Gig ecosystem in India and outlook 2023

CXOToday has engaged in an exclusive interview with Mr. Annanya Sarthak, Co-Founder & CEO, Awign


Q1. The vision of Co-founder & CEO Annanya Sarthak, that led him to create this work fulfilment platform just out of IIT Ropar

Founded in 2016, Awign is India’s largest tech-led on-demand work fulfilment platform. Since its inception, Awign has been solving the problem of unemployment, underemployment, and skill gap in India by providing employment opportunities to the youth, along with upskilling them with relevant knowledge.

After graduating from IIT Ropar, Sarthak went on to work with consulting firms where he became increasingly aware of the problem of underemployment and unemployment in India. He realised that, more than the LMS (Learning Management System), job seekers in India need a platform that allows them to both learn and earn at the same time. He also observed the challenges and risks enterprises face with work execution, whether done in-house or through offloading to a third-party organisation.

That’s when he conceptualised the idea for Awign, to commoditize work for Enterprises through a distributed workforce with the main objective of ‘gigifying’ core enterprise activities to variabilize fixed costs for large organisations.


Q2. Overview of Gig economy and skill development landscape in India

With rapid technological advancement, changing business needs along with shifts in workforce behaviour, the gig economy in India has seen massive growth in the last decade with strong projections for the future. Today, more than 7.7 million people in India are employed in the gig economy, which makes up almost 2.6% of India’s non-farm workforce. While the gig economy has many facets which need to be explored, it’s basically a market system where employers can work with contractual workers on a project basis for a pre-determined fee. Gig workers across low, mid and high skill levels engage with online platforms, or directly with employers to work at their own time, on projects of their preference according to their skill set.

Today, the burgeoning gig economy in India allows lakhs of unemployed workers to find meaningful livelihood opportunities. While the gig economy has the potential to provide employment opportunities to over 100mn+ unemployed individuals in India; continuous focus on upskilling, multi-skilling and re-skilling will enable workers across low and mid skill levels to expand their skill sets, and consequently increase their income potential. Online gig platforms, along with large organisations, Government of India, and non-profits are prioritising skill development to create upward social mobility for gig workers to further the growth of the sector in India.


Q3. How is the gig economy helping the growth of India’s GDP?

In the last few years, businesses have been pushed to re-engineer the operations, strengthen innovation and technological advancements to thrive in a competitive business environment. Companies are also rethinking the way they work, and their approach towards work execution to optimize their PnLs. This, along with changing workforce aspirations has propelled massive adoption of India’s growing gig economy.

As India anticipates hitting the $5 trillion GDP mark, the gig economy will play a massive role in this growth. The gig economy provides access to meaningful employment opportunities to over 15 million people in India today, and it is expected to increase to over 23 million by the end of the decade. According to a recent report by NITI Ayog, the employment elasticity of gig workers to GDP growth was continuously greater than the general employment elasticity – indicating the ability of our economy to generate employment with 1% of GDP growth.

The growth in income led by gig opportunities is likely to transact $250 billion in volume of work and add 1.25% to the Indian GDP by 2027. Current projections showcase that India’s gig economy is growing at a rapid pace to capture leading businesses across the globe and further boost the GDP.


Q4. Industry and market size of Gig economy

Globally, the total addressable market for the gig economy accounts for almost $1.5 trillion – that’s nearly the size of South Korea’s GDP! Currently, India’s Domestic demand is around $20 Bn per year. There is a large market opportunity as India’s enterprises adopt gigification, and 40mn+ workers shift from fixed to outcome-driven pay. India’s real problem as well as the solution lies in its vast population of 1.4 billion people. With unemployment rates at 7.2% for July – September 2022, there is a large reserve of unutilized manpower which can be converted to gig workforce, thereby contributing to India’s GDP.

A joint report by the Boston Consulting Group and Michael & Susan Dell Foundation estimates that the gig economy can service up to 90 million jobs in India’s non-farm economy alone. This translates to over $250 billion in value of work and may contribute an incremental 1.25% to India’s GDP.


Q5. How 2022 fared for start-up/gig ecosystem in India

This year has been a year of increasing growth for the gig ecosystem, considering adoption by enterprises and user participation is at an all-time high. Integration of technology in the gig ecosystem is enabling simplified processes, guided workflows, and transparency for gig workers, while providing real-time visibility, tracking and management of the gig workforce for enterprises.

While start-ups were the early adopters of the gig economy, there has been increasing and recurring demand from large and traditional enterprises across sectors. Large enterprises now trust and choose to gigify their core business functions to a tech-enabled work execution platform like Awign, which helps them deploy gig workforce, execute work faster along with optimizing their PnLs and seamlessly manage the entire process.

Not just this, participation from gig workers is also on consistent rise. Gig workers across skill levels, whether low, mid, or high skill segments have been entering the gig workforce to reap the advantages of flexibility, independence, and growth in income potential. With increasing demand for our gig model, we have also been able to double the average pay out for our gig partners.


Q6. Are there any changes he has witnessed in the way businesses are looking to meet their recruitment needs? If so, what is it and will it be the next disruption in the coming years?

In the last few years, there has been a paradigm shift in the way businesses choose to get their work done. There is rapid movement from hiring full-time workers, to now choosing to work with freelance, part-time or contractual workers. Enterprises now opt to partner with tech-enabled platforms which provide end-to-end management and execution of core business functions through a gig workforce. Even across the high-skill segment, enterprises now see merit in employing contractual workers that bring in domain knowledge for specific projects opposed to full-time employees. With a gig workforce, enterprises can better utilize the workforce by onboarding gig partners for specific projects or periods, according to business needs.

The demand during the festive season, for example, Traditionally, enterprises used to heavily rely on staffing agencies to hire temporary workers to meet the festive demand. However, this comes with many challenges such as training and management of workers, compliances hassles, monitoring their productivity etc. We are seeing a shift in this, with increasing preference for tech-enabled work execution platforms. During the recent festive season itself, enterprise demand for our end-to-end managed work execution has grown during the August to October period in FY23, as consumer demand spikes to its zenith. E-Commerce, BFSI and FMCD sectors took the lead during the festive season, with 60% growth in work tasks completed. While 67% demand came from medium-size enterprises and growth-stage companies, 33% demand was observed from large enterprises. During this period, last-mile operations, business development and telecalling solutions were in high demand. Overall, we saw 34% YoY growth in business this festive season, compared to last year.

With movement on labour reforms and formalisation of the gig economy, worktech will continue to stay ahead of the curve and the gig model will take over traditional employment heads-on. Gig economy will become the new 9 to 5 or 5 to 9, even for high-skill talent across the sectors. With increasing growth in the gig ecosystem, there will be rising opportunities for talent to explore their potential in the gig economy.


Q7. What the future holds for the Gig economy in India and the way forward?

Continuing its rapid growth trajectory, the workforce engaged in the gig economy is expected to increase 3X to 23 million by 2030. As the need for on-demand contractual workers continues to grow, there will be growth in the gig ecosystem with an increase in the number of platforms catering to freelancers, or providing them allied services or assistance such as upskilling, financial services, payroll management etc.

When we look at the B2B segment, the enterprise-focused gig model will become the go-to plug and play solution for companies in work execution across sectors. Factors such as increased focus on profitability, operational agility, cost optimization, seamless ramp up/down, and rapid penetration across markets will continue to trigger the adoption & growth of the gig economy.

At Awign, we truly believe in the potential of the gig economy for all stakeholders in the ecosystem, whether we talk about gig partners, enterprises, consumers or even the Government as it tackles the challenge of unemployment and gives impetus to economic growth. We are confident that we will continue to drive the Future of Work, becoming a hotspot for enterprises across the globe to allocate their work execution to India’s wide talent pool managed by platforms like Awign. As more and more businesses and individuals shift to independent work arrangements, it won’t be long until the gig economy becomes the new norm.


Q8. How has Annanya’s journey been- before and after starting this venture?

After completing his BTech from IIT Ropar, Sarthak went to work with Larsen & Turbo and other management consulting firms. During his stint there, he became cognizant of the challenges enterprises face in work execution, and how there exists a preference to outsource certain types of work rather than internal execution and management. Moreover, with time he became increasingly aware of the problem of unemployment and underemployment in India. He understood that these sets of unemployed Indian youth need a platform to learn and bridge the skill gap, while they’re earning a steady income as well. Hence, he founded Awign with Gurpreet Singh and Praveen Kumar Sah to solve business challenges for enterprises by providing meaningful employment opportunities meanwhile to the untapped gig workers.

Since then, he has built the largest enterprise gig work platform in India which serves 100+ large enterprise customers, 1mn+ gig workers – creating an impact in the livelihoods of 300 thousand gig workers till date.

However, when Awign was founded in 2016, the concept of work fulfilment through gig workers was completely unheard of. Raising funds for an entirely new concept where VCs didn’t have a ready thesis of the industry was not easy and was a large challenge for the initial few years. To solve this, Awign onboarded investors who have built large brands in HR Technology, who now form part of our very strong board. The board has been instrumental in guiding the leadership throughout the journey. Recently, Awign raised its Series B funding from top global VC funds like Bertelsmann, Amicus Capital, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and have raised more than 25 million USD over the last 5 years.

On the product side, building a technology platform which has never been built before posed many challenges. Praveen and his team built a unique no-code tech stack which helps create workflows for enterprise clients and manage the entire lifecycle of thousands of gig partners daily, without writing a single line of code. This tech stack is first-of-its-kind and has not been created by any other company in the world in this space.

When Covid hit Awign in 2020, 95% of the top line was wiped away within 15 days and business came to near zero revenue. The company had to completely revamp the business, manage costs well, diversify our lines of business to get back to pre-Covid levels in the next 6 months. Thereafter, Awign grew 5X in the next 12 months.

Today, Awign is the largest on-demand work fulfilment platform in India and remains much ahead of competition in every measurable metric. With its recent global expansion, Awign is on its way to become a to-go solution for enterprises across the globe to solve business challenges through India’s talent pool.

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