How to build a community around your product – a CommonFloor crack codeAbhash Kumar
Look at this screenshot of the CommonFloor website. What do you notice?Notice how the two rings namely 'Real Estate' and 'Apartment Communities' are interlinked. You would be amazed by how much that defines the vision and culture at CommonFloor, the innovative online service that combines property search, apartment management and vendor management and caters to a person’s complete residential requirements.
Started by two IIT-R and a VTU graduate in 2007, this company has always played the long-haul game. They have built a great product with superb features. But the focus has always been on delivering immense benefits to the end-user. Very early on in their journey, the co-founding trio of Sumit Jain, Lalit Mangal and Vikas Malpani had realized the essence of the real-estate problem in India. It was not discoverability or technology. The inherent problem was communication or rather the lack of it, within the apartment communities. People staying across from each other on the same floor would often have no idea about each other. The solution of course then was to help these people connect and build relationships.
For Vikas Malpani, one of the co-founders, who is also the Head - Communities at CommonFloor, this issue was discovered in the form of a personal experience.
"What would happen is people living in an apartment complex would come across several problems. But they would deal with their own problems in isolation, even while some other member might be also facing the same issue. This would then lead to frustration and a blame game between the society committee members and the residents. For example, a few years back, my car would have deflated tires every other week. Someone was deliberately doing it. I was utterly frustrated, but the first few times just got it repaired and went on with it. But when I actually discussed this issue, it turned out that a few other residents had also faced the menace. This led to a society-level meeting and finally we installed CCTV cameras which put an end to it," Vikas recalled while speaking to us at the third edition of the CommonFloor RightStep event.
Events like RightStep are also a step in the same direction. RightStep is a forum to spread awareness amongst apartment residents around issues on apartment community living. The current edition of the initiative had accounting and auditing as the main topic of discussion and addressed queries on regulations around transparently managing financials at resident welfare associations. The main speaker Mr. Murali Iyer, a Cost Accountant, spoke extensively on statutory audit, service tax, income tax and basics of accounting. He also spoke about money management and information system management before answering audience queries.
"We believe that communities are a smaller unit of the society. And so, it follows that only a better managed community can lead to a better managed society. All that we do at CommonFloor is hinged around this principle," says Vikas.
In spite of offers, the company had refused funding in the early years of their own accord. For the first few years, the small team of 20 including the co-founders would personally visit apartment complexes, speak to the society committee members and show them how the portal could be beneficial to them. They wanted to bring users on their portal first and then think about how to monetize the traction.
Any apartment community requires a set of workflows to function smoothly. This includes a set of tools like notice boards, maintenance tracking, management information structuring, financial management, accounting softwares etc. CommonFloor's idea was to provide all of this on a single secure private portal for every apartment complex. But it was not an easy task at all.
"I have a 20-30-50 rule which goes like this - when you're trying to solve a problem only 20% of the solution is technology, 30% of it is information, but the bulk of it, 50% is about user behavior. To change the behavior of committee members used to old and archaic methods was the biggest challenge for us. In best cases, it took us three weeks to get the apartment community on-board our portal. But in a few cases it took us as much as four years to convert.", adds Vikas.
Startups in India have started to enjoy much adulation and fanfare among the mainstream media companies and not all of it has produced the right results. Wannabe entrepreneurs have started seeing this route as glamorous and jazzy and have forgotten that building real companies requires ground work and getting your hands dirty. Over the years, in the pursuit of cracking the community code, CommonFloor co-founders, especially Vikas, have gone on and personally spoken to over 3000 apartment committees. This is in addition to them running the daily operations, handling calls at ungodly hours in the night and inserting marketing pamphlets into newspapers in the wee hours of the morning.
Today the portal has a presence in 120 cities and has over 75,000 communities listed with it, which constitutes more than 50 Lakh homes. The company eventually raised four rounds of funding from Accel Partners and Tiger Global in 2009, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The recent RightStep Platform was also used to launch yet another initiative to bolster awareness pertaining to basic tenets of Apartment Community living and Management, the book “Happy Community Living”. The book which is dedicated to residents, owners and residence welfare associations and aims at complimenting CommonFloor.com’s vision of catering to a person’s complete residential requirement. It covers a wide range of topics specifically relevant for people living in gated communities such as – apartment management, vendor management, legal affairs, safety measures, home insurance policies and many more.
The members of apartment committees had only good things to say about the company.
"I am someone who is not very big on technology. But, Commonfloor.com's simple portal makes it very easy for me to keep track of the ongoings in my society," said TL Rao, committe member at RMV clusters apartment.
But what reaffirms CommonFloor.com's position as the market leader in cracking the community code amongst property portals is when you hear one of the clients say this:
"I'd like to tell you two things. First, our community uses commonfloor.com as a portal to celebrate. Many people forget to organize birthday parties for their own elderly family members. By using the portal, we collaborate together and at the end of every month conduct a big birthday party for all the children and the elders at one go. It is fun. Second, when one of my family members required blood urgently we just put up the requirement on the commonfloor portal. I was overwhelmed by the response. CommonFloor has been instrumental in helping us build a close-knit community," said ABS Kumar, committee member, Jagruti.
How are you building communities around your product? What can be some of the other ways to do it? Do tell us in the comments.