Sixty-five-year-old Jamilur Rahman (not his real name) and his family were in the soup when their domestic-help Asma left her job and went to her village.
Jamilur's wife, fifty-seven-years old Nasreen was forced to do all the chores around the house. After few agonising days, they hired a part-time house help but she bunked work just the next day. Finding no other option, Nasreen called an agency but the charges went far beyond her budget.
Then one morning, Jamilur's son Rakib came across HelloTask on Facebook. It's a service that connects people to the services they need to run their households, hoping to skirt the uncertainty and time lag that come with Dhaka's informal economy, which still employs at least two lakh domestic workers.
Rakib downloaded the app and hired a woman to clean their apartment. She arrived within half an hour and did all the cleaning and washing in two hours. The charge was Tk148.
"She was well-mannered and tidy," Nasreen said.
Nasreen liked the service and currently uses it regularly. "My previous part-time house-help charged Tk3,000 for just three chores: clothes, dishes and cleaning the floors. She would often bunk work," Nasreen recalled.
Currently, Nasreen pays the same amount of money to HelloTask for a monthly package under which the helper comes to work for two hours every day and does as many chores as possible.
"They do not count the chores, rather they do as many tasks as possible within the time frame," she said.
How the idea came into being?
The average middle- and upper-class Dhaka household runs with a steady stream of helping hands—a maid for 'ghar jharu-mocha' (brooming and sweeping), a cook to make three meals a day, and maybe a semi-trained nanny to look after the kids.
But talk to either side of the transaction and you're sure to hear plenty of complaints. The cook uses too much oil, the hired help for cleaning shows up two hours late. And the families that hire them? The workers say they expect long hours and think about ten times before raising wages.
That's where mobile apps like HelloTask—launched in 2018—are hoping to help both the service providers and consumers. The app provide a list of household services in different packages—daily, weekly or monthly—allowing customers to schedule the service with a few swipes. The rates are disclosed beforehand, and customers can choose to pay through the maid or directly to the company.
The idea of starting an on-demand maid service to the household is not a new one and has long been on the plate for someone to pick up. Late Humayun Ahmed even wrote and directed a popular drama on the concept years ago.
But it had not materialized as the logistics involved in the business are too delicate and fickle in nature for an aspiring entrepreneur to handle. So what makes Mahmudul Hasan Likhon, the CEO and co-founder of HelloTask to take the risk?
"We thought of starting it when our house-help Rahima Khala started skipping work on a regular basis," said Likhon.
"The purpose of designing any app is primarily to solve the problem. Finding a maid to do household chore is probably one of the great unsolved problems of the city. I wanted to provide a solution, hence I launched HelloTask," he said.
Likhon also said the platform is contributing to facilitate economic independence for those women who live in the slums.
"In the early days, we went from door to door at slums looking for women who would want to work as domestic workers. At first they thought we were traffickers," Likhon said, adding that HelloTask began its journey with just two service-providers.
"We spent a lot of time counselling them and explaining that it is the beginning of a better tomorrow," he said. From there, it took off. Initially, all the women were on payroll, but as HelloTask grew, they have all became freelancers.
"We are still growing and have an onboarding team who are preparing these women to join the workforce," Likhon said. He added that the current workers spread the word and bring many potential workers with them.
"So we bring them onboard, train and then empower them to be on their own," said Likhon.
Convenient and easy
HelloTask is also very convenient for people who have to maintain busy schedule. For example, meet Dr Anjuman. Both she and her husband are doctors and have to maintain very busy work schedules. They need a house-help to do chores on their convenient time.
The couple is now a regular client of HelloTask just because of the convenience it brought.
"I can choose my maid's timing, tasks and frequency of work to suit my needs. What else can I ask for?" she said.
HelloTask services are open between 7am and 7pm, allowing the users to choose the slot as per their preference.
"We have three types: basic, advanced and premium. These are categorised based on the training they have received and the chores they can perform," Likhon said.
The GPS will connect the client with the nearest service-provider, who will then arrive at the location within thirty to forty minutes.
Likhon also said all the women who work for HelloTask are between 25 and 35 and have been trained to perform different household chores.
"We have joined hands with Oxfam to train and empower 16,000 women on soft skills and another project with Nari Maitree for the development of their technical skills," he said.
Besides, BRAC has also come forward to train these women and HelloTask is also providing practical training through housewives, who taken in two or three service providers as an apprentice and earn Tk100 each day for every apprentice. These training vary between three to fifteen days.
Safety at the core
HelloTask not only solves the problem of urban middle class but also take cares of the domestic help it recruits. Suraya is one of the maids under the payroll of HelloTask. She lives in a one-bedroom shanty with her husband and children in Jigatola area of Dhaka. When her husband's income was failing to feed the five-member family, she decided to take up some household work as domestic help. She got hired by the HelloTask.
"At the beginning I was scared, but then we were told what to do if any problem comes up," she said.
"Sometimes if we face any verbal abuse or rough behaviour from the client, we report it to the office. They make sure that we do not go to work in the same house again in such cases," she said.
She also said that the management is very supportive in this regard.
Asked about security concerns, Likhon said that HelloTask had taken a very strong policy on this ground.
"We collect all details and copy of NID of every person we take on board. In addition to that, each one of our service-providers have to provide a guarantor. We take the guarantor's details as well (NID a must)," he said, adding that they also visit each person's house to know where they live.
"So, if a service-provider steals or causes personal injury to the client, they cannot get away with it. We will provide all information to the client and help them to initiate a legal action," Likhon said. He added that for property damage, HelloTask will provide 50 percent indemnity to the client.
Likhon said, at present, HelloTask has around 100 women on-board. Therefore, keeping these women safe is also important and Likhon has put enough attention to it, he said.
"We want to keep our service-providers safe, and therefore we do not serve at bachelor homes," Likhon said, adding that the the service is only available at families in presence of a woman.
"Sometimes we get reports of rude behaviour from a few clients, but we have not heard anything about sexual advances," he also said.
HelloTask maintains a client database where they record the details of the client so that the company can take legal action against them if a girl gets physically or sexually abused by clients.
Asked about how the service is functioning in the Covid-19 crisis, Likhon said that every service provider has been given safety equipment by the company to keep everyone safe.