One of the key issues that India was wrestling with in 2008 was how to preserve the Outsourcing industry since it had become such an important component of the country’s growth engine.
At the face of rising cost-structures, on paper, everyone agreed that rural and small-town BPO was an essential strategy for maintaining the cost-advantage. But at the time, still, the BPO industry largely operated out of the major metros: Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, and Kolkata.
I had a few other observations about the Indian BPO industry, including that it was mainly servicing the larger companies in the US and elsewhere. Yet, the United States alone had over 5 Million small businesses with a significant outsourcing potential. Even an average $5000 annual outsourced services budget would put this segment at $25 Billion.
Of these, one segment that I thought was particularly interesting was the doctors’ offices. There were, at the time, more than a million physicians in the US, including family and general practitioners, surgeons, pediatricians, dentists, psychiatrists, chiropractors, etc. A large percentage of these were in small private offices.
By their very nature, these doctors’ offices had significant insurance claims processing needs, as well as the standard billing, payroll, collections, accounting, and tax related needs. Doctors, effectively, had to run full-fledged small businesses.
I assessed that this could potentially be a multi-billion dollar business opportunity if we could crack the formula for customer acquisition given that the market is completely fragmented.
This was the investment thesis behind our BPO venture, Maya Ray.
We created the Maya Ray brand initially through a very targeted advertising campaign through Epocrates. Epocrates was a company that provided clinical reference content to healthcare professionals on their handhelds, PDAs and smartphones. With the content, they also delivered advertising. More than 500,000 healthcare professionals, including more than one in four U.S. physicians, actively used Epocrates’ mobile and web-based content services to improve patient safety and save time. We thought it would be the perfect vehicle for us to launch Maya Ray, the ultimate Medical Office Assistant.
Twelve years later, Maya Ray has as clients 90,000 small doctor’s offices. For most, we deliver a comprehensive set of services, all the way from secretarial services to claims processing to billing, collections, accounting, and taxes. On average, each client pays us $1000 per month, which amounted to $12,000 a year.
In 2020, our annual revenue stands at over $1 Billion.
On the service delivery side, of course, we had started off with the notion of rural and small town BPO.
We took gradual risks. Our first major back-office operation was in Howrah, near Kolkata. Slowly, we built up successful operations in Barakpur, Krishnanagar, Uttarpara, Ulubaria, Midnapur, Haldia, Bolpur, Madhyamgram, Barasat, Naihati, Chandennagar, Sreerampur, Uluberia, Murshidabad, Bandel, Purulia, Chittaranjan, Bardhaman, Bankura, Durgapur, Asansol, Malda, Raiganj, Siliguri, and Jalpaiguri – all small towns in West Bengal.
Each of these operations employed 5,000 people, and by 2015, we had 25 operations in the small towns of West Bengal with a total workforce of 125,000 people. We started with an average cost-structure of Rs. 10,000/$300 per month salary, although that rose to Rs. 20,000/$500 over the next 10 years.
During the last five years, we have used 10 of the small town operations as hubs, and created rural centers. Each small town center manages 10 rural centers of 100 people each. This experiment was important for us as we were also deeply committed to making the development economics angle sustainable and widespread.
Training was a challenge, but not insurmountable. What the employees lacked in terms of language or computer skills, they more than compensated in work ethic, commitment, and desire to learn. The basic attitude and intelligence level was high, and since my philosophy has always been, “Hire for attitude, Train for skill,” we knew from the get-go, that training was something we would invest heavily in. What we gave our rural team in training, they paid back in loyalty. Attrition was less than 1%.
We derive efficiency also by using Software-as-a-Service vendor partnerships with Bill.com, PayCycle, and others who provide us enabling technology, as well as referral business. In many cases, they resell our services as part of their own portfolio.
In 2020, thus, Maya Ray’s workforce spans the length and breadth of West Bengal. Other such ventures have come up throughout India, following our example. One of them based in Madhya Pradesh focuses on doing back-office work for law offices in the US, which is also a large segment. Another, based in Rajasthan, works for the hospitality segment. Different parts of India have developed different core competencies.
Overall, the rural and small town BPO sector now employs 2 Million people, and generates close to $10 Billion in revenues.
A call to Indian entrepreneurs everywhere, Vision India 2020 challenges and inspires readers to build the future now. In this “futuristic retrospective,” author Sramana Mitra shows how over the next decade, start-up companies in India could be turned into billion-dollar enterprises. Vision India 2020, which encompasses a wide range of sectors from technology to infrastructure, healthcare to education, environmental issues to entertainment, proves how even the most sizeable problems can be solved by exercising bold, ambitious measures. Renowned in the business world, author Sramana Mitra conceived Vision India 2020 from her years of experience as a Silicon Valley strategy consultant and entrepreneur. Well aware of the challenges facing today’s aspiring entrepreneurs, Mitra provides strategies, business models, references, and comparables as a guide to help entrepreneurs manifest their own world-changing ideas.
This segment is a part in the series : Vision India 2020