Reimagining the PTO : A messenger and a friend

The acronym PTO, to most people from a generation, would mean the Post and Telegraph Office. The “messenger” of the nation (talking about India here) during the 80’s and 90’s when the modern India was being built. From Bollywood films to R K Narayan novels, the postman was an integral part of life and culture, and I might go so far as to say, part of the life and soul of Indian lifesytle.

Not many of my generation can identify with the term PTO, but due to the developments in the mobile internet technology field for the last couple of years, I’ll coin a new expansion of the acronym - Personal Task Outsourcing. (Oh yes, taking a cue from BPO).

But I am not just talking a superficial cue from BPO. In its essence the booming BPO business in India, the coinage of the term ‘bangalor-ed' in American industries, all were stemming from the fact that human labour is cheap (way too cheap) in India. There were and are millions of unemployed Indians happy to accept the job of sitting with headphones on their head and silently listening to complaints of disgruntled customers.

By what I mean by Personal Task Outsourcing, has a lot to with the same. Though idea did not take root in India (as it never unfortunately does in most cases). What started with companies like Magic (getmagicnow) and Butler was soon copied by three players in the Indian startup space , namely — Akosha (who renamed themselves to Helpchat), GoodService, and Haptik. It was helped largely by the boom in India’s hyperlocal and food tech domains. There were multiple startups delivering products like food, cosmetics, electronics to your home, and providing doorstep services like cabs, cleaning, repairing, language/art classes, yoga, massage and what not.

And while the tech savvy, early adopting, Generation Y or Z (or whatever is latest) is okay with using apps like Uber or Foodpanda or UrbanClap, the less mobile savvy people could do with services like Helpchat where they would only have to mention what they want over a messaging interface (which thanks to Facebook and Whatsapp, everyone is well versed with).

And thus was born the concept of Personal Task Outsourcing. With countless players like TextmyPA, Jaadu (jeez they even copied Magic’s name) quickly jumping into the bandwagon, and all getting funded lavishly.

For now, I can only see them succeed. Because India always had a surplus of people ready to work at dirt cheap rates to sit across a terminal and the do the job of a computer. The last few decades it was attending calls, now it is fulfilling people’s personal needs over chat. Also there is a crop of people in tier 1 cities in India who are addicted to online services, and they are lazy. So if chatting with someone fulfills your need, instead of downloading an app and going through sign up, discovery, ordering, then why not.

So there, ladies and gents, we have a new PTO. Once again a messenger by function. But far more in its impact in our lives. And if the bets of Helpchat, Haptik or GoodService is right, maybe this PTO will also become the life and soul of a modern Indian’s life.

P.S. A word of advice to Mark Zuckerberg. You really should start M’s services in India soon. You’ll get both customers and people ready to work behind the desk …err chatscreen, in large numbers