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Blue-Collar Worker App Becomes a Unicorn in Under Two Years

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(Bloomberg) -- Apna, a digital hiring startup in India that connects millions of blue-collar workers to employers, reached a valuation of $1.1 billion with a new funding round led by Tiger Global Management. The startup reached unicorn status just 21 months after creating the app, and 15 months after beginning full-scale operations. It’s now raised $100 million in a Series C round also joined by Owl Ventures LLC, Insight Partners Inc. and Sequoia Capital India. It serves more than 16 million users and 150,000 employers and enables an average of 18 million job interviews each month, the company said in a statement Thursday.“We are solving the biggest problem in the world and, if successful, will not just remedy unemployment but also poverty, health care and education of the next generation,” said Nirmit Parikh, a Stanford graduate who quit Apple Inc. to found Apna in 2019. The company “is targeting all 2.3 billion people in the emerging working class around the globe,” he said in a video interview from Dallas. Hiring is at an all-time high for India’s 250 million low-skilled workers and Apna -- which means “ours” in Hindi -- listed 5 million job openings last month. The coronavirus outbreak accelerated digital hiring, with a surge in job listing across manufacturing and e-commerce spurred by the country’s recovery from several infection waves.

The company is piloting training courses that include spoken English and micro-skills like making ginger chai or building PivotTables in Excel worksheets. It has seen a recent uptick in new job seekers in more advanced fields such as software engineering, graphic design and legal work. “Instead of color-coding job hunters, we call them emerging workers,” the 33-year-old Apna founder said. The app is currently available in 11 Indian languages across 28 cities. It will cover nearly all Indian cities by year-end before expanding to the U.S., Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa in early 2022.

Apna helps bottom-of-the-pyramid job seekers with setting up simple profiles requiring only their name, age and skills, generating a virtual business card. It then seeks out a match among recruiters like Amazon.com Inc., online learning startup Byju’s, Burger King or smaller enterprises and neighborhood kirana stores. The firm has also created 70 community networks for specialists in various spheres, from beauticians to electricians, to learn from peers and discuss opportunities.

(Updates with training initiatives and CEO quote in fifth paragraph)

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