If you drive from Delhi to Dehradun, there are chances you’ll ignore a small town called Khatauli in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. Our story begins with a dweller from this small town, who had little expectation from life, though he never lacked focus, perseverance and determination.
He used to study, play and work at his father’s shop on the highway. The eight-year-old boy took care of the shop and soon mastered accounts, orders and cash transactions.
“I was never clear about what to do in life and always looked up to my elder brother. I thought that I was not as intelligent as him. My brother did his engineering in Roorkee; at that time there was nobody from my town who went to the IITs,” says the proud little brother.
Meet the uncommon Sumit Jain, Co-founder and CEO of Google Capital-backed CommonFloor, one of the leading online real estate platforms in India. From searching for an apartment, to facilitating interactions within an apartment community, to connecting one to relevant service providers — the platform is dedicated to meeting all aspects of consumers’ needs around their home.
Age was never a concern
“I was never judged by my age,” says Jain. At the age of 13, he got selected for the prestigious National Defence Academy but he recalls that it was not his dream. “I was asked to speak about the Indian Army for five minutes but I couldn’t utter a word. Then, I started realising that I was never meant for the Army and there were people more deserving than me who should get a chance to serve the country,” he shares.
The Mathematics test that unlocked his true potential
Jain started attending high school in Muzaffarnagar which was 20 km away from his town, because his school had English medium only till the eighth standard. Though the school had a good faculty, it was situated in a notorious colony where Jain witnessed a few violent encounters and some of his school mates carried weapons too. But he was never swayed from his path.
He confesses that academic excellence was not his priority. However, learning about ways to optimise revenue used to excite the young kid and he thought of opting for commerce to pursue his father’s business.
When Jain was in 11th grade, there was a mathematics competition arranged by the district magistrate. He took part in the test but could not attempt questions worth 20 marks, so he was very sure of getting rejected. “I decided to leave immediately as I had to attend my cousin’s wedding but my teacher asked me to wait till the results were out. My name was announced and I couldn’t believe that I topped the district in mathematics. There, I realised the importance of accuracy with speed,” says Jain.
He became a celebrity overnight with the local newspapers covering news of the talented Jain and his school. “This incident transformed my life and I started getting serious about studies,” he adds.
A city that instilled confidence and independence
Jain couldn’t clear the IIT entrance exam in his first attempt but he got a good rank in the local engineering exams. He was satisfied with his performance but his brother urged him to prepare for the IIT entrance again. “I do not want you to forever regret that you could have tried giving IIT (entrance) one more time, yet chose not to,” Jain’s brother told him.
He then decided to move to Kota in Rajasthan for his education as it has the best coaching institutes in India for the preparation of IIT and other engineering exams.
“My luggage was stolen on the very first day in Kota, but I managed to chase the thief and secure the luggage which had my certificates. It was a very adventurous experience for me and the city taught me a lot about being confident, enterprising and independent,” recalls Jain. He cracked the IIT entrance and got admission into IIT Roorkee.
“Working for a corporate won’t change my life but resigning might”
Jain got involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities in college. In the third year, he received an email from one of his seniors stating that he was looking for an intern for his startup in Bangalore. Jain was never driven by money and rejected his high-paying internship at Wipro to join the startup. “I was given INR 4000 (US$62) and sometimes I used to sleep in the office, so that I did not have to pay for the commute. But I never complained because I was in love with my work,” he says.
He always wanted to launch his own startup instead of getting a corporate job, but his brother was against his idea of starting up. “My brother wanted me to gain experience and be mature before starting my own business,” Jain explains. He always felt that it was important to do an MBA for starting a business. “But I slowly realised that an MBA was not my cup of tea, because I thought I would rather try doing business myself, than waste two years of my life learning how to do it,” says Jain.
He joined Oracle after college even though he did not want to take up a corporate job. “After a year, I thought working at Oracle will not change my life, but resigning might. And within an hour, I resigned,” Jain states.
The sewage problem that led to CommonFloor
After several attempts with products like Ban Karo’ (Ban it), which was for banning telemarketing calls and Ugal do (Blurt it out), Jain, along with IIT Roorkee batchmate Lalit Mangal and friend Vikas Malpani, came up with the idea of CommonFloor.
“We failed to solve a sewage problem, which forced us to leave our rented apartment in Bangalore. After much research, we decided to create a common floor online where people living in apartment complexes could interact and collaborate to solve problems,” said Jain. It saw a huge response and within 45 days of its launch, 100 housing societies adopted CommonFloor.
In 2009, they started noticing a number of people asking queries about properties available for rent or sale and from 2010 onwards, CommonFloor started listing properties on its platform. Soon it became a full-fledged real estate portal connecting property seekers, owners and builders. Today, it claims to have over five million active property listings from over 200 cities, and over one million residential projects listed with it.
The company has received an undisclosed amount of funding from Google Capital, the third investment in Asia for the giant. This investment came at an exciting time for the online real estate sector in India, fuelled by the Indian Government’s goal of providing housing for everyone by 2022. The company has also raised significant rounds from investors including Tiger Global and Accel Partners.
It has recently launched CommonFloor Retina, a virtual reality innovation that offers a ‘real’ property experience for the seekers, allowing them to view/review/assess multiple properties from anywhere at any point of time. A user can install the CommonFloor Retina app on his/her phone, launch the app and insert the phone inside CF Retina headgear to experience the property through virtual reality. The company plans to have 2000 projects on Retina in the next three-six months.
CommonFloor has also introduced ‘Live-in Tours’ which allows 360 degree walk-throughs for properties to sell, buy or rent in India. It plans to introduce this feature across 18 major cities by March 2016 and have five million properties listed with Live-in Tours.
The real estate space is crowded with players like MagicBricks, 99acres, Makaan and Housing but Jain believes that the power of the community behind CommonFloor is a clear differentiator.
“A buyer can ask queries about the facilities in a particular area or community from a person who is actually living there. This is what makes CommonFloor unique,” says Jain.
Create an asset which can impact lives
“I want to create value for all the stakeholders and make sure that I am the last in the queue, when it comes to unlocking that value,” he says.
According to him, entrepreneurs should be honest to their customers and investors and build relationships that last forever. “It is crucial to have the right people around us. My employees are very important to me and I treat them the way I want to be treated by any employer,” adds Jain.
Lastly, he believes that age can never be a limitation. In a conference, he heard a renowned person saying, “The best age to start is 42 years.” “I say that you start at 42 when you can’t start at 22,” concludes Jain.