Two engineering college students from Mumbai went to Goa in the winter of 2012, eager to attend the Sunburn Festival. Unfortunately for them, all attempts to find an affordable place to stay went in vain. They crashed on the beach, tired and shivering through the first night. Then, in the morning, they ran into a shack owner who offered one of his rooms. This experience got Rakesh Singh and Amit Solanki thinking about starting an online platform to connect travellers hunting for accommodation with those with space to let out. That was how Room n House was born.
With no dearth of people with extra rooms to rent out for some additional income, and travellers in search of affordable, comfortable and safe accommodation, the idea of Room n House caught on quickly. So much so that Rakesh and Amit found themselves providing accommodation for the crew of Sunburn Goa 2013. During an after-party, they told the CEO how their start-up was triggered by Sunburn itself.
Home-stays are nothing new. Couch-surfing has been around for a while now. What is lacking is assurance about the amenities or security of such places, and travellers choose more expensive hotel bookings. That is where Room n House can make a difference. The home-stays listed there are not just good value-for-money, they have gone through a preliminary recce. Travellers are assured of a certain level of amenities and safety.
It works the other way round too. The Room n House team screens the travellers for the benefit of those who let out their homes. The payments are also handled by Room n House. Thus the go-between facilitates things for both sides, so that travellers and home-owners alike can feel comfortable about what they are getting into.
“We solve the lack of trust in short-term renting. We help guests find accommodation up to 70% cheaper than a hotel, while the hosts get to generate extra income,” says Rakesh.
I decided to see what Room n House had for a lowly paid journo yearning for a weekend in Goa. Voila! Or, should I say Velada in Portuguese? There were 10 alluring places in the range of Rs 1500-2500. The one I wanted to put my money on for the coming weekend was a 1500-rupee-a-day one BHK beach-facing apartment in Calangunte. A local photographer had moseyed down there, checked out the accommodation, and put up a stack of pictures on the Room n House website. This is standard practice whenever a place is listed.
Rakesh is thrilled to be the win-win bridge between guests and hosts. “Here, travellers discover great accommodation that match their requirements – be it a holiday, family get-together, a business trip – and home-owners monetize their extra space and showcase it to the outside world for free,” he says.
Like most startups, initially they faced a few tough challenges. It wasn’t easy to get home-owners and travellers to trust them enough. Partly, this had to do with Rakesh and Amit being just out of college. Amit is 21 years old and Rakesh, 22. They started small, bootstrapped. Eventually, word-of-mouth got more and more travellers and home-owners to their platform. Traffic on the site picked up, and they got angel investment from Euphoria Ventures.
“Apart from funds, Euphoria Ventures provided us critical resources for business management. This has been a major differentiator,” Rakesh says. Manish Kolsawala of Euphoria Ventures is on their board now.
The travel and tourism market in India is massive, even though several startups are sprouting in this space. “Since in India it is still a largely unorganized industry, the faster we capture this the more defensible position we will have in the years to come. Alternative accommodation options are definitely growing very fast because it has a lower base to begin with,” says Rakesh.
They already have accommodation in 46 Indian cities listed. But of those, Mumbai, Goa, Delhi, Pune and Bangalore are their focus at present. They are on an 18-month roll-out plan. “By March 2014, we shall launch our phase II cities, including two cities in the Middle East region. We expect our phase II roll-out to stabilize by July-August 2014. Then, we’ll go for the next round of funding,” Rakesh says.
Though their main target has been youngsters travelling alone or with friends, after the Sunburn Goa 2013, they are now finding corporate clientele as well. So far, they have been trying to build long-term relationships with the travellers who use Room n House. “Initially, we had a group of four who tried our service. They were really skeptical of how the experience would be. But they were so happy with the stay that next time they came back with a gang of friends and booked a villa with us. Word-of-mouth really worked for us,” Rakesh says. (See video)