Housing.com is an innovative real estate portal that is in line to be India’s next $1 billion startup by valuation.
All they were looking for was a home to rent, but what the group of 12 engineers from IIT-Bombay found was a blockbuster career path that has catapulted their fledgling venture into one of India’s hottest startups.
In 2012, when Advitya Sharma and 11 of his friends hunted for a house on an online realty portal, they were drawn to an advertisement that promised a three bedroom flat in Mumbai’s tony suburb of Bandra for a paltry rent of Rs 15,000 only. Later did we realise that it was a fake posting just to attract tenants, said Sharma, who teamed up with his friends to launch their own portal — Housing-.com — that would carry only listings verified by the company.
That night, the team sat down and made a plan. “We figured real estate needs a platform that can give people valuable, authentic insights to help them make a decision, so we built it,” said Rahul Yadav, CEO of Housing.com.
Short of cash and with no job in hand, the youthful team with an average age of 22 years started approaching investors. One of their first investors, former Network18 Group CEO Haresh Chawla, invited all 12 founders to dinner at his home in 2012. “He loved us so much that he immediately committed to invest Rs 1.5 crore in our product and team. That was our first validation,” said Sharma.
Interestingly, Housing.com started with a brokerage model but the team soon realised that business needed a lot of local knowledge. “Without wasting time, we pivoted to a marketplace model in December 2012,” said Sharma, who took six months to convince his parents that he would not take a salaried job.
“My parents had notions that I was getting into the ‘dirty and dangerous’ business of buying or selling of real estate,” said Sharma, whose father is a neurosurgeon based in Jammu.
Thereafter, the company raised $2.5 million from Nexus Venture Partners, of which almost $1 million was used to buy the Housing.com domain name. The purchase remains the costliest domain purchase by any Indian startup ever but the ambition of the company was to build a global brand and the expenditure has proven to be worth it.
Today, Housing.com has a team of 1,500 people across 45 cities. The founding team is based in Mumbai and spends most of its time in office brainstorming and the rest playing football, just outside the office.
“We constantly think about how can we build a product that helps people find a house they’ll love,” said 25-year-old Sanat Ghosh, a co-founder who heads the technology product team. “And to see so many people use Housing everyday just fuels our energy even more.”
This was not their first startup however. At IIT-Bombay, the team had tried to build Exam Baba, a website that would carry scans of exam papers of previous years. “Professors at IITs don’t change exam questions drastically. Our team got called to the dean’s office and we were made to shut down the website,” said Sharma, whose passions include football.
Now each member of that team has an exciting memory to share about their new venture. “Housing was in Mumbai for the first six months and then we just expanded to the top 10 cities in one single shot, once we were clear what was required to be done,” said Ravish Naresh, 24, another cofounder.
“We’re building this company not for the next 5, 10 years, but for 50, 100 years and we intend to map every city of the country,” said Yadav.
Housing relies heavily on data tracking and analysis through their Data Sciences Lab (DSL) in decision making. It is an interesting competitive landscape to watch and learn from.
The Indian real estate sector has come a long way and is today one of the fastest growing markets in the world. As the market has matured, the services that serve this market have evolved too. The market size of the Indian real estate sector stood at US$ 55.6 billion in 2010–11 and is expected to touch US$ 180 billion by 2020. There are newer well-defined segments opening up in addition to the traditional rental and purchase market – for PG accommodation, for student accommodation, for flat sharing and so on.