Odd Jobber: Uber for Rickshaws, ODesk for Low-Income Workers

As Uber has grown synonymous with cab service around the world, and conventional cab services have also adopted to new technology via mobile apps, a startup in Lahore (IdeaCentricity), Pakistan is bringing the rickshaw market up-to-speed with modern technology. Rickshaws in Pakistan, and especially Lahore, are not a dying mode of  transportation competing with cars – they define the public transportation market. When I first moved to Lahore in 2005, I was pretty surprised by the absence of taxis in the city and the omnipresence of rickshaws. That equation is true even today and the same applies to the hundreds of small/big towns around the country.

Working with the market

So, instead of working on an idea that replaces this outmoded way to commute, IdeaCentricity is working on integrating it with technology and making the transactions in that market more competitive and user-friendly. This solution allows users to use technology to access the rickshaw market versus walking around, waving hands and individually negotiating with each rickshaw driver. On the other hand, it also allows rickshaw drivers to optimize their time and find customers without roaming around aimlessly in their search.

How does it work?

A consumer can text his location and destination (broadly defined – like Model Town to Johar Town) and rickshaw drivers in the proximity can bid for the services. The consumer will receive the bids and he/she can choose from the competing bids. The most likely direction of that choice would be to go with the cheapest option.

In order to put in place a guarantee for timeliness of the service, Odd Jobber/RIXI offers a 50% discount on the ride if you don’t receive the bids in 3-5 minutes.

Bringing positive change to the market

One advantage that this solution brings is additional security or peace of mind to the regular users of rickshaws – because this service would allow them to know who their driver is and that the driver has been vetted by Odd Jobber/RIXI.

The solution has truly be adapted to the local market as it works via text messages (do-able on any phone even without internet access) and made simple to use for both consumers and rickshaw operators.

Acknowledgements and Associations

The idea of Odd Jobber/RIXI has been widely appreciated by international and national level competitions and experts. The business idea was the winner of the Fulbright Social Innovation Challenge, the 1st runner up of the Pakistan Startup Cup and Global Initiative through Science & Technology  Tech-1 Competition Finalist in the past 2-3 years.

Partners with the technology include Punjab IT Board, Telenor, Easy Paisa, Tameer and Zong, and advisors to the business include international serial entrepreneur Bob Dorf, FTI Consulting’s Adam Bendell and Acumen’s Jessica Martin.

Beyond Rickshaws

While the initial focus of the business/service seems to be on working with the rickshaw market, the bigger aim is to connect other low-income worker with consumers via this platform. Possible examples could be connecting labor, plumbers, carpenters etc with people who need simple services like fixing a pipe or repairing a door etc. In that regard, Odd Jobber claims to be closer to being the ODesk/Elance of low-income workers.

The whole idea has great potential for success if executed properly and slowly. There is room for fraud or misuse that can ruin the reputation of the service in the same way that Uber drivers cancelling on their clients at the last minute or assaulting them can put a dent on Uber’s reputation.


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