How this startup is enabling students hunt for flats in KotaTarush Bhalla
Possibly described as the Mecca of IIT-JEE and AIEEE aspirations in India, Kota’s coaching industry is a thriving market of more than INR 300 crores. With an increased influx of aspirants every year, the town hosts around two lakh students in various coaching centres around the city.
This was where brothers Nitin and Dheeraj Bihani accompanied by cousin Abhishek Maheshwari saw a tremendous market opportunity. Their solution, Hunturflat.com is the only website aiming to provide information to students about hostels, paying guests and flats in Kota.
Already involved in the real estate sector in Jodhpur, this team of Chartered Accountants are using technology to solve the hostel hunting problem in Kota. What hooked them to Kota was the lack of a professionally managed website (tackling the problem) as well as a market of 4000 plus hostels in the region.
Inspired by successful entrepreneurs like Phanindra Sama (Founder, RedBus) and Bhavish Aggarwal (Founder, Ola Cabs), the trio wants to make an impact like them in the ecosystem.
However, their journey was not easy. Owing to their financial background, technology was a major handicap for these founders. Yet, this didn’t dissuade them; rather it pushed them to learn website mechanism from scratch, acquainting them with the basic terminology of website technology.
We were all technology handicapped but our biggest source of inspiration was Jack Ma of Alibaba.com. Despite being an English teacher and not a computer engineer, he is the uncrowned king of e-commerce in the world. We thought when Jack Ma can do that, then why can’t we?
Since everything was new for them, they extensively networked with techies through LinkedIn, along with consulting friends and cousins (in the technology industry) to understand the space better.
The co-founders tell us that there were multiple times when they needed advice. Following the words of L.N.Mittal, they took advice from four subject matter experts and overcame their hurdles.
Of the multi-billion dollar online real estate market, listings and lead selling constitute a meagre USD 100 million segment. With already established players like Magicbricks, 99Acres, IndiaProperty and Makaan, newer players like Common Floor and Housing.com are emerging in the segment. There is an added competition from the general free classified sites like Quikr, which is actively listing and promoting properties on its websites.
Moreover, last year, Softbank’s investment of USD 90 million in Housing.com, and Common Floor’s raising USD 30 million in Series E funding, clearly states the breaking of the ceiling, and the immense potential this segment holds.
The market also brings forward opportunities for smaller ventures like Hunturflat.com to capture the local market segment of Tier 2 cities.
Still taking baby steps, the venture is bootstrapped, funded by personal savings (INR 3 lakhs) of the founders. Due to this, the three co-founders are the only team, with occasional help from freelancers.
In the coming months, the venture aims to improve the user experience and provide an extensive listing of girls’ hostel with improved security features. Launched six months ago, the website currently witnesses traffic of almost 200 visitors per day in the off-season. The numbers rise exponentially during March and April when students pour in for the coaching after their board results.
Talking about their revenue model, the co-founders explained that they will soon launch premium accounts for property owners advertising on their website. These premium accounts will be paid for, where the website will display added amenities provided by the owners. Thus, giving the individual an in-depth preview of the facilities provided with the property.
Moving forward, the startup wants to introduce a mobile application, however, the founders are waiting for better engagement with their target audience. Currently, the co-founders are spending one-third of their capital for marketing purposes to engage better with their audiences. Furthermore, they rely heavily on social media and Google ads for advertising.
Most of the housing, real estate websites today are tarnished for having either brokers or misleading pictures of the houses on them. According to an earlier article published by YourStory, more than 95 per cent of the listings are uploaded by brokers and not end-customers. Responding to how they tackle this challenge, the co-founders explain that every picture of the hostel room, mess, and washroom etc. is uploaded by their team and not the house owners. Therefore, there is a verification process at the backend where every property is personally checked. Moreover, they have a column for review which is closely monitored.
Considering they are new, the team personally goes (in person) to check every facility or property which is uploaded on their website, conclude the co-founders.
Tarush is driven towards delivering unbiased and accurate reportage while engaging with as many mediums as possible to narrate a fresh perspective. Working for the past few years in the digital space with YourStory, he has covered the Indian technology ecosystem extensively, focusing on new age Fintech companies, while building strong connects within the industry.