6 years, 3 rounds of funding and some enormous growth: With Sumit Jain, Co-Founder, CommonFloor
It all started when they came to Bangalore in 2007 and couldn’t find the right property. After finding something to their satisfaction, many new problems cropped up which all had their seed in the process of moving to a new house. In this case, it was a sewage problem in the society which wasn’t getting solved because none of the society residents knew each other or had any sort of co-ordination to come to a conclusion. Privy to these problems, the trio of Sumit Jain, Lalit Mangal and Vikas Malpani ventured out to find a solution and thus was born CommonFloor.
We covered the company last in 2009 and since then, CommonFloor has raised two more rounds of funding (the latest being a $7.5 million Series C investment) and has gone on to become one of the largest online real estate portals in the country. Here, we get in conversation with Sumit Jain to learn more.
YourStory: CommonFloor has come a long way! Can you rewind a bit and tell us something about the time you started up and things that gave you confidence.
Sumit Jain: The initial thought was to develop a platform that could bring together people who live in gated communities and had come up with CommonFloor.com in November 2007. It was a challenge initially to get communities on board and we had to come up with several iterations to get the product right. We also had to keep the product flexible enough to accommodate different priorities of different communities while still ensuring a good user experience for all. The real confidence came when the communities that adopted us in the beginning started to see real value in our product, appreciated our efforts and even partnered with us in improving it. That is when we started believing that CommonFloor.com will work.
YS: So, how has CommonFloor evolved?
SJ: Our vision was always to satisfy all requirements of a person around his home. In the initial years, we noticed a lot of owners using our platform to post listings of their apartments. We realized that if we open this information to people outside their gated communities, it will add much more value to these owners. Soon we started to be known as the best place for genuine listings and started seeing a lot of traction from those looking for a house to buy/sell or rent. We then started making deliberate efforts to build our capabilities in real estate and today we are the third largest real estate portal in the country in terms of unique visitors as per comScore.
YS: Anything that you believe you did differently and that it clicked?
SJ: The key difference that we have brought to the online real estate market is – while everyone looked at it from a classifieds perspective, we look at it from a community perspective. Unlike our competitors who come into picture when a person is buying / selling a house, we are a complete home portal and engage with our users right from the time they are looking for a home to when they move into their house and start living there and even when they want to sell it.
(Using their Apartment Management Software, the owners / residents benefit by being able to connect to their neighbours online, forming interest groups and finding neighbours who share similar interests and using CommonFloor.com as a forum to discuss issues / topics relevant to the community. Owners / residents also get specific updates and notices from RWA (Residents’ Welfare Association) directly on their phones and e-mails, can reach out to vendors like electricians, plumbers etc. through CommonFloor.com’s directory and pay their maintenance bills online through the integrated payment gateway. And for RWA’s, our Apartment Management Software offers features comparable to ERP systems)
YS: Tell us a bit about the reach of AMS (Apartment Management Software).
SJ: We have grown to become the largest players in this segment and are currently present in 120 cities across the country. Around 60,000 communities are listed with us today, constituting more than 50 Lakh homes.
YS: Can you give us a few numbers in terms of traction and some of the key milestones over the years.
SJ: We are the fastest growing real estate portal in the country growing by more than 100% year on year as per comScore. In Bangalore, we are the number one property portal as per Alexa traffic rank. Today, we have more than 1000 paying customers that include builders, agents and vendors. Our revenue has been growing by more than 100% every quarter and we aim to achieve a turnover of $25 million in the next two years.
We have more than 60,000 projects listed on our portal and this is the largest compared to any property portal in India. The number of property listings has grown by more than 500% in the past financial year and we currently have more than one lakh live active listings.
We had also recently launched a mobile application for our users with unique features like augmented reality and map search which allows customers to view properties around them; using the camera on their phone. Today we have offices in 7 cities - Bangalore, Gurgaon, Noida, Pune, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Chennai.
YS: What are the revenue streams for Commonfloor?
SJ: When it comes to revenues, our model is simple. Like Google, we offer our services free to users and charge businesses. We generate revenue from advertising and vendor listings. Many well-known players across various verticals such as real estate and banking services advertise with us to reach out to people who are looking to buy or sell property.
Vendors like architects, plumbers, carpenters etc. also use our platform to reach out to people who own homes and advertise their services.
YS: Any particular thing that clicked for you w.r.t marketing?
SJ: As far as marketing is concerned, I think the biggest reason we have been successful is that due to our community based approach we have been able to offer highly genuine listings to our users. The accuracy of the information led to positive word of mouth, which has helped us reach where we are today. We have also focused on sharing relevant content on our website which has helped in gaining more users.
YS: How big is the team now and what has worked for you when it comes to hiring?
SJ: We are more than 400 people now and are looking to hire more. I think what has worked for us has been the mindset change amongst talented Indians when it comes to making a career decision. Not everyone today is satisfied with a 9 to 5 job at an MNC. Young Indians today want to make a difference at what they do. They are willing to take risks and join young and innovative Indian companies. They understand that they can grow faster and make a big difference when they join a company that is on a growth track. The fact that we have scaled fast and people have grown with us has also helped, particularly with referrals.
YS: You’ve recently raised the third round of funding. How is it going to be utilized?
SJ: The new funds are being used for scaling presence across multiple cities, upgrading technology capabilities, hiring talent and expanding marketing initiatives.
YS: What keeps you going as an entrepreneur?
SJ: We are really passionate about how we can use technology to solve people’s requirements around their homes. Home is where we spend most of our time and 70% of our daily use expenditure is made in the radius of 2 km of our home. Yet, we pay no attention to improving the quality of living around our homes. I think the team at Commonfloor.com has a great opportunity to change the way communities live. To be able to drive that change and have that kind of positive impact on society is a huge motivating factor.
And some more points of note:
- CommonFloor has recently launched an offline discussion forum for communities called ‘RightStep’ where they invite experts from different walks of life to talk to about improving the quality of life around homes. The first chapter of the forum was organized in Bangalore earlier this year and brought together government officials, civic and legal experts to answer apartment residents’ queries on formation & management of apartment associations, solid waste management and sewage treatment. The second chapter took place on the World Earth Day in Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune to sensitize residents about the ‘five elements’ of nature and generate awareness about cell tower radiations, garbage management and air and water pollution.
- In the wake of the recent tragedy in Uttarakhand, Commonfloor announced ‘Finding Hope a New Home’ initiative to provide financial assistance to build/rebuild homes and provide permanent shelter to the calamity-struck residents of Uttarakhand. The plan is to reach out to our user base of over 4 million monthly visitors and over 60,000 communities across the country appealing for monetary contributions that will then be used to rebuild homes or build new homes across the worst affected parts of the State. As part of this initiative, CommonFloor will work in tandem with SEEDS India, a leading non-profit organisation that seeks to protect the lives and livelihoods of people exposed to natural disasters.