Two years back, like anyone else, Robin Sharma was locked inside his room due to the Covid outbreak. He did not have anything to do for a long period. But, one day, a thought triggered in his mind, “What if the lockdown continues for a long time and people are compelled to stay home and be jobless?” This thought gave birth to Bookgara, a digital service platform that addresses the everyday problems of Kathmanduites.
Sharma then discussed the idea with his friends, namely Saurav Gurung, Sisan Baniya, Anup Sharma, Shyam Agrawal, and Gaurav Tiwari. Then, they teamed up and started the startup.
Sharma says Bookgara provided jobs to the skilled and solutions to those looking for skilled human resources to solve their everyday problems. “I decided to do something that could empower all kinds of the workforce with transparent transactions and dignifying pay and provide a proper service for all the service seekers,” says Sharma.
One-stop solution to an array of problems
Bookgara is a community-based platform that connects people to solve many kinds of problems— complex or simple. You can get services like getting an ambulance, having a PCR test for the coronavirus, ordering water for household uses and getting a plumber from this platform.
According to Sharma, currently, the e-commerce platform has 5,000 vendors, 10,000 services and 190 categories. Its services are also available outside the valley although they are on a low scale.
The business that started just two years back is in a progressive state. The website receives 3,000 to 4,000 visitors per month. Sharma says, “The number of visitors is increasing rapidly.”
Building transparency and dignity
Alongside empowering all kinds of human resources and providing proper services, Sharma says Bookgara also wants to maintain transparency among all the involved parties through this digital space.
Usually in Nepal, when it comes to blue-collar workers, there is no fixed rate of the service that they provide. They take payments as they wish and avoid transparency. Neither is there any guarantee that the pay is dignifying.
But, through this platform, the 32-year-old Sharma wants to change that system. Bookgara has mentioned the rate of every service that would be rendered by a common labourer.
The price of all kinds of services is determined after negotiating with vendors. Bookgara takes 10 per cent of the commission from the vendors. The price range of the services available is from Rs 200 to millions.
Yet, there are some free services too such as calling an ambulance. “One of the core values we are carrying is transparency. It is something that is lacking in the service industry of Nepal,” says Sharma.
Along with transparency and dignity, the company also focuses on quality, according to Sharma. To maintain the quality, the selection of vendors is made by Bookgara itself. On the basis of the experience and quality of the vendors, the selection is made.
Recently, the two-year-old online platform has also started garnering clients from abroad although most of them are Nepalis living there. They seek the services like teachers for their children to learn the Nepali language, music, dance, etc.
Challenges and opportunities
So far, the platform has completed over 300 works. But, this was not an easy journey, says Sharma. While rendering the services, the platform even faced a couple of bad experiences including the clients venting their disappointments at the service providers. “But, we try to compensate them in such cases.”
To avoid such situations, the company also has a separate code of conduct for all the associated vendors. Meanwhile, there is also a system to rate vendors. After the work gets done, Bookgara takes feedback from both the vendors and service seekers.
But, before that, the company faced challenges in setting up itself. “Many of our vendors are not registered at the tax office,” says Sharma, adding that made Bookgara difficult to find legally authorised service providers. “But, the government also does not have proper policies for escrow businesses,” he complains.
Furthermore, Sharma says the government has not provided any awareness to the workforce involved in low-income jobs about the possibility of online transactions.
Lastly, the other challenge is high competition among tech-based companies. But, Sharma claims his business is different from the rest as Bookgara tends to provide services related to all sectors, Sharma calls it an all-in-one business.
With challenges, Sharma also sees great opportunities in his business. He says, “Bookgara can solve the big problems related to household and offices; it can even change one’s lifestyle and improve work efficiency,”
Similarly, this kind of business can also empower the workforce from all sectors, he adds. So to make the service more effective, the group is launching its mobile app this year. Then, they want to go global.