Supahands pivots into the gig economy

  • Focuses on content moderation and lead generation
  • Supahands’ investors are Axiata Digital Services, 500 Startups and Cradle Seed Ventures


Supahands pivots into the gig economy


MALAYSIA-based outsourcing startup Supahands, which began as a platform for people to find virtual assistants, is pivoting from a business-to-consumer (B2C) model to a business-to-business (B2B) model. In its new incarnation, Supahands will work with digital companies, providing them with a workforce to meet their needs.

“We realised that the B2C business was not very scalable and is difficult to track in terms of quality control and consistency of input and output. Basically, clients were asking for a whole range of different things and it was difficult to productise. So we decided to change the whole business,” says co-founder and chief executive Mark Koh.

Supahands now focuses on content moderation and lead generation. This means working with larger companies who have bigger projects and matching them with people with the correct skills and experience.

The employees on the Supahands platform – whom Supahands calls SupaAgents – are curated and managed to ensure they can produce quality work.

“We’re also trying to work with digital clients because they are the ones innovating and trying to dream up new things,” explains Koh.

“We believe that digitisation is the way to go in this industry. Everything is moving towards that. We’re basically riding the wave of digitisation.”

Navigating new waters

Supahands was established in 2014 and started pivoting about a year ago. Koh reveals that such a significant change can be difficult to navigate because it affects supply, demand, internal staff and of course the whole vision of the business.

“It also takes a while to change the branding, concept and the whole DNA of the business, and even the mindset of the people within the company itself,” he says.

However, Koh says the transition has been quite smooth because of open and clear lines of communication, and a proper strategy, which went a long way in getting everyone – clients, SupaAgents and internal staff – on board.

According to Koh, the significant effects of the pivot on the business have been positive: there has been a lot of refocusing that resulted in a clearer vision for the business, a clearer focus in terms of who its clients are, and a clearer message to clients on what Supahands is – experts in content moderation and lead generation.

Revenue generation has, of course, increased since the move to B2B. Supahands has seen about a 400% increase in its annual cumulative growth rate since last year and projects this level of revenue generation continuing three to five years down the line. Koh explains that the numbers have seen such a big jump because the contract sizes have become a lot larger and Supahands is creating more jobs.

The change has also been better for Supahands’ internal technology; it is building a more focused and automated platform, called Supahands Workplace, which also means it has grown its team of engineers to work on this proprietary technology. The platform will allow clients to upload a project, after which the platform will slice the project into smaller bits and pass those tasks on to multiple people to work on.

“The routing technology and machine learning allows us to allocate the work to the right people at the right time,” explains Koh, adding that what Supahands is really trying to automate is the brains and decision-making processes of the human project team that now allocates the work to the SupaAgents. “It will make us less reliant on humans and less subject to human error.”

However, Koh clarifies that there will still be a human element running the whole show. “Everyone is always saying everything should be automated and machine learning is going to take over all the work, but there is still an emotional side of things. We still need human intelligence in some parts of the process. You can’t always automate 100%.”

Growth a major focus


Supahands pivots into the gig economy


Supahands now has 1,000 SupaAgents on the platform who come from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, which it sees as a significant achievement in one year. It has a good and growing number of clients; Koh declined to reveal how many but says that the business is on target as to revenue generation.

Supahands has been in Indonesia for three months growing a pool of SupaAgents there and is certainly looking to increase its presence in the country, but is now focusing on getting the supply in place before working on recruiting clients.

The ultimate vision is a huge one: to have one million SupaAgents across Southeast Asia (SEA), including Thailand and Vietnam, which will create a multilingual workforce. Koh says Supahands is trying to create a sustainable job market by allowing more people to pick up remote work.

There is always a demand for agents but Koh admits that maintaining the right balance between the supply of agents and the demand for them is one of the toughest parts of the business.

“It’s going to be truly amazing to have a single platform with people from all across SEA doing work in multiple languages for tech companies. We will be taking big jobs from large enterprises, breaking them down and farming them out to as many people as possible. This means we will be creating jobs for hundreds and hundreds of people,” says Koh.

Koh reveals that Supahands should be able to reach profitability within the next year. But, he says, that will not change anything within the company; it will still continue to raise money. “When you raise money it means the possibility of acquisitions, a higher tech target, growing the engineering team and expansion across the region,” he says.

Supahands closed its seed funding round in December 2015 for an undisclosed sum, and closed a previously unannounced pre-series A round earlier this year. Supahands’ investors are Axiata Digital Services, 500 Startups and Cradle Seed Ventures.

Koh, who believes that simply securing funding is not a big enough achievement to announce to the media, says he did not want to announce it because he felt that the business had not achieved enough to shout about it yet.

It is now in the middle of its series A fund raising, which is projected to be completed by the end of the year.

Outsourcing 2.0

Once secured, the series A funding will be used to hire more internal talent, build more tech, automate more processes, expand the business into new markets, build partnerships and for possible acquisitions.

Partnerships and collaborations in certain markets, such as Indonesia and eventually Japan and the US will help Supahands move into those markets faster, says Koh. As for acquisitions, Supahands is looking for innovative technology that it can leverage on and plug into its own platform.

All this is part of Supahands’ long-term vision of changing the outsourcing space and creating more jobs.

“We’re not like every other gig economy platform that hires every Tom, Dick and Harry. Our agents are curated and managed and there is a lot more tech behind the scenes that you see, making everything work,” Koh emphasises. 

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