The on-demand economy is growing fast in China. Though the Chinese authorities are interfering with some services, such as private car hailing, internet-enabled marketplaces for freelances are clearly an unstoppable trend. In first-tier and some second-tier Chinese cities, citizens are able to hire personal chefs (Shaofanfan, Whichef), photographers (Douban’s Yipaiyi), cleaning ladies (ayibang, 1jiajie), and driving instructors (58Peilian).
There are also some services that may be only popular in China or Asia. Private car rental platform Jieqinwang targets the niche segment in need of wedding fleets. As well visiting consumers at their homes, manicurists on Helijia can also work in a fancy van travelling around big Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.
58.com, a leading classified ads website, has tapped into the on-demand market by launching 58Daojia (Daojia meaning ‘arriving at home’). It so far supplies cleaning ladies and house-moving workers.
It is believed consumers of those services are mid-to-high-income white-collar workers in first and second tier Chinese cities. They make appointments, make payments through Alipay, WeChat and other online methods, and rate service providers through mobile apps.
There have been a number of platforms for all kinds of freelance workers in China. Zhubajie is one of the biggest in China. Founded as long ago as 2006, Zhubaojie, according to media reports, had nine million users as of August 2013, though that isn’t a big number given China’s enormous population. Most of the jobs posted can be completed and paid online.
When it comes to doorstep services, service quality is one of the greatest concerns for Chinese users. Many of the new mobile apps for freelancers have therefore created standardized workflows and provide training for service providers on their platform.
Helijia equips manicurists with standardized, easy-to-carry tool kits. Gongfuxiong trains massage therapists on its platform. Uber’s two major competitors in China, Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache, also train drivers in their private car booking program.
Currently almost every service is focused on a niche market. Meng Xing, founder of Helijia, did not think there would be a single marketplace for on-demand services, he said in November 2014 (via Sina Tech). But Helijia has noticeably been adding other service categories, such as make-up. 58 will expand its offerings too.
In most countries, on-demand service platforms charge service providers commission, but their Chinese counterparts do not. In fact, many are subsidizing users for the sake of market share. Since developing an idea for a certain profession or developing a mobile app are not longer particularly difficult, it won’t be long before competitors arise. In China competition is only ever more fierce.
Helijia has never charged manicurists commission, resulting in losses of RMB10 million (about US$166,000) per month due to their subsidies, according to Meng Xing. Chinese services who have been able to do this are venture backed either by venture capital firms or big Chinese tech companies such as Tencent and Alibaba.
Helijia has raised three rounds of funding, according to the company. Mr. Meng said they were unconcerned about monetization and believed they’d find ways to monetize their high-income female consumers. Manicurists on Helijia have been found promoting products of Afu, an essential oil brand also founded by Meng. It is believed they can get a cut from their sales.
Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)