The real estate sector has seen a lot of growth in India in the past few years, with millions of dollars been invested in the online real estate space. While many players have caught the attention of the general public through their products and marketing strategies, cracking the business model and generating steady revenues has been a challenge for many others.
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Square Yards, a real estate startup focussing on the NRI segment, claims to have recently crossed Rs 100 crore in net revenues, with a gross transaction value in excess of USD 450 million.The startup did so by focussing on key business metrics- revenues, profitability and market share. It also scaled up its presence to 21 cities and six countries with an employee strength of more than 900. Here is the company’s growth story:
Square Yards was founded in October 2013 by investment banker and IIM-Lucknow alumnus Tanuj Shori and Kanika Gupta, a wealth manager. Ṭhe husband-wife duo, based in Hong Kong at that time, spotted an opportunity in NRIs. Many wished to invest in Indian real estate but did not have access to unbiased information to do research and requisite support and post transaction services.
The founders did extensive research on real estate in different micro-markets of top 10 Indian cities and started sharing it with the NRI community. When they found the NRI demand flowing in, the company quickly expanded base in India by establishing offices in top metro cities and building relationships with top developers. The duo also setup a website to facilitate end-user research on Indian residential micro-markets.
Bootstrapping and scaling up
Over the next one-and-half years, Square Yards established its presence in 15 Indian cities and five countries and claimed to have gained a virtual monopoly in the NRI markets of Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and London. The company achieved this through investor-friendly products such as student accommodation in Liverpool, mall redevelopment projects in Canada and car parks in Glasgow to India.
Still bootstrapped, Square Yards does more than 300 monthly transactions and has raked up USD 1.5 million in monthly revenues. Then in April 2015, the company raised a pre-series investment of USD six million from a group of HNI investors. They then went through a period of inorganic growth after acquiring Realizing.in, a tech platform for online search and discovery in June and LUXE real estate in Singapore shortly thereafter.
Next phase of technology led growth
The company is now pursuing a technology-led growth model and is building multi-modal distribution platforms. Squareyards.com has now evolved into a research portal having features like city-heat maps, need-based recommendation engine, rating parameters like connectivity, livability, carpet area and lifestyle for 6,000 primary projects and 20,000 unit plans in 12 Indian cities.
Square Yards recently launched Scapes, a platform for real estate e-commerce that they feel has the potential to bring the USD two-billion worth of real estate inventory online. Its features include real-time inventory selection, virtual 360-degree walkthroughs, augmented 3D realty, payments and portfolio tracking for customers and developers. Through the e-commerce platform, Square Yards claims to have sold 350 homes in 19 hours of its launch in July. The company is now in the process of building a pipeline with grade A developers to move their next launch inventory online.
Housing.com and CommonFloor have also been active in leveraging technology to lead their growth. Housing recently acquired Plat and Big BHK to strengthen its supply side portfolio. The company was among the first to introduce map-based interface and then launched its ‘slice view’ technology. CommonFloor recently launched Smart Guard, an app to help security guards record the movement of visitors in communities. Earlier this year, the company had launched CF Retina, a virtual reality tool based on a combination of Google cardboard. It is an in-house developed app to help buyers explore properties virtually.
More recently, Square Yards announced the launch of a mobile-only demand aggregation platform - Square Connect - for real estate brokers, independent financial agents, stock brokerage firms and financial institutions. The mobile app provides them access to a larger primary real estate inventory, opening up more possibilities to do business outside the current area of operations. Square Yards claims to have enrolled more than 15,000 real estate brokers across 12 different cities and has also tied up with more than 25 top stock brokerage firms, financial institutions and online firms.
Brokers and agents who are enrolled for the Square Connect programme can use the app to view exclusively sourced deals from grade-A developers in top 12 cities in India, make bookings through the platform and track status of their payments. The app provides a dashboard to view transactional details and history of a booking and gives notifications on key changes in the status of the transaction like client approval, slab confirmation, collections from developers and payments of earned brokerage. To ease out the operational difficulties they face while dealing individually with the developers, brokers can avail the support of a relationship manager and a CRM help desk.
The brokerage market in India is estimated to be about USD four billion. Over the past year there have been many startups catering to different subsets of the real estate ecosystem. Less than two weeks ago, broker networking platform Plabro Networks had raised funding from Flipkart founders and others to grow to 35 Tier 1 cities over the next ten months. In June 2015, Zillion Dreams, a mobile-first real estate marketplace for buyers, sellers, agents and builders had reached 50 Indian cities.
In February 2015, peer to peer property platform NoBroker had raised $3M in funding from SAIF Partners and Fulcrum Ventures to strengthen its ‘non-broker’ ecosystem and expand to major cities in India. Another player in this space is BroEx, short for Broker Exchange, which claimed to have 15,000 real estate agents registered on their platform in June.
Given improving technology adoption curves and best-in-class digital experiences emerging in other industries, Square Yards believes that primary real estate in India is ripe for disruption through digital technologies and services. Tanuj, CEO of Square Yards, says, “With the Square Connect programme, we are pivoting our business model to be more of a technology-enabled aggregator and distributor of primary real estate rather than a pure-play transactions advisory. This platform will help us reach the targeted 20 per cent market share of primary residential market in India by consolidating supply and demand, creating significant barriers of entry through scale and sourcing capabilities."
The company aims to reach 1,00,000 brokers and hit 100+ institutional tie-ups by the end of FY16. It is also building a nodal escrow account based service with various developers and its banking partner to disburse the commissions collected back to the channel partners on a real time basis.
Website: Square Yards