Lahore, a bustling metropolis of over 9 million people, is nestled just inside Pakistan’s Eastern border with India. For Lahore’s unskilled laborers, finding work on a consistent basis can pose a daily challenge. Often times that challenge has nothing to do with desire, ability, or work ethic, but simply a lack of available work. Despite boasting one of Pakistan’s stronger regional economies, hundreds of thousands of people in Lahore live well below the poverty line. Pakistan, as a nation, ranks 177th out of 228 with a GDP per capita of only $3,100 per person per year.
Ideacentricity, a tech-startup located in Lahore’s impressive Arfa Software Technology Park, has created an SMS based marketplace called Odd Jobber to help directly connect this workforce with the consumers who need their services. Ideacentricity’s founder Adnan Khawaja describes the Odd Jobber platform as a combination of oDesk for odd jobs and Uber for rickshaws.
Currently, Odd Jobber is primarily focusing on their rickshaw capacity. The average rickshaw driver in Lahore, of which there are over 120,000, spends a large part of their day actively searching for fares. During this period the rickshaw drivers aren’t generating any revenue, and are expending cash on fuel and other costs. This is period of inactivity is what Odd Jobber is designed to alleviate.
Consumers have three ways to interact with Odd Jobber. They can call, send an SMS to 8001 with a pick- and drop-off address, or book online here. Once the request has been submitted, an SMS in Urdu goes out to rickshaw drivers who are close by, and they respond via SMS with a bid. The consumer chooses their preferred bid, which will soon be accompanied by driver rating, and the rickshaw should be on-site within 10 minutes. The Odd Jobber interface empowers drivers with direct access to customers, enabling them to generate revenue for the entirety of their shift.
Utilizing an SMS based platform instead of smartphone technology (think Über) is critical to the potential success of Odd Jobber. The mobile penetration rate in Pakistan is approaching 80%, while only 7-10% of the population have a smartphone. Ideacentricity is working to incorporate a rapidly expanding mobile-banking service called easypaisa (Telenor) into the Odd Jobber platform. This will facilitate easy transaction flow, and allow consumers to pre-pay for services.
Ideacentricity is attempting to expand Odd Jobber organically within Lahore. On their website, the company is encouraging consumers to request areas in which they’d like service. Expanding in this manner ensures that they are offering services in high-traffic areas, leading to optimal utilization of the rickshaw driver’s time.
This efficiency also carries over into the Odd Jobber business model. While Odd Jobber was launched with the goal of creating positive impact for Pakistan’s unskilled labor force, Ideacentricity is a for-profit company. On every ride they organize, or job they coordinate, Odd Jobber charges an 8% fee. The fee is added in addition to the bid that the rickshaw driver places, and is carried over to the consumer, allowing the driver to take home the entirety of their bid. Khawaja estimates that within 3 years, Odd Jobber will provide 40,000 rickshaw drivers with a combined additional income of $86 million (5:30 mark in linked video). For a workforce averaging $5-$7 a day, that increase is significant.
If you are in the Washington, D.C. area and want to learn more about Odd Jobber, Adnan Khawaja will be giving a talk with Uber president Travis Kalanick at the Annual Fulbright Conference and Prize Ceremony on October 17.
You can also check out Odd Jobber on Facebook.