India

With one website, a taste of the American Dream in India

April 18, 2014: 11:54 AM ET

Babajob.com, a Bangalore-based mobile job posting startup started by a Microsoft Research veteran, wants to pull Indians out of poverty.

By Erik Heinrich

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FORTUNE -- Vishwanath is a 22-year-old Indian from the southern city of Bangalore who is looking for work as a data entry clerk. He has two years of experience, does not wish to move away from his hometown and family, speaks English, Hindi, and a local language called Kannada. He is asking for a monthly salary of 8,000 rupees, or about $130.

Akhilesh is 27 and looking for work as a driver. He has five years of experience and is asking for a monthly salary of $150.

Sridatta, also 27, is an accountant who wants a job that pays at least $300 per month. He has a bachelor of commerce degree and four years of experience.

What do all three have in common? They're likely to find work before the month is up. And their profiles are listed on Babajob.com, India's largest entry- and mid-level jobs portal that helps locals transform their lives and permanently improve their economic circumstances.

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"Babajob.com is an ongoing experiment to accelerate the escape from poverty and create equal opportunity in developing countries," says Sean Blagsvedt, 38, a northern Californian who is reverse-engineering the American Dream in Bangalore, India.

Since launching his company in 2007 with the help of angel investors from the U.S., Babajob.com has registered more than 2 million job seekers across India and 2.5 million available jobs. At present, it is processing over 150,000 job applicants every month. New hires typically report a 20% increase in income over their previous job and decreased commute times.

"Job seekers want better-paying, fulfilling full-time jobs near their homes," Blagsvedt says.

The idea for Babajob.com came to the social entrepreneur while he was working for Microsoft (MSFT), helping the software giant establish its research lab in Bangalore -- a city of 10 million that is known as the Silicon Valley of India because it's the nation's leading exporter of information technology.

There, he read a Duke University and World Bank study showing that the primary path out of poverty is changing jobs. But only people with strong social networks and early access to information are able to apply for these better jobs.

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Blagsvedt, who has a joint computer science and public policy degree from Brown University and the long, tangled hair of the quintessential California surfer, decided to level the playing field. And so Babajob.com was born as a sort of "village" version of LinkedIn (LNKD).

In a country of more than 1 billion people where its poorest are still struggling with literacy and Internet access, Babajob.com makes it possible for job hunters who cannot readily connect to the mobile web to register over the phone in a local language of their choice, be it Kannada, Hindi, or Bengali.

Babajob.com's successful niche wasn't apparent at first, Blagsvedt says. "For the first several years, I don't think we had the right employer product," he says. "In essence, we were selling the same service that other online job sites like LinkedIn.com and Monster.com, advertising and access to job seekers. Neither of these models solved the problems informal sector employers said they had."

One year ago, Babajob.com launched RapidHire, a service that is so popular that employers have nicknamed it jaboo -- Hindi for "magic." Rather than serving as an open, passive job board, RapidHire requires employers to post their jobs (for a fee) and tell Babajob.com their screening criteria. In 20 minutes or less, qualified applicants living within a few kilometers of the job call the employer and arrange for an interview.

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Automated, real-time technology whirs and hums in the site's background to allow people to connect so quickly: SMS advertising, dynamic searches, telephone number provisioning, and multilingual voice-based assessment tests are all part of the Babajob.com's infrastructure.

"We've found over 70% of employers buy within 24 hours of seeing the demo and over 60% hire within 20 days," says Blagsvedt, adding the pricing for RapidHire scales with the number of people an employer needs.

At present, RapidHire is only available in Bangalore. But Blagsvedt says that Babajob.com's top priority in 2014 is to roll the service out in other major Indian cities, including Delhi and Mumbai.

Babajob.com has a long road to travel before it can claim it has conquered the Indian sub-continent -- a goal that has eluded many. But Blagsvedt already has his eye fixed on the horizon: "We are looking at international expansion in the next year."

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