Early last year, Ashish Agrawal was looking to rent a serviced apartment in Pune. Back then he was working with Google, and had no reliable way of finding a short-term rental for himself. He had to rely on poorly-built serviced apartment websites with inaccurate information. Later, he realized that he was paying a premium for a sub-standard property when many better options existed.
This pain-point prompted him to take the entrepreneurial leap. He quit his fancy job at Google to build RoomLion. It’s a discovery and reservation portal for short-term rentals and serviced apartments specifically for no-nonsense temporary housing, which does not include hotels, cheap guest houses, PGs, couches, igloos and tree-houses, he points out.
“There exists a large, niche market of short-term rentals, especially serviced apartments. Due to the absence of an aggregator focused in this niche, apartment providers ricocheted to hotel websites, online classifieds and sometimes even bed-and-breakfast portals,” says Ashish. He points out that none of these alternatives do justice in highlighting the unique benefits offered by serviced apartments.
The startup successfully got customer validation in the form of bookings even when it had only a handful of listings in Pune.
“Motivated by this early customer validation, we focused all our energy on building the supply side, that is on-boarding serviced apartments,” adds Ashish. At present, RoomLion has upwards of 7,000 rooms of inventory across nine cities in India. “On a monthly basis we’re adding 1000 to 1400 rooms,” he reveals.
Unlike horizontal aggregators (online), RoomLion gives complete clarity on pricing and offers 360-degree virtual tours of each property using Google-street-view like technology.
Initially, there was skepticism regarding RoomLion and its methods. Operators viewed online portals as a source for short bookings (for a night or two). “Convincing operators about prospect of long-term bookings (over a fortnight) through an online platform was tough,” says Ashish.
Media and investors believe that RoomLion is yet another AirBnB clone, and this has been the biggest challenge, laments Ashish. “Instead of discarding RoomLion as AirBnB clone, we want users to judge us on our ability to find short-term accommodation for business travelers, medical tourists or relocating families,” he adds.
Fund raising is almost like taking up a part-time job, says Ashish. Rather than pursuing early stage investors, the startup focused on building the product by bootstrapping. “This has given us freedom in setting our priorities – which is crucial during early stages of building a startup,” he adds.
RoomLion claims it does not to have any direct competitors but indirectly it competes with OTAs (MakeMyTrip, Yatra etc.), Airbnb, Oravel and rental classifieds. In future, it plans to consolidate its presence in other urban cities (besides existing presence across nine cities). Ashish is looking to raise funds for increasing his workforce and sprucing up technology.