The promising startup provides home inspection services that help ensure their clients’ homes remain in pristine condition.
BY MANISHA BALAMI
While the concept of a home inspection is a common practice in western countries, it is not as prevalent in Nepal. As the name suggests, the problems regarding seepage, leakages, plumbing failure, electrical defects, structural vulnerability and other liveability conditions of the house are inspected under home inspection.
Much like a person needs routine health check-ups, a house also needs frequent check-ups, repairing and maintenance. With this concept, three young civil engineers Ramesh Timilsina, Mahesh Timilsina, and Ramsharan Bikram Thapa started a civil engineering-based startup company Skill Sewa Pvt Ltd a year ago. The company inspects homes thoroughly using hi-tech devices to discover any problems.
Having formally operated for a year now, they claim that the company has a turnover of over Rs 5 million. “We hadn’t expected this amount of transaction when we were at the planning phase,” says Mahesh Timilsina, co-founder of the company, adding, “Right after some couple of months of our operation, the lockdown was imposed. Also, because of that, we were worried that we might have started the company at the wrong time.” Regardless of this, he asserts that customer flow has not been hampered.
Currently, they have a team of nine full-timers including the founders and around 25 technicians working with them on a contract basis.
The trio were classmates during their BE Civil engineering course at Khwopa Engineering College. They used to participate in different intercollege functions winning multiple times as well. Working together as a team during college projects has helped them to know each other’s abilities. Hence, they decided to launch a startup during their college life that would be affordable and would have higher expansion opportunities in the future as well.
They recall how they had repaired the door lock of their classroom that was damaged. The problem frequently created disturbances during the lecture hours. The college administration seldom gave attention to such minor issues; therefore, they decided to give it a try to fix the lock. They found out that the rubber pad was out of position and they promptly re-positioned it. After the incident, they felt that similar minor issues might exist in a lot of houses. “Usually, we avoid such minor issues but such issues disturb the functioning of the system. So for solving such problems, proper inspection is necessary,” says Timilsina.
He says that the structural inspection of residential houses to find out if they were safe or not, was in practice after the earthquake in 2015. Later, they thought of starting the home inspection as a proper business. They had started research and development work from their 2nd semester and formally registered the company in January 2019.
Challenges and Opportunities
With an initial capital of Rs 300,000, the team shares that the initial fundraising for the business was incredibly challenging. “For a Nepali family, building a startup company means that your child is wasting their valuable time as well as money,” Timilsina opines. He further says that a safe bet for parents is either a government job or going abroad. So, one of the primary challenges for them was to convince their parents and then raise capital.
The concept is new in the context of Nepal. “Not a single house owner has ever expended for a home inspection in Nepal,” says Timilsina, adding, “And this is a challenge as well as an exciting part for us.”
For this, they started with their relatives and friends. Some people who had already lived in western countries and returned to Nepal approached the company for a home inspection. The service is typically called upon by house owners who require routine maintenance of their house, and house seller or buyers who desire to know the exact condition of the house before the handover.
Besides, Timilsina shares that there were people who did not understand the idea and felt it was a waste of money. “But people understood us and our work once we explained it to them in detail. And later, they felt satisfied. They felt that the service was worthy,” he says. Skill Sewa charges around Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,000 per visit.
Further, the lack of structured government rules and regulations have also been challenging for them. “At present, there aren’t any validation measures for us. We conduct the inspection and prepare a report based on our expertise and equipment we use. But if a government body would give us accreditation, then it will be easier for us to properly validate our report to our clients,” Timilsina explains.
However, the team believes that there are a lot of opportunities. They say that they entered the particular business sector as they foresee vast opportunities in the future. Likewise, there is a lack of skilled manpower in this field which according to them will give them more opportunity along with challenges.
Operation during Lockdown
While the nationwide lockdown was imposed by the government, almost all the sectors were affected. Like other startups, Skill Sewa was also affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they did not stop their work during the lockdown. The lockdown period has been a worthwhile time for them to complete all their documentation work that they were not able to finish earlier. Along with this, they have been utilising the lockdown period planning for the coming days, and on research and development work. They say that they did not stay idle during the closure but tried to be as productive as possible.
“With this pandemic, we have realised that such a crisis might occur in the near future as well. So we have been planning on necessary preparations to face many hurdles,” says Timilsina. Moreover, he feels that startups should plan and prepare for a long term goal rather than a short one.
He believes that in such a crisis, for survival, companies should practice some other form of work within their domain and not adopt a new business model at such a time. To survive and to adapt, they have tried different approaches such as introducing seasonal offers.
As the real estate business came to a total stop due to the lockdown, the company then focused on seepage inspection and renovation in houses. “We found out that more than 60 percent of buildings have been found problematic due to poor supervision or due to low grade of material used,” added Timilsina.
At a time when people are scared to meet strangers due to the fear of infection, the schedule of Skill Sewa is tight. At present, they have 10 to 12 inspections scheduled in a week. But they use proper protection methods before visiting any client. Timilsina said, “We found ourselves busy as the demand of seepage inspection is huge in the market.”
The company is planning to grow and expand its services. For now, they are valley centric, but in a few years, they plan to expand their service to Pokhara and Itahari. Likewise, they are also working on adding resources and ways to make their work run more smoothly. Further, they also want to establish home inspection as a secure profession in the country.