Alexandra Golovanow wanted to combine business and social impact. She sees HelperChoice, an online platform connecting employers and helpers, as a perfect match as it contributes to the fight against modern slavery while achieving high business potential.
Can you briefly describe the HelperChoice story and, in particular, the challenge(s) you aim to address?
It all started with a personal experience; finding the right helper. As Laurence, the cofounder of the company, awaited the birth of her first child and couldn’t turn to her family in France, her husband and she were looking for someone they could rely on and trust with their child. They went through both friends’ recommendations and employment agencies but had a tough time finding the right person. After finding the right helper, they later learnt that this helper had to pay 3-month’s-worth of salary—21 times the legal limit—to find her job with them. They were appalled and started to explore solutions to improve the situation for helpers in Hong Kong. Within a year, she had set up HelperChoice to better match domestic helpers with employers. Her tech background enabled her to code the first version of the website. Two months after her daughter was born, the HelperChoice website went live in May 2012. We want HelperChoice to play a part in the struggle against modern slavery by contributing to the disappearance of unethical recruitment agencies.
You refer to HelperChoice as a “social platform.” What does that mean for your business—from implementation to revenue?
HelperChoice is a social company in two ways: our recruiting platform connects people—employers and domestic workers, and we are an ethical company with social impact. We don’t take any fees from domestic workers to create a profile on the platform, so our revenue comes only from employers’ subscriptions for posting a job ad and getting access to the profiles database. Our success depends on two factors: the quality and the quantity of the profiles, to make sure our clients can find the perfect match (we have around 3,000 domestic worker profiles and 500 job ads at all time); and the efficiency of the services we propose, such as our matching algorithm, our messaging tool, and our customer service.
How challenging has it been to establish and grow HelperChoice from a legal and regulatory standpoint—since you are now expanding beyond Hong Kong?
Right now, our sole office is in Hong Kong, where we have an employment agency business license. We already have clients in other countries such as Singapore and the Middle East, but as a pure internet platform we don’t need to apply for a license. In the near future, we intend to open offices locally and of course we’ll adapt our structure and processes to local regulations.
Can you provide some examples (or dazzle us with data) as to how HelperChoice is improving the welfare of those helpers listed on the platform?
We estimate that, since the platform was launched, we have facilitated around 8,000 successful matches. This represents more than USD 10 million in illegal placement fees avoided. Furthermore, HelperChoice impact is not only about combatting illegal fees: the platform gives the domestic workers the freedom to choose their employer and we use all of our communication channels to inform these workers about their rights. Recently, we also decided to launch the HelperChoice Academy so they can improve their skills and build a better future. We will offer a range of tailor-made workshops in cooking, languages, personal finance, and so forth.
Briefly, how do you intend to market and grow HelperChoice over the next year?
We plan to develop a mobile app. Of course, our website has a responsive design, but an app will be more user friendly. We also constantly work on improving our matching algorithm to make sure our clients can find among 3,000 profiles the one candidate that perfectly fits.
Could you describe other online platforms that you drew—or draw—inspiration from in growing HelperChoice?
From the beginning, HelperChoice was meant to be the “LinkedIn for domestic workers”, a place where people can link directly without any intermediaries. Then of course, we are inspired by platforms such as Care.com which operates in our business sector—caregiving and housekeeping. There are many sources of inspiration, but we cultivate our differences—the first being the social impact we have.
POPS Profiles are interviews with leading members of the technology, business and policy communities in Asia and the Pacific.
Photo credit: HelperChoice