Singapore’s on-demand staffing startup UShift to raise up to $5m by Q1

Singapore-based on-demand staffing platform UShift, an Asia Pacific Internet Group (APACIG) backed company, plans to raise $3-5 million in its pre-Series A round by the first quarter of 2018 to fund its expansion to four overseas markets, a top executive told DEALSTREETASIA.

The startup, which launched operations this year, is also aiming to break even by the middle of next year, Anu Shah, co-founder and CEO of UShift Southeast Asia, said in an exclusive interaction.

Shah, who took over the role recently, also launched a startup accelerator called EFI Hub in early 2017. In this role, she mentors tech businesses in the emerging and frontier markets of Asia and Africa. She has previously worked with global firms like EY and AT Kearney across four continents.

Edited excerpts:

Can you talk about UShift’s business model and operations?

UShift is a one-year-old temporary workforce platform. It is one of the fastest growing platforms with more than 30,000 users and over 2,000 registered businesses.

Gig economy (where short-term contracts and freelancing workers are commonplace as opposed to long-term, permanent jobs) as a concept is becoming increasingly popular in western markets. UShift, too, is riding the gig economy wave.

What is UShift’s short-term and long-term vision?

In the long term, our vision is to a one-stop solution provider for all HR-related services. We want to offer solutions across the HR value chain – from recruitment and selection, and payroll and payment processing to training and development, and rewards and recognition. We are currently only involved in the recruitment and selection process.

We currently play in the niche area of providing blue-collar part-time or ad hoc workers. We are going to expand to include blue-collar regular and freelance workers. Additionally, we also plan to offer integrated payment solutions to businesses.

We are also running training and development courses in the food and beverage (F&B) space. However, it is not a big focus for us at present. But starting early next year, we will focus on that space too.

UShift CEO Anu Shah

What are the company’s fundraising plans? 

We are funded by APACIG (a joint venture between Rocket Internet and Qatar’s Ooredoo) but are now looking at closing our pre-Series A round of $3-5 million by Q1 2018. We are planning to use the funds for market expansion; we plan to enter four new markets — Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia.

For this round of fundraising, we are currently in talks with strategic and financial investors.These are venture capital (VC) firms and strategic partners, including conglomerates and traditional business houses.

Do you see a change in the investment environment with more companies preferring traditional business houses over VC or PE route? 

The investment ecosystem today has changed. Everyone is cautious in the tech space. While the concept is good, breaking even is difficult. It is easier to tap the traditional business houses with their networks and cash.

Which sectors are you focused on? And by when are you planning to achieve breakeven?

We are focused on events, retail, F&B, hospitality and administration. We are planning to break even by mid-2018 in Singapore.

How do you maintain a competitive advantage in a market like Southeast Asia?

We have a plethora of players in this market including GrabJobs, Helpster, Freeboh and FastJobs. Each player has carved its own niche.

GrabJobs is a marketplace platform that covers jobs postings across the spectrum — full-time, part-time, freelance, blue collar, white collar, etc. Helpster is currently solely in the recruitment and selection process. Freeboh offers recruitment and selection options, along with payment selection services.

UShift is planning to be an integrated HR solutions platform offering services across the platform. We want to be the tech replica of a traditional staffing agency.

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