Editor’s Note: Here’s a story from our archives we feel is relevant even today and deserves your attention.
A neuro-surgeon from the scenic town of Jammu, India never thought that his curious son could see what other can’t and achieve what others dream. The little boy spent his childhood watching his father work tirelessly healing people and his grandfather writing passionately. They left a long-lasting impression on the boy at a tender age and he decided to do what he loved the most.
Meet the perfect blend of a father’s hard work, a grandfather’s passion and a mother’s empathy. Advitiya Sharma is the Co-founder of SoftBank-backed Housing.com, India’s house hunting platform that aims to help people struggling to find real estate that meets their requirements.
“I only do things that I am crazy about and the abundant passion and hard work comes from the two strongest pillars of my life, my father and my grandfather. I strongly believe that incredible things happen when you take a step in the right direction,” says Sharma.
They love what they do
Once I once asked my father, after he had operated continuously for 18 hours, “Don’t you get tired?” He replied, “When I look at the faces of the patient’s family eagerly waiting for me to come and give them good news, all my tiredness disappears. Their happiness is my biggest reward.”
Sharma’s grandfather, a writer and a poet, was zealous about writing. When in a writing mood, his grandfather locked himself in his room for several days. After a few days, he would come out of isolation with a few papers in his hand which soon became a play, or was aired on radio. The enthusiasm to do things with great love for the benefit of people has always inspired Sharma.
He remembers a young girl from Bangalore that sent him an email: Thank you Advitiya, we found the exact house we wanted. My grandmother is very old, and she falls ill very often, so we needed a place close to hospitals and we found it through your neighborhood search application.
“I was overwhelmed as this meant a lot to me. It made me love my work more as we are here to help people and solve a crucial problem affecting their lives,” he shares.
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I would become an astronaut and go to NASA
Sharma was always interested in math and technology. During his childhood days, the detergent Tide offered a digital watch free with every packet. He forced his mother into buying a lot of Tide packets so that he could dismantle them and create interesting things with the parts.
“During my 12th grade, the news of Kalpana Chawla was very popular and most of our conversations were about her and NASA. I decided that I would become an astronaut and go to NASA. Hence, I enrolled for Aerospace Engineering at IIT. Soon, I realized that I did not want to learn how to make planes, but rather fly them,” he states.
“I still use my degree, when our investors ask us, “How will you be able to achieve this?” and I say, “This is not rocket science, and I am a rocket science engineer,” he chuckles.
He believes that his alma mater, IIT Bombay, has given clarity to his vision. “We entered with raw fuel, and it has crystallised us into powerful processed fuel that can be put into jet engines of growth,” Sharma explains.
What led to Housing.com?
It was in the final semester of college when he got to know about real life beyond college. He knew that he would have to move out of the college hostel soon, and so he decided to find an apartment for rent.
Sharma found an ad for a three-bedroom apartment in the Bandra area in Mumbai for just INR 15,000 (US$242) per month. “I couldn’t believe it because Bandra is one of the most expensive localities in Mumbai,” he recalls. But Sharma had never house-hunted before, and so he believed the real estate broker. “I called up the broker and he said that he has found a tenant for the apartment that very morning, but had many more options for rent.”
Sharma went to see the apartments but they were exactly opposite of what was promised. The rooms were damp, small and cramped with no natural sunlight. People hated bachelors and refused to rent rooms to them in Mumbai. Everything that Sharma found was similar, and after discussions with people, it turned out to be a common problem for a lot of them.
“People had bad experiences of house hunting in Mumbai and this was a common pain-point of many of us. I decided that this is a problem that needs to be addressed quickly. Hence, I along with a bunch of friends, started Housing,” he explains.
Initially, it was difficult for him to convince his mother that he wants to leave a handsome job for starting something of his own on the Internet, which was slowing catching up in India. “I told my mother that I want to solve a critical problem faced by millions, but she refused to understand. Then I said, it’s like football for me. After hearing this, she never questioned me because football is my love. I can come bruised and punched but nothing can stop me from playing it.”
Journey of this two-year old startup
Housing.com is India’s first map-based real estate portal with features such as verified listings guarantee, HD photos and over 100 data points on all properties mapped on the platform. In addition to the original ‘rent and resale’ proposition, Housing now offers ‘PG and Hostels’, new projects, land and plot projects, a home loans service and a rental agreement, among others.
Sharma recalls that he used to go around Mumbai with a DSLR camera, knocking on doors of people and asking if they would let him take pictures of their house for rent. “People used to call me crazy when I said that I want to click real pictures of the house supposed to go on rent. I went to a house and told the owner about this concept and he slammed the door on my face. But I rang the bell again, and convinced him to sit with me so that I can explain about Housing,” says Sharma.
What started as a rental search platform in 2012 has now become a preferred destination for house hunting with over 20,000 brokers, 8,500 builders and 200,000 landlords listed on the platform.
The company has attracted significant investments and is backed by investors like SoftBank, Helion Venture Partners, Nexus Venture Partners and Qualcomm Ventures. It has recently raised its fifth round of funding of US$90 million led by SoftBank Group, along with Falcon Edge and other existing investors. In June 2014, it raised US$19 million in its fourth round of funding from Helion Venture Partners, Nexus Venture Partners, and Qualcomm Ventures. Housing.com has now raised more than US$121 million in just two years.
Within a short span, the platform has expanded its features, technology and accelerated its branding and marketing activities. It has an augmented reality feature known as Slice View which provides home buyers an interactive exploration of a project and enables them to have a look-and-feel of the house beforehand. It has also launched a ‘Rental Agreement’ product that helps people create and customise a property agreement online.
Housing Home Loans helps home seekers find a home loan that is customised to finance their purchases. Housing has partnered with major banks and financial institutions to integrate into the product, a set of rule engines. These rule engines incorporate the banks’ policies and terms to give the user an accurate calculation of the rate of interest. The user can not only compare an array of loan offers but also go ahead and apply for the loan on the platform itself.
To enable users to choose better, Housing.com devised a structured algorithm that quantifies the overall experience of living in a given apartment. The algorithm takes into account the most basic needs and sought after luxuries, and weighs them according to their importance.
It has price heat maps where each city is represented on a heat map so that one can zero in the locality that suits one’s demands. The Child Friendliness index measures neighbourhoods on three different criteria: The number of schools, hospitals and parks in an area, as well as the proximity of these facilities to the areas.
Sharma explains that there has been a huge transition over the last few years and after buying books, clothes and jewellery online, people have now started to book their houses online. Tata Value Homes tied up Housing.com to sell homes online. It has recently announced a partnership with the Brigade Group for an online offer on Housing.com for two of its projects in Bangalore. It has also integrated its services with Google Now to provide users with authentic information of houses that will be available real-time.
The online real estate space has been buzzing with many players such as Magicbricks, 99acres, CommonFloor, Proptiger and Makaan, trying to grab a share of this booming market. Apart from e-commerce, this space has been a hot bed for investments with over US$300 million raised in the last nine months. However, Sharma is undeterred by competition as he believes that many players in this segment are slowly becoming a hub of fake listings.
Mapping 40 million houses across 300 cities by 2015
According to Sharma, the real estate industry in India is projected to be US$200 billion by 2020. But corruption, money laundering and lack of transparency in this industry is a major concern. Sharma wants to instill transparency through Housing.com.
By the end of 2015, the startup wants to map over 40 million houses across 300 cities in India. It also provides on-off buttons feature to home owners and agents where these buttons will convert all the curated houses database into assets for Housing.com, and can be reactivated when they are again available in the market. “We will soon be adding interior designing as a feature and provide movers and packers facility to make shifting hassle-free,” he says.
It’s all about people and their ideas
Housing had twelve co-founders from different parts of India belonging to varied cultures and they were bound together with a vision to redefine things and build a transformative product. According to Sharma, they spent over 18-20 hours working every day to build Housing.com. They grew together because each one of them loved their work. However, three of the twelve co-founders have left Housing.com to pursue their own interests.
“I support the decision of my co-founders and I strongly believe that Housing.com has grown because of its people and their innovative ideas. It is important to have the right talent to build a world-class product,” he adds.
Three learnings on the path of entrepreneurship
Chase clarity of Vision: When you start up, you don’t have all the money, you don’t have all the answers, you don’t even have all the support. But you do have a vision, a vision that will bring a change in the way things are being done now. And it is very crucial that you learn how to get clarity of vision early on, so that you can articulate it to everyone in the company.
Only do work that makes you feel proud: We spend over 18-20 hours working every day to build Housing.com. The thing that fuels you towards something revolutionary is your hunger to do work that makes you feel proud. It has helped us build the best products for people and we always work hard and feel proud of it.
Always ask yourself “What next?”: Whenever you think you’ve truly done justice to your current work or projects, always ask “what next?”. I think the reason why we’ve grown so much so fast, is because we’re always looking out of the next set of problems we could solve by building great products for people.
“Budding entrepreneurs must have a single-minded focus and fearless attitude towards building products that solve the problems of millions of people,” the young man concludes.
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