have left. And I immediately had an offer from one of the companies right. But I decided not to do it. I had earned my bread and butter. I can survive without earning and take care of my family. I think it was a passion that brought us here, right? And we would have continued and I don’t see a reason why would have failed, right? I mean, when you’re doing something right, and you have the right intent. I think my strong belief is that the whole world conspires to make you successful. And that’s what we see happening for ourselves. Definitely no plan B. And if, by chance it didn’t work out, I don’t know what I would have done so very hard for me to predict saying this is what happened. But I also believe that nobody should come with a plan B in mind, right? When you are coming with a plan B you are not fully into it that basically already in your mind, you have a thought that it will fail. And if this fails, I will go back and so on and so forth. That’s not right. In my view, you should come in if you fail, think about that. When happens right, cross the bridge when it is required. But come with the 100% 200% 500% conviction that you will make it happen that will be challenges, but then only I think you will make it


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 40:06

what do you see change in yourself and a leader from six years ago today? And first is the change? And second is if you reflect what are the things or habits in you that, you know, made that change happen?


Pravin Agarwala 40:21

That you’re asking too many difficult questions. I think it’s my team who can perhaps talk about more, what had changed in me. But I think there’s some positives that I see in myself, I have changed a lot in terms of listening capabilities. I don’t like to give an opinion immediately that I used to do in past. And that has happened because I see that a lot of things that I don’t know. And this is an area where I had no clue when we started. So, we had to learn every day. And everybody comes with a new idea. And typically, much better than my own idea, right. So, I think I’m better than more, more, I was a patient listener these days. Second thing is that I have perhaps a bigger perspective than I used to think, right? When you’re working, you’re always having your three months, 12 months, in your mind, you’re not thinking about five years, 10 years, you’re not thinking about changing the world every time right? Today, I actually have a much deeper understanding of the industry, I believe that I can contribute towards blue collar, I have my own opinion, I want to build a category, I want to disrupt it. And I get more knowledge around it right. So, I can add more value around this whole topic itself. Third thing in my leadership style that I change is that I used to interact largely with my management team in past right, when I had my career. I think that does not work. When you are an entrepreneur. You have to interact with your management team, but you have to be on the shop floor as well. You have to understand everyone’s problem. And might be you can’t solve every problem. But you need to know what are the problems? And how can you work together to solve it, right. So, I think I’m more engaged with people across the organization than I used to be. Yeah, and there are a few other traits which have changed in me for sure. In terms of my communication, working, I never did sales in past as part of my SAP role, everything but sales, and better place, we started with sales. So, I also think that sometimes your weakness is only a weakness because you think it’s a weakness. When you start working on it, or you start taking it as a challenge, it does not stay as a weakness. So, there are a few things have changed. But there are some negatives as well. Honestly, speaking, while I’m very patient and good listener, I think so sometimes, I don’t have the patience as well, right? Because you are seeing an opportunity and is missing out and you’re running behind it and suddenly you lose your cool. Unfortunately, that’s the negative thing that started happening. I started losing my control many times in conversations. But a lot of people reminded me that it’s not right, and my colleagues stole my environment, even said, and I’ve started changing that to meditation and other things. So, you’ll have to ask my team, to be honest, that what changed me?


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 43:31

And now do you think about the next five years think how you like the kind of impact you want to make in the next five years or even let’s say five years too much the next two years.


Pravin Agarwala 43:42

Yeah, we have a clear picture of what we want to do in next three years. If I give you that, we want to touch a crore of people every year out of that one crore people we want to enable at least 30 lakh people will have access to credit insurance, telemedicine and skilling upskilling opportunities. So, we want to ensure that 30 lakh people of that one crore. one crore is what we manage through our workforce management. But overall, 30 lakh people definitely as credit and all other benefits to them. And I think we would like to be in other than India and three other countries, which is largely Southeast Asia and Middle East. So, it’s Indonesia amplifies might be Vietnam, Dubai, right. So that’s where we want to be impact wise. Besides these things, impact wise, we want to enable at least one and a half crore people who are eligible for a loan because we have more data about them than they have today. Right? are eligible for a telemedicine at least we want to distributed 30 lakh people but make that many people eligible in the system.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 44:57

Thank you so much Praveen. It’s been a pleasure interacting with you, thank you so much for answering my questions as candidly as possible. It’s been a pleasure to learn about your journey better place journey and see the kind of huge impact you’re making at the bottom of the pyramid. That’s incredible.


Pravin Agarwala 45:15

That’s lovely speaking to you, and thank you so much for those tough questions. Have a good day. Take care. Bye


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