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Seven-year-old home services marketplace Urban Company (UC) has been riding a high since 2019. It cut down on the number of services offered, going from 100+ categories to less than 10. It went full-stack full-stack The Ken UrbanClap wants to be India’s first home services unicorn Read more , sourcing its products and training its partners to control quality from end-to-end. 

Revenue went up steadily—UC saw growth of 146% and 99% for the years ended March 2019 and 2020, respectively. Repeat orders have been as high as 75-80% for certain categories. So when over a hundred of its beauty services partners staged a protest in front of its Gurugram office in early October, it came as a bolt from the blue. 

It was a sign that the balance between the trifecta of customers, platform, and partners that it prided itself on was dwindling. The protesters demanded a reduction in commissions, better wages, and safe working conditions, among other things. They alleged that the company had hiked commissions to 30% and assigned late-night bookings for its women partners. The company has over 35,000 uniformed kit-carrying service partners, with the beauty services segment accounting for one-third of them.

These protests had little precedent. Handling them the way foodtech or mobility companies handled protests from their gig workers wasn’t an option. That’s because the fundamental nature of a gig worker at UC is of a highly trained and skilled partner who spends far more time interacting with the customer while sporting the UC logo on their chests and their kits.

According to data publicly released by UC, partners in the top quartile make nearly 3X what offline workers do. Consequently, they also have really high standards to maintain. Partners constantly need to maintain a rating of 4.7 or higher or risk getting pulled off the roster for retraining. They also cannot miss three ‘exclusive’ orders a day from the geographical location they’re mapped to or risk getting blocked for 24 hours. Urban Company declined to participate in the story. 

To its credit, however, UC met with 4,000-odd partners, and within days of the protest, it responded with facts, numbers, and a candid admission about the problem and its role in it. It followed that by releasing a  12-point programme 12-point programme The Urban Company Blog Urban Company announces 12 point program to improve partner earnings and livelihood Read more that it claimed would lead to a 10% increase in partner income in the coming quarter.

AUTHOR

Aayush Agarwal

Aayush covers businesses that are primarily Internet for The Ken. In his previous stint at Goldman Sachs, he spent slightly more than a year analysing investment opportunities in the China Internet space. A science graduate, he completed his postgraduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode. Write to him if, among other things, you wish to talk about e-businesses, journalism or just offbeat career choices.

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