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This ex-Apple techie is helping India's blue-collar workers find jobs

Nirmit Parikh of Apna, an app that hosts local communities for drivers, carpenters and welders and provides access to local opportunities
Thirty-two-year-old Nirmit Parikh went undercover as a factory worker in Ahmedabad for a few days before the lockdown, to understand the ground realities of grey and blue-collar workers. "It is easier to solve problems when you experience them first hand. I have sneaked in multiple times as an electrician or daily-wage earning factory worker. My background as instrumentation and controls engineer comes in handy here," says the Stanford University alumnus.

The result is Apna, his vertical professional application that hosts local communities for drivers, carpenters and welders and provides access to local opportunities, became the perfect platform to seek livelihood for thousands of migrants who were stranded during the lockdown.

Started in December 2019, the user gets to make a visiting card for themselves after downloading the app. Then, the user is shown different openings available matching the profile in their preferred location. There are also group chats where similar professionals such as beauticians or welders can connect and can discuss the new skills and opportunities. There is also communities section where like-minded people like English language learners or government exam aspirants can connect. 

Apna recently closed $8 million in Series A funding, led by existing investors–Lightspeed India and Sequoia Capital India. It is currently live in five cities—Mumbai, Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru, Pune, Ahmedabad and Jaipur. It has over 2 million registered users on the platform and facilitates 1.8 million interviews every month. Also, 5 million professional conversations are hosted each month between grey and blue-collar workers. The start-up counts Byju's, Amazon, Shaadi.com and Big Basket as some of its regular recruiters on the platform.

Since most are gullible workers, Apna uses a two-proof system to weed out fake employers and middlemen. The startup has a natural language processing (NLP) algorithm that uses data analytics to segregate suspicious users. The suspicious or a multi-level marketing (MLM) post gets flagged by the user is attended within seven minutes.

Apna also uses a machine learning system to automatically check GST number and PAN to authenticate the postings and the platform manually contacts the employer if the credentials do not match.

Apna is not Parikh's first stint as a startup entrepreneur. After Surat floods in 2006, he set up Incone Technologies at the age of 21. It manufactured automatic dam control system that did not require human intervention for operating the floodgates. "It was based on machine and supervised learning technologies. Reservoir management and hydro-power generation were the business outcomes that came in later," he said.

After a few years, he started Cruxbot in 2012. It was a digital tool that automatically creates summaries of webpages similar to the ones found on the back cover of books. "The idea got sparked when I was on a date with my girlfriend who is now my wife."

Later, Cruxbot got acquired by Kno Inc and eventually Intel Corporation. He then when on to complete his MBA from Standford and worked at Apple for little more than two years.

Parikh belongs to a family of engineers and credits exposure to electronic circuit boards and coding at an early age as one of his reasons behind his success. He also counts his parents and wife Krishna, who is a cardiologist by profession, as his pillars of strength.

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