In early 2019, the term ‘Passion Economy’ started gaining popularity in Silicon Valley, referring to a growing number of platforms that had emerged to enable individuals monetise their unique abilities and passions. If ‘Gig Economy’ platforms allowed an individual to offer their services as a driver, or a delivery agent, ‘Passion Economy’ platforms started enabling to explore their individual skill as a baker, or teacher, or trainer, and to monetise it through interactions with those requiring such services.
Until last year, Passion Economy platforms were mostly seen in the US and China, but, as the black swan event of the Covid-19 pandemic forced India into a tough lockdown in March 2020, a number of individuals started trying to find ways to earn their livelihoods from their skill and passion. Marketplace platforms that specifically focused on the Passion Economy started seeing the emergence of diverse services available in popular areas of interest, such as diets, healing, therapy, career, foreign education, skill development, personality development, astrology, ayurveda, yoga, music and dance among others.
Earning a livelihood through that passion is what the passion economy is all about, and marketplaces like Spark.Live are a catalyst for it. The platform was started with the aim of enabling India’s richest talents and top hyperlocal professionals with everything they need to build on their passion and serve a local and global client base. Founded in January 2018, Spark.Live is a first-of-its-kind multilingual marketplace that enables individuals with talent to offer online services to domestic and international users.
On Spark.Live, a talented individual just needs a smartphone to monetise his or her talent and the platform’s strength is the two-sided network effect that it creates. The creator monetises his skill and the learner gains knowledge of something new. This, in turn, enables newer talent to develop and grow. Passion Economy marketplaces like Spark.Live are thus enabling significant employment generation by enabling individuals to grow into micro-entrepreneurs, and develop their core talent.
Users can discover a range of professionals on the Spark.Live app by perusing its video and text content, message them, book their services using a number of payment methods, and avail the benefits through live video calls.The platform is the only one that features vernacular language speaking professionals, making it very accessible to the large Indian user base which prefers to communicate in their mother tongue.
“One of the most unique attributes of the platform is that all sessions are interactive and live first, instead of being pre-recorded.This enables users to directly interact with trainers and professionals, one-on-one, like they would in real life. Furthermore, recordings are automatically made available for select sessions, so users can revisit them later,” says Soum Paul, Founder and CEO, Spark.Live.
“Every creator/professional who applies to offer services via our platform is vetted by our team to ensure a unified quality standard to our users. We have done background checks, and interviewed them prior to giving them full access to the platform and the app,” he adds.
In addition to mainstream categories like health/fitness, education and therapy, Spark.Live also offers specialised services like Kalaripayattu training, speech therapy, acting, parenting guidance, Puja services, stock market advice, wedding photography consultation, and adolescent counseling, among others. Due to the wide range of professionals on the platform, the services offered are highly diverse and nuanced.
The spark behind the idea
Travelling across India on his previous projects, Paul witnessed the untapped potential of vernacular language driven platforms. Spark.Live was inspired from a desire to create a platform that gave them a level playing field to every talented individual to showcase and earn from their talent, no matter which language they speak, or what their cultural background or origins are.
Over 25,000 passionate professionals, trainers, educators, influencers from Tier-1, 2 and 3 cities of India – offer one-on-one and group consultations, classes, and workshops to clients across the country as well as globally through the platform. This number has seen a phenomenal rise since the pandemic hit given the increased demand for digital services. “We have in fact witnessed a 2x month-on-month growth in the last six months with more creative professionals utilising the platform to sign up and bring forth their talents and skills to those who wish to learn,” says Paul.
Helping save livelihoods
Passion economy platforms have come as a lifeline for people whose businesses were hit by the Covid-19 shutdown. Rendered out of work, creative professionals found a channel to directly connect with their audience and monetise their interactions. Spark.Live is the only horizontal marketplace in the country for live online services with over 2,000 sessions daily.
Paul reveals that numerous creators on the platform generate revenues upwards of Rs 50,000 every month by tapping into a growing client base locally and internationally. “We have seen phenomenal month-on-month growth and our creator retention rate is close to 100 percent, with a number of them coming from tier-2 and tier-3 Indian cities,” he adds.
Shameem Nisha, a Central Government Certified Tailoring Teacher, had to stop her offline classes as students stopped coming due to the sudden lockdown in March 2020. It was then that she decided to transition towards online teaching. Nisha came to know about about Spark.Live through an ad and she applied. “Initially I started with free classes to students through Spark.Live. The response was really good. I got few students to join my training. Also I recommend my existing students to book through the platform. They process my payments very quickly. I don’t have to maintain my accounts. All I have to do is share my online class link everywhere,” she said.
The platform came to limelight in the recent #AatmanirbharApp challenge due to the seamless integration of a number of highly potent technologies in one platform and the phenomenal range of services it offered live.
Women entrepreneurs lead from the front
Horizontal marketplaces are enabling women to pursue their passion and take charge of their lives, even as the pandemic threw traditional jobs astray.
Spark.Live reports that women professionals led from the front during the pandemic in 2020 across multiple service categories including, but not limited to, yoga teaching, sewing and embroidery classes, nutrition advice, therapy sessions, digital marketing courses, alternative healing, and dance classes for children and adults. This survey by Spark.Liv is based on 200,000 sessions that took place on their platform from March to December 2020.
While women professionals gave the service, interestingly, it was primarily women themselves who availed of these services from home during Covid-affected times. Over a 100,000 women took some online class or another, where they could upgrade a life skill like learning sewing to earn some extra income for their family, or learn a calming technique like yoga. The findings revealed that over 20 thousand young and middle-aged women from Tamil Nadu learnt skills like sewing, stitching clothes and embroidery to support their husbands.
With over 60,000 women from middle-income families attended lifestyle classes and sessions from tier-2 and tier-3 cities. Zumba became increasingly popular, in tier-1 and tier-2 cities, both among children and adult women. Over 40 perent of fitness classes booked by women were Zumba, with the rest divided between Yoga and freestyle dance.
There was also rise in mental health consultations availed by women. About 78 percent of therapy consultations happening on Spark.Live are by women and for women, leading to a tightly knit community of people who are closely associated with each other. An important reason for the shift to online psychological counseling, especially in regional languages, could be the privacy and comfort that online therapy sessions provide.
Regional demand for services
The demand for services differs from region to region. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, skill development classes or finance consultations are popular. In Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or Rajasthan, astrology consultation, spoken English classes, fitness or Zumba classes get booked on a regular basis. In West Bengal, diet and mental health consultation is in demand. In many metro cities, yoga classes are very popular.
Spark.Live recently raised $2 million from Saama Capital in 2019 to tap into India’s rapidly growing mobile user base. “Going forward, we plan to reach the diaspora that is looking at connecting with talented professionals from India who speak their language and share their cultural background,” says Paul.