The recently concluded Techcircle Startup event hosted an interview session with Advitiya Sharma, co-founder, Housing.com, a real estate listing portal. Set up in 2012 by a dozen IITians (of whom three have already quit the firm), the startup had secured $109 million in two rounds of funding last year, making it one of the top fundraises in the e-commerce and consumer internet space in 2014.
He started off by taking about why he decided to venture into the already crowded online real estate space in India. "For decades, the online real estate space in the country has been plagued due to lack of authentic information. In fact, the amount of information arbitrage that exists in real estate has many a time caused people to have a negative sentiment about investing in real estate," said Sharma.
"This is the kind of model that existing online players have adopted—they will go ahead and sell listings in quantum of 500 units to agents in the market. But the fact is that an average agent does not have more than 40-50 properties with him at any given point in time. So what is he going to do with the excess 450-460 listings that he has already paid the real estate portal for?" questioned Sharma.
He very candidly also pointed out that the manner in which these portals are built, they are more like an Orkut (a social networking site from Google) of fake listings where you could post whatever you wanted.
"Hence, we decided to build a product and a service that could let people have authentic information about every single listing that exists in the market," he said.
Discussing the current scenario, he explained that the online real estate space is in its baby phase right now and the portal is still helping people answer the first question, 'can I help you find a house that you will love'. The majority of the transactions still happen offline because there is a lack of a product that can enable people to transact online.
"A right product creates the industry and I hope over the next few years we will see people buying and transacting online," said Sharma.
And while many would worry that too many cooks can spoil the broth (in context to the number of co-founders), Sharma said he looks at it as a football team that is collectively trying to score a goal. "What we have understood from day one is that there is work that individuals love doing and there is work that is urgent and important for the company. So we have always focused on mapping these two things," he added.
Fundraising & investments
Last month, the company had secured $90 million in fresh funding, led by Japanese telecom and internet giant SoftBank Corp, taking the total funds raised by Housing so far to over $121 million. According to Sharma, it was SoftBank which had approached the company, and the deal was finalised in just a 20- minute chat over coffee.
However, clarifying on whether the company was raising funds not because there is need for it but simply because it is available, Sharma mentioned that the portal had expanded its reach to 45 cities in just two years. It is now looking to expand this reach to 300 Indian cities in the next two years, mapping over 40 million houses and putting them on the platform.
The overall team size is 1,500, of which 300 people are part of the technology team. The company is looking to increase the total team size to over 3,000 in the next two years, and the technology team will grow to 500 over the next few quarters. Also, while the company is not doing any marketing as of now, it plans to launch TV and radio ads, as well as hoardings in 2015. The funds raised will be utilised for all of these.
The site is getting anywhere between 80,000-100,000 unique visitors on a daily basis, and currently offers 5 lakh listings.
Sharma mentioned that after helping people in finding a house that they will love, the company is now looking to address various other pain points including: can I help you fund a house (has added a home loan application platform); can I help you with the legality of the house (has added an online rental agreements service); can I help you move into a house (will start offering movers & packers services); and finally can I help you with the interior & designing of the house (will be getting into that space going forward).
"So we will essentially cover the entire value-chain of real estate through our technology and products," said Sharma.
"My dream is to have an 'add to cart' button that empowers people so that they can actually purchase properties on Housing.com by simply adding them to their baskets—similar to what consumers do on e-commerce sites like Flipkart.com or Snapdeal.com for products like electronics, smartphones etc.
The discussion was followed by a rapid fire round, during which Sharma mentioned that Indian technology companies that he admires include Flipkart, Snapdeal, Zomato and Olacabs.
When asked if he would like to give any particular message to competitor 99acres.com, Sharma candidly replied, "Please empathise with people and build products that actually help them."