It was when Anuj Gupta relocated from the US to the UK in 2017 that the India-born entrepreneur hit upon the concept for his next start-up. On the hunt for reliable tradespeople such as plumbers and electricians, he and his wife were met with a tedious word-of-mouth process and often left in the lurch.
GreenVan was born in 2020 against the backdrop of a global pandemic, which proved a good time to thoroughly test out the company’s unique conversational artificial intelligence (AI) enabled software to consolidate the services industry around a user-friendly interface – a so-called “Amazon of Services”. The result is one of the world’s first companies designed to enable consumers to book essential day-to-day services through a simple WhatsApp chat.
What were the factors behind the genesis of GreenVan?
When we started delving into the market, we found this 100-year-old industry loaded with problems, with 87 per cent driven by mom-and-pop shops – that is typically one owner and two members of staff helping the owner, making it extremely fragmented.
At the same time, it was a super large industry –10 times the size Uber and five times more fragmented than Uber, and a highly lucrative industry with immense profits but with all the inefficiencies in the world.
We were looking at a $120-billion market in the UK, with $20 billion of profits. We could see that the time had come to put in the technology to make it really efficient. Given that conversational AI and AI at large was becoming available from the adjacent possible into the mainstream and phones were becoming smarter, it was a confluence of factors that resulted in GreenVan.
What makes your start-up stand out in the marketplace?
As the principal party in the transaction, we are able to offer tradespeople stability of income, visibility, predictability and reliability, and the consumers equally get ease of use and quality. We are an end service provider, with a lot of technology from the onboarding of the customer to the execution, so we own the entire chain and the experience of the last mile.
Meanwhile, the heterogeneity of the dealings that our algorithm has with the consumer expression makes it very complex on the backend. As a result, plagiarism of our algo and the moats that it creates because of that makes it very difficult to copy.
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How have you tested the model out for the UK market?
We've actually done a large market trial across 15 cities in the UK, with thousands of transactions through 110 contractors who helped us in performing the trial. So, we have been working hard for the last many years in perfecting the booking flow and the technology, which has been automated from the old school phone-based industry to a chat-based industry. The challenge has been bringing the necessary data required to perfecting the AI.
We've had a very successful trial phase, with 97.2 per cent customers giving us a 100 on 100 rating. Now, we are open to funding and have already had a tonne of interest even in the initial stages.
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How does this fit into discussions around using AI responsibly?
The AI that we are injecting into this industry is for good. I believe that AI can remove blockages and reduce human vulnerability and remove challenges.
For example, we are going to create 5,000 new jobs in this economy. We are going to visualise demand, upskill regions and reduce climate challenges. All this is becoming possible because we are removing that layer of human vulnerability and organising the ecosystem using AI.
So, as far as the macroeconomic impact is concerned, when Goldman Sachs talks about $7.1 trillion dollars are going to be created because of conversational AI, it's players like us who they're thinking of. We’re not only going to create new dollars in the economy, but benefit a tonne of people around us.
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Would you say your India connect influences your entrepreneurial journey?
Only I have gotten out of India, India hasn't gotten out of me. We want to go and do things for India. The UK has been amazing and will get a lot of credit for being the torchbearers of innovation on this front and move up the innovation index because of businesses like ours.
But when the technology gets to maturity and India gets ready to embrace it, we want to do this for India for sure. Not only India, but any economy – even Africa. It could be a social project in Africa, where we licence our IP and just do it. So, it's not about just the hard dollars, it's also about using human intelligence for the betterment of all.