Housing.Com: Born Out of its Founders House Hunt

Rahul Yadav, Advitiya Sharma and 10 other co-founders of Housing.com needed a simple tool to find housing after they graduated. So they built one

By Shravan Bhat
Published: Feb 12, 2014
Rahul Yadav (left)and Advitiya Sharma at their Powai office
Image: Manoj Patil for Forbes India
Rahul Yadav (left)and Advitiya Sharma at their Powai office

CATEGORY: E-COMMERCE

Every time Suvir Sajan, co-founder of Nexus Venture Partners, leaves the Mumbai office of Housing.com, he has a smile. “I get emails from them at 5 am in the morning,” says Sajan about one of his investee start-ups. Not that he is complaining. “They know what they’re doing and that’s refreshing to see.” This is high praise from someone who has invested in startups like Snapdeal.com and Olx.in. “I know I’m biased, but I’d go so far as saying they are a poster child for the new India.”  

Speak to Rahul Yadav, Housing.com’s CEO and you realise why. The 24-year-old from Alwar, Rajasthan, wasn’t the finest, academically: He ranked 20th in a class of 30 in his Class 10 exams. Then a sarcastic comment from his uncle about his grades changed his life. In his Class 12 board exams, Yadav topped Rajasthan in physics-chemistry-maths, based on which he got a 75 percent scholarship for preparing for IIT-JEE. He became class representative in his second year at IIT Bombay and, later, secretary of its student association. As part of his election manifesto, he had to create a question bank from old exam papers. This sparked his technopreneurial bug and he built the popular Exambaba.com.  

But Yadav wasn’t a techie, so he started coding from scratch. “If you’re sincere at IIT, you can get good grades. You don’t need to be really smart,” he says. “It was my first coding project; that’s where I became interested in the online space.”
The institute even made Exambaba the official IIT-B archive before eventually shutting it. But Yadav had learnt his lesson: If something doesn’t exist, build it yourself, and if it doesn’t work, move on.

After a brief internship in Israel, he returned to build apps for Google Chrome. And then, in his final year, he dropped out of IIT. “If things aren’t working, I can write them off,” he says disparagingly. “The problem with Indian start-ups is that people spend years on the same ideas that just don’t work!” He says his parents still don’t know he has dropped out. (And “thank god they don’t read Forbes!”)

Co-founder Advitiya Sharma, 24, another self-professed small-town boy (from Jammu) and Housing’s chief marketing officer, had been warned about the difficulty of finding a house after graduating. When he and Yadav started contacting brokers they realised how limited the information on online listed properties was; they also realised how good the money in Mumbai’s real estate brokerage business was.

They eventually took a house in Powai, close to the IIT-B campus. “Many people from IIT-B were taking houses there,” says Yadav. That’s also when they figured out that since they had a good network of prospective clients among their IIT friends and batchmates, they might as well become brokers. “The money was good. We were making Rs 1-2 lakh a month,” he says.

But to go national as brokers for residential properties would require extensive local knowledge, which they did not have. So they shifted business models: From broking to classifieds, and Housing.co.in was born in 2012.

Renamed Housing.com in 2013, it is one of the hottest tech start-ups in India, with over 750 employees across 10 cities. It has attracted three rounds of funding—including $2.5 million from Nexus Venture Partners—in 18 months, and is closing in on the 1 lakh per day unique user mark; established competitors like 99Acres (owned by Info Edge) and MagicBricks (of the Times Group) took a decade to get there. With 75 percent month-on-month growth in individual landlord listings and 100 percent increase in brokers’ listings, their scale can be attributed to their USP: Giving clients a near-perfect sense of properties and delivering realistic leads to brokers.

Housing.com sends out teams to take photographs of properties and survey nearby amenities. “At the age of 23-24, they have built operational capabilities we usually see in 28- and 29-year-olds,” says Zishaan Hayaath, an IIT-B alumnus and an angel investor who put in around Rs 50 lakh.

“While everyone else is trying to target prime, revenue generating consumers, they seemed like the only guys who had identified a consumer pain point and solved it,” says Sujan. The pain point is obvious to anyone who has gone house-hunting in India. Why was the actual apartment so different from the one in the photograph? Why was it 20 minutes from the train station, rather than the quoted 10? Why was the property listed even though the apartment wasn’t available?

“When we said we would take photos of every apartment, people called us crazy,” says Yadav. It’s been hard work. “We don’t have social lives,” he says. But it’s been worth it.

Walk through their Powai office to see how far they have come. Sharma, the gregarious, media-face of the company, plays guide. A state-level footballer for Jammu, Sharma, in crumpled jeans and sandals, looks every bit the new-age technopreneur. Overlooking Hiranandani Gardens, and the Powai Lake beyond it, the premises include the Zen room (for quiet and meditation) and the Data Science Lab (DSL), where the magic happens.

After all, marrying data and analytics is what Housing.com is betting on to disrupt the market: The DSL crunches information (like offline transactions) from brokers to create innovative features such as a heat-map of the city based on per sq ft prices, a topographic representation of amenities near property locations and time-decay algorithms to check by when a listing should have materialised into a deal. The team is busy preparing for the launch of a one-stop portal for large developers, fresh after a product for paying guests.

It is apparent that their alma mater is in Housing.com’s DNA. The website is a prospective recruiter on the first day of campus placements at IIT-B. “Bright guys hiring brighter guys,” as Sujan puts it. There are 70 people in their Mumbai HQ—60 are under 24.

Now for the rider: This has just been the first step: Shobhit Agarwal of real estate consultants, Jones Lang LaSalle, says Housing.com is adding to awareness, transparencies and institutionalisation of the market, especially for NRI customers and remotely placed people.

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However, actual deals still take place offline and the consumer still has to interact with the broker and other stakeholders. “I want to reach a stage where we have a little ‘add to cart’ button next to each listing,” says Yadav. Till then, Housing.com is taking it one click at a time.


Our 30 Under 30 list and methodology

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(This article is excerpted from the latest Forbes India 21 February, 2014 issue which is now available at news stands and book stores. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com)

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  • Gautam

    I m reading your interview in newspaper it\'s very nice i follow u

    on May 29, 2015
  • Raj

    just go and say to any VC that we are from/studied any IIT/IIM/any big B School... they will fund you without any Q....

    on Apr 20, 2015
  • Pravin Patil

    \"The only thing that stands between us and our dream is the will to try and the belief that it is actually possible.\" its very simple to be difficult, but very difficult to be simple.

    on Nov 6, 2014
  • Shriganeshkrupa

    Thanks for the blog,it is very informative,Being a property consultant in Thane i can say that, it a very nice idea,and very much up to date form of doing business

    on Apr 11, 2014
  • Raja T

    GOOD SITE I VISITED, AND RECOMENDED TOO, BUT AUTHOR MUST KNOW THAT AFTER SALES REPORT AND AGENTS FEEDBACK AND OTHER SERVICE ORIENTED TO CONSIDER , I READ ONE OF THE AGENT NAME ARJUN EXPERIENCE .. SHARING AGAIN I\'m an agent who has subscribed to housing. Writing here hoping that this message gets across to the ceo because no employee or customer care works Kindly get your house in order Kindly check your Attrition rate Inspite of being a paid member for over six months i get calls every week asking to become a paid member of housing The employees dont even know whom they are calling Strangely there is no email id provided to us to give feedback The search options is horrible 99% of the listed owners don\'t call back Tele marketers are using their database and keep calling me for becoming a agent for home loans Calling at 3:30 on Sundays and holidays asking to post properties is Sad. last time i blasted the lady on the phone as it was happening again and again Leads being sent to me - required house in bandra budget 3000...drivers and helps in khar danda (slums) pay more i haven\'t asked for leads For all the angst against agents they keep calling us as we pay the subscription fees ..sleeping with the enemy strategy perhaps CEO Founders blah blah...even i\'m an entreprenuer i had recommended your website on our fellow agents google groups but that was before i became a paid member and actually availed all the above services (issues) provided by you Read more: http://forbesindia.com/article/30-under-30/housing.com-born-out-of-its-founders-house-hunt/37151/1#ixzz2toD2zoOL

    on Feb 20, 2014
    • Abhay

      lot of internal management issues. one person cant run the company... they have to learn from mistakes. you try calling at there off , its like govt dept. haha ... they work like govt dept all are \" seefarishi lals\" in this company... tipical lazy indian

      on Jun 26, 2015
  • Ram

    Nice effort, but yet to see how they make money. What are their current revenues?

    on Feb 17, 2014
    • Arjun

      they take money from agents who wish to upload their data...same as any other website

      on Feb 18, 2014
  • Indiantrader

    How were these guys able to get the domain housing.com , must have cost a fortune

    on Feb 16, 2014
    • Raj Kothari

      It costed $1M for the domain and special contact number.

      on Nov 6, 2014
  • Arjun

    I'm an agent who has subscribed to housing. Writing here hoping that this message gets across to the ceo because no employee or customer care works Kindly get your house in order Kindly check your Attrition rate Inspite of being a paid member for over six months i get calls every week asking to become a paid member of housing The employees dont even know whom they are calling Strangely there is no email id provided to us to give feedback The search options is horrible 99% of the listed owners don't call back Tele marketers are using their database and keep calling me for becoming a agent for home loans Calling at 3:30 on Sundays and holidays asking to post properties is Sad. last time i blasted the lady on the phone as it was happening again and again Leads being sent to me - required house in bandra budget 3000...drivers and helps in khar danda (slums) pay more i haven't asked for leads For all the angst against agents they keep calling us as we pay the subscription fees ..sleeping with the enemy strategy perhaps CEO Founders blah blah...even i'm an entreprenuer i had recommended your website on our fellow agents google groups but that was before i became a paid member and actually availed all the above services (issues) provided by you

    on Feb 15, 2014
  • Shantilal Lakariya

    These guys are very inspiring. Yes people today want simple tool to find desired property. I too run small property website for nashik city named as www.nashikproperty.com, that helps people to find desired property in nashik. My aim is same as these guys, so i always get boosted with their articles. Thanks.

    on Feb 14, 2014
  • Subodh

    amazing! all the best for future.

    on Feb 13, 2014
  • Rahul Kumar

    its always being boosted to listen d story of young.:)

    on Feb 12, 2014
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