Interview with Anuj Gupta, Head of Machine Learning at Vahan Inc.

Vahan Inc. is an AI-driven virtual assistant that helps field sales teams and frontliners work better at scale. Vahan’s AI-based chatbot called “Mitra” enables employers to hire workers in large numbers across a number of industries across India. This virtual assistant is fully customizable to fit the support, training, communication and reporting needs of employers.

Vahan is a Bengaluru-based technology company that helps companies like Zomato, Swiggy, Flipkart, Uber, Shadowfax, etc. to hire blue-collar workers and is on its way to becoming the largest recruitment platform in India.

Analytics India Magazine caught up with Anuj Gupta who gave an insight into the use of AI in industries and how Vahan uses AI. Anuj Gupta holds a PhD in Computer Science from IIT-Delhi and a Masters in Mathematics and Computer Science from IIIT-Hyderabad. He was a software engineer at Infosys, Financial Software and Systems Pvt Ltd, data scientist at Droom, director of machine learning at Huawei Technologies and worked in the artificial intelligence team at Intuit before leading machine learning at Vahan Inc. He is also the author of a book entitled “Practical Natural Language Processing Book [O’Reilly]”.

AIM – How is India shaping itself in analytics, AI and ML? In your opinion, what are our strengths and weaknesses in this context?

Anuj Gupta – India is preparing very well to take advantage of the wave of AI. First, we need to understand that AI is a broad term encompassing the whole spectrum from analytics to general artificial intelligence. India has always been very strong in data, analytics, predictive analytics, and we were very quick to jump on the DS/ML bandwagon and leverage that. Today in India, everyone including educational institutions, startups, multinationals, IT departments, Indian government, even traditional businesses are trying to get the most out of AI. Our greatest strength is 1.3 billion people who are very ambitious and ready to cut their teeth on deep and complex technologies like AI. That said, we must be careful not to trivialize it. We’ve seen it with engineering, IT services and cloud technology lately.

AIM – What is Vahan Inc.’s business model?

Anuj Gupta – Vahan helps organizations hire blue collar workers (BCW) at scale and quickly. It’s a big win-win for both – job seekers and employers. Our product is becoming the job market for over 300 million blue collar workers in India. We place over 10,000 people a month now, and 97% of those who find a job through us do so within 7 days.

The blue-collar labor economy is fueled by a massive growth in demand for flexible staff in India’s e-commerce and logistics sectors. Organizations struggle to recruit blue collar workers on a large scale. These organizations wanted to adopt innovative methods to hire workers, recruit them faster, and even retain them. Today we have a total demand of 300K jobs to be filled each month!

AIM – How does Vahan take advantage of AI?

Anuj Gupta – We use AI and technology to reimagine the full blue-collar hiring experience and lifecycle, from screening and vetting job seekers for key skills in less than 10 minutes , matching users with the most appropriate jobs, all the way to optimize operations. All of this is powered by AI technology. Thus, we provide verified leads to employers. Another key area where we use AI is reducing workforce attrition and increasing overall worker productivity. This is a problem that plagues most employers who hire blue collar workers. With our systems, we can predict churn before it happens and reduce churn by up to 40%.

AIM – What is the demand for blue collar jobs before and after the pandemic in India?

Anuj Gupta – Gig work has seen a huge boost during the COVID19 pandemic; it has transformed the way employers and job seekers perceive the low-skilled segment. There has been a strong shift towards gigs versus full-time employment.

India has over 250 million blue collar workers and the pandemic has acted as a key catalyst in blue collar jobs. COVID19 has led to significant (and possibly permanent) changes in user behavior, not only among millennials, but also other user cohorts such as the elderly and housewives. Most of them now want their daily supplies delivered to their homes. Due to the strong tailwinds of the pandemic, the greatest demand for blue-collar workers is expected in the logistics and e-commerce sectors, as the creation of efficient delivery channels is important for Internet companies.

PURPOSE – Please elaborate on the technology stacks used by Vahan.

Anuj Gupta – We use a hybrid technology stack to meet our diverse needs.

In databases, these are mainly PostgreSQL, DynamoDB, MongoDB, Elasticsearch and Redis. As for programming languages, we mainly use Node JS, Python, Java, Android (Java & Kotlin), HTML and CSS. In terms of frameworks, these are Spring Boot (Microservice), ReactJS, Angular and Flask. On the machine learning side, we use PyTorch, scikit-learn, NumPy, Pandas, FastAPI and Airflow a lot. For hosting, it’s AWS and Docker.

AIM – How has Vahan made a difference in people’s lives?

Anuj Gupta – Vahan helps millions of Indians find their next gig job. Last year we placed 65,000 people. We are on track to become India’s largest recruitment platform next year. On the job seeker side, our technology leverages the behavior of existing users. We’re not trying to change the way people find jobs, primarily through networks and friends. Instead, we took this human-centric approach and made it super efficient using AI; and this is our success. We also focus very strongly on reducing turnaround times, so that approximately 97% of people who are placed through us get a job within seven days.

AIM – Who are your target audience and competitors?

Anuj Gupta – Today, on the B2C side, he is an Indian looking for a blue-collar job; on the B2B side, any organization looking to hire a blue collar/gig workforce. We will live in the APAC market in the next three to five years. Today, we are currently focusing on jobs, but in the future, we are looking to create a financial wellness platform that can also help people get loans to start a business and provide upskilling opportunities to that people can grow in their lives and careers.

There are many other players in this space – Apna, GoodWorker, Kromo, Naukri, OLX, etc. Most of these platforms focus on generating leads at the top of the recruiting funnel.

There are three key issues in this space:

(a) More than 50% of job seekers do not meet the basic requirements specific to blue-collar employment

(b) Attrition is very high; most of the workforce disintegrates within 3 months.

(c) Customers must work with a long line of mom-pop HR agencies for their supply.

We solve these problems through a human-centric, AI-powered value chain between job seekers, recruiters and employers.

AIM – What awaits Vahan?

Anuj Gupta – As I said before, our product is on the way to becoming the employment exchange for manual jobs. It leverages existing blue-collar behavior to find jobs through their network. Today, we place over 10,000 people each month, which is increasing by 25-30% per month. While we are currently focusing on placement, in the medium and long term, we see ourselves becoming the central platform for blue-collar workers meeting their needs ranging from job search, upskilling courses and professional training to their financial needs. The opportunity is enormous.

Sherry J. Basler