When Anindya Dutta and Sandeep Dalmia started Stanza Living about three years ago, the plan was to plug what they believed was a yawning gap in India’s student housing market. The near absence of organised players in the space and the unabated inflow of migrant students into large cities made a coliving platform that targeted such students just the solution the market needed.
Dutta and Dalmia, roommates from business school at IIM Ahmedabad, got off the ground in April 2017 with a 100-bed facility in Delhi University’s North Campus, which has an influx of migrant students every year.
“Since the campus is home to a diverse group of people, it was a good pilot for us to study and understand the nuances of student behavior and consumption habits, finetune our product for high quality student living,” says Stanza managing director Dutta in a conversation with TechCircle.
While exploring the viability of the concept, Dutta and Dalmia recognized that the student housing sector, despite being a $15 billion industry (in 2017), was largely unorganized in India, and the lack of quality infrastructure and personalised services were significant gap areas.
Today, Stanza Living commands an inventory of 55,000 beds across 10 cities including Delhi, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Indore, Chennai and Bengaluru. Interesting fact: Female residents make up for 65% of the occupancy across all its markets.
Students can book a bed or room through the company’s app for as little as Rs 5,000 and upto Rs 25,000 a month. This includes a range of amenities such as meals, housekeeping, maintenance, WiFi, laundry services and 24x7 security. The company offers both shared and single occupancy rooms across the cities in which it operates.
The company’s student coliving facilities are usually situated in buildings that it may either lease or operate on the basis of revenue sharing agreements with landlords.
“We operate these assets ourselves. We are a full stack operator, not an aggregator. Every element of the service offering… is Stanza generated, Stanza verified, Stanza audited. So whether we do it with partners or whether we do it ourselves, it goes through a rigorous screening system that allows us to ensure that there is quality assurance happening from an end-consumer perspective,” Dutta says.
Prior to starting up, Dutta was vice president at asset management firm Oaktree Capital Management where he was privy to investments in the student housing market by Oaktree as well as Goldman Sachs, owners of several student housing businesses outside of India. Co-founder Dalmia spent several years in consulting at AT Kearney and the Boston Consulting Group.
Stanza’s 55,000-odd beds is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the demand for standardized and affordable student housing in the country.
Out of the total 37 million student enrolments at higher education institutes in the year 2018-2019, 9.08 million were migrant students, said a report from Cushman & Wakefield and the Student Accommodation Providers Forum of India earlier this year.
On-campus hostel capacity during this period stood at 6.69 million.
The gap that Dutta and Dalmia set out to plug four years ago remains as significant today. But, now they’ve set their sights on a new market segment -- working professionals.
Early this month, Stanza Living launched its customized living spaces offering for working professionals in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune and Coimbatore. Starting off with an initial capacity of 10,000 beds, the company will invest $20 million (Rs 150 crore) to build out the offering to 50,000 beds for working professionals’ category across seven cities by Q1 of 2021.
The company claims that the offering for working professionals was developed after 10 months of research and planning, which included interviews with 3,000 graduating students, entry-level working professionals, and property owners.
“Our foray into the working professionals category follows the journey of our student consumers. As they graduate and become potential migrant working professionals, we want to continue delivering an aspirational lifestyle solution adaptable to their evolving needs, wherever they migrate,” Dalmia said in a statement at the time of the launch.
As Dalmia puts it, the new initiative allows the company to extend the runway of the shared living value proposition it currently offers the student community. The company charges working professionals between Rs 4,000 and Rs 15,000 a bed each month, depending upon the real estate dynamics of the location as well as service opt-ins. This includes a host of services such as chef-curated meals, WiFi, laundry service, housekeeping and round the clock security for hassle-free living.
“The student audiences are financially supported by their parents, while professionals must rely on their personal income. We look at all these fundamental aspects to understand how consumers interact with each service experience -- security, food, housekeeping, internet, etc. and accordingly design our offerings for each consumer set,” added Dutta.
Even as it forays into the working professionals market, the company has aggressive plans to continue to grow in the student housing market. Apart from growing its offering for working professionals by 5X, it plans to expand its student offering significantly over the next 12 months.
Given those targets, like any other startup out there in the shared living market, Stanza Living will need capital.
According to regulatory filings, the company widened its losses to Rs 17.25 crore for the financial year 2018-19 as compared to Rs 2.2 crore in the previous year. Revenue from operations stood at Rs 16.5 crore. Primary expenses during the period were employee benefit schemes and other expenses including operating lease agreements and the cost of amenities for the accommodations provided by it.
The company recently raised a Series C funding round from a consortium of investors such as New York headquartered hedge fund Falcon Edge Capital, venture capital firms Sequoia Capital India, Matrix Partners India and Accel, and Equity International.
The Series C round, in fact, closed this month with Equity International, a private equity firm founded by American billionaire Sam Zell, coming in as the latest investor into the company.
“Stanza Living addresses the under-served demand for high-quality, standardized housing in a market with approximately 20 million migrant millennial population. We see Stanza Living as the front-runner in this sector...” Equity International CEO Tom Heneghan said in a statement on the investment.
The company has raised around $70 million, to date. At the time of raising the first tranche of the Series C round in July last year, Dutta had said the company was also evaluating organic and inorganic growth including the potential acquisition of competitors to expand the business.
“Currently, we have a good financial runway and we will raise capital as and when required. Having said that, we continue to receive strong inbound interest from investors,” added Dutta.
Access to capital and deep-pocketed investors is all the more critical given the competitive arena in which Stanza Living operates.
On the student housing front the company comes up against players as OYO Life, which recently forayed in the student housing sector. OYO Life entered the student housing segment by signing agreements with Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi and Plaksha University in Gurgaon to provide over 500 beds for their students. It offers accommodation at Rs 6,500-Rs 12,999 a bed a month, including amenities such as Wi-Fi, television, refrigerator, air conditioner, housekeeping, power backup and surveillance.
In the working professionals segment, it has some tough competition in players such as Nexus Venture Partners backed Zolo, SoftBank backed Oyo Living and real estate developers Abhishek Lodha and Pirojsha Godrej backed Housr.
Zolo raised $7 million in venture debt from Trifecta Capital, in December last year. This follows the company’s $30 million Series B round in January this year from private equity firm IDFC Alternatives, investment management group Mirae Assets, Investcorp and venture capital firm Nexus Venture Partners. It operates over 415 properties across 10 cities and has two products -- Zolo Standard and Zolo Select. The company plans to expand from 45,000 beds at present to 1 million by 2025.
Launched in 2018, housing rental platform Oyo Living currently operates nearly 40,000 beds in Delhi NCR, Pune, and Bengaluru. The Gurugram-based co-living startup Housr entered the shared-living space last year in April and plans to spend $40-50 million over the next 18 months to expand its business across the country. It is currently present in Kota and Gurugram, and will soon launch in Noida and Pune, according to its website.
The extensive use of technology, especially emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IoT) is one way the company can and is trying to build in significant competitive edge.
“We have as many as 10 IoT solutions that we use today in all our buildings. Right from safety switches to ensure that your utility consumption is really low to kind of making sure that water consumption is not wasted to smart meters,” Dutta says.
It also uses gamification to improve operations and encourage employees through a reward system for the completion of a set number of tasks. It ensures that customer side issues including payments, attendance management, are all completed on the app for better customer experience and minimising on-ground workforce.
Further, the properties under its management are ranked on 15-20 parameters and its internal real estate sourcing platform Stanza Estate predicts the operating metrics, rent which can be charged and how much the company can pay the landlords.
Dutta added that the company is also using machine learning (ML) at the transformation end. “For example, we have a capex scoring algorithm, where all our buildings are based on various metrics, which help us to figure out in which building we should invest in, so in this form, we are using ML,” he says.
Within 2.5 years of inception, the company built an industry-first proprietary suite of technology products and platforms that helps it source real estate effectively, refurbish products, manage consumer demand and operate buildings with precision and ease. In terms of consumer-facing technology, the company has a Stanza Resident App. It is designed to build seamless connectivity between the company and the residents. This app helps the residents to easily log in specific requests, raise concerns and share feedback on a wide array of services and facilities.
The company’s current headcount stands at 1,000 employees pan-India with multi-domain expertise. “As we continue to expand, we are expanding our regional and city teams across all functions,” Dutta added.