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.
(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)