In India’s demonetisation chaos, rent-a-body start-up makes hay

BookMyChotu.com is renting workers by-the-hour as placeholders to busy professionals in India’s major cities to stand in serpentine lines outside banks, ATMs


PM Narendra Modi’s 8 November announcement to scrap Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes has created chaos but some start-ups are jumping to the rescue.
PM Narendra Modi’s 8 November announcement to scrap Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes has created chaos but some start-ups are jumping to the rescue.

Bangalore: Call it the triumph of the on-demand economy.

A Delhi-based start-up is on a roll after it began renting workers by-the-hour as placeholders to busy professionals in India’s capital to stand in serpentine lines outside banks and ATM machines. Customers are queuing up to exchange old currency or withdraw cash after the government took 86 percent of cash out of circulation.

BookMyChotu.com which rents a ‘Chotu’—an Indian generic for an errand boy—for Rs90 (less than $1.5) an hour said it cannot cope with the demand for its two-day old service. “We are adding staff and scaling up,” said Satjeet Singh Bedi, the start-up’s founder who did not foresee the surging demand when he circulated news of his service on messaging apps.

In an overwhelmingly cash-based economy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 8 November flash announcement that the country was scrapping its Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes has created chaos but some start-ups are jumping to the rescue.

Also read: Currency reform: A political gamble

Users can book the on-demand helpers via its website or a call-in number. “Which busy professional has three or four hours to spare after an eight-nine hour workday? Our people can do that and the customer can replace the ‘Chotu’ just as his or her turn arrives,” said Bedi. The service offering in Delhi and neighboring Gurgaon and Noida, has found takers from the country’s largest companies, he added.

Helpers cost Rs170 ($2.5) for two hours of standing, Rs260 for three hours and so on and bookings post-8pm are charged an extra Rs200. In India where ‘Chotu’ can also be a name for an under-age worker, the start-up took pains to clarify that its helpers are all over 18 years old and had no problem being called by that name.

Demonetisation is testing Indians’ long-held aversion for disciplined lines. But with the scramble for cash, mile-long queues in some places have become inevitable. In the local media, heartrending stories abound of people suffering heart attacks whilst waiting their turn at the bank and daily wage laborers having to forgo their earnings to get legal tender to buy basic necessities.

Also read: Cash crunch: Analysts cut India GDP growth forecast

Bedi’s eight-month old start-up offers helpers by the hour for occasions such as cleaning up after a party or helping pay the bills. The founder said he thought of a smart pivot when he himself urgently needed cash following his mother’s hospitalization. “My three-hour wait came down to 30 minutes so I thought why not help others too?” he said.

On social media, the start-up has been accused of helping launder ‘black money’ through its helpers. But Bedi says his staff will not step inside the bank. The customer was expected to come and replace the helper 20 to 30 minutes before his expected turn. He is now looking for venture funding for his business. Bloomberg

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