As if leaving your nest to fight in the corporate battlefield isn’t hard enough, finding your next humble abode online gives you second thoughts all over again. The existing options of PGs, hostels and apartments very often lack the three basic requirements of a millennial – that is entertainment, socialising opportunities and the elixir-WiFi. An IIM-Ahmedabad alumni and serial entrepreneur has braved bankruptcy twice, to fill the gap and captain the disruption to traditional rental-living for the youth in India, with one of India’s first chain of "co-living" spaces, CoHo.
Born in Kolkata into a modest family, Uday Lakkar almost dropped out of school in Class VII to provide another source of income to his family, when they faced a dire dearth of money and were nearing bankruptcy. “I stayed in school, but funded myself by doing embroidery work, kids tuition, college lectures etc., until our situation stabilised. In hindsight, that is what gave me the fearlessness and risk-appetite to start my own venture and see through a second phase of bankruptcy while creating it,” he explains.
Uday did well for himself - after graduating from St. Xavier's College, Kolkata, he completed professional courses like CA and CS to start his career, and worked his way up to earn an ivy-league education at IIM-A. Tables turned, and a bright future beckoned – he worked as a private equity investor at McKinsey, Morgan Stanley, Ireo and Network18, but dumped the suite life to startup. His first venture, Zocalo.in, that went on to become one of the most successful broker-free listing platforms for PGs, hostels, shared apartments, was where he had his Bodhi tree moment.
“The idea of CoHo evolved from our listing-based platform. We realised that it’s difficult to monetise it directly, because we cannot control the actual on-ground quality of youth accommodation provided in India, despite providing all the information about them, including ratings and reviews. Hence came the idea of creating something which truly disrupts the living experience of youngsters in India,” Uday says.
He touched base with now co-founder and best friend Amber Sajid to float the idea. They used to work together at Ireo, a real-estate fund-cum-developer.Amber brings with him two decade-long worth of experience across real estate and retail.
Keeping the millennial-Indian 'work-hard, play harder' generation in mind, the duo charted a trajectory, creating a vibrant chain of fully-furnished rental accommodations, with utility services, an online concierge, and most importantly, the community living experience by getting a bunch of like-minded individuals together.
“There’s TV and DTH connection, high speed Wi-Fi, a pool table, a foosball table, mini golf, PS3 and regular housekeeping and maintenance, so I’d say the decor and amenities clearly set CoHo apart from hostels or PGs. The look and feel of the space is young, vibrant and energetic. Patterns in the wall paint, theme-based posters, wall arts and quirky cushion covers everywhere,” Uday says. Not having unisex properties yet, their rules are lax and liberal, where their inhabitants can have their friends from the opposite gender over at the lounge area in every property.
The residents also get access to an exclusive app, wherein they get free assistance from an online concierge and can avail of a host of offers from their partner brands like PizzaHut, Beer Café, Foodpanda, LensKart, Shuttl, InnerChef, Sutra pub, VanityCube etc.
CoHo Villas have 10-14 rooms with about 25-30 people staying together, with a lounge area that becomes the hotbed for the whole community living experience – but for those who need their privacy, CoHo has flats as well. Their dorms are tailor-made for college students to crash together, complete with study labs, recreation areas, commuting options to college etc.
Pricing is easy on the pocket - ranging from Rs 9,000-15,000 per month for shared rooms, and Rs 17,000-25,000 per month for solo rooms. Currently, CoHo is hosting an interesting bunch – employees from Snapdeal, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, Max Life, Airtel, Mckinsey, KPMG, PWC, Schlumberger and various colleges in DU and business schools in Delhi NCR, and their community events and gaming nights make sure the residents learn to engage and chill in an informal setting.
Since their inception nine months ago, they have more than 20 properties across Delhi-NCR with over 300 beds occupied. Scaling up will see more than 1,800 spots on offer. CoHo works on an asset-light approach with very high lifecycle value of a customer with annuity cash flows, with a typical contract life of 12 months and strong traction of 30+ percent growth month-on-month and 90+ percent average occupancy.
Locally, there are many players in the accommodation space like Nestaway, Fella Homes, which focus more on the real estate part of things and not on the living experience like CoHo does. But the largest chunk of the market is still dominated by the traditional hostels or PGs, or youngsters taking apartments together in the absence of a systematic co-living space brand in India.
Globally, the concept of co-living has come of age, with players like WeLive (US), Common (US), You+ (China) leading the wave in their respective countries.
The venture was heavily seed-funded by Uday’s personal savings. “Building anything which has a physical aspect to it is always tough in India, given that it becomes a very strong execution play. Like many startup founders, I had my share of tough times when I went bankrupt last year and defaulted on my home utility bills after having invested very heavily in the venture as a seed investor myself,” says Uday. But the numbers started trickling in, and so did the interest of angels.
CoHo raised an angel round from an assortment of startup bigwigs and veterans like Sachin Bhatia (Co-founder, MakeMyTrip and TrulyMadly), Rajesh Sawhney (Co-Founder, GSF and InnerChef), Mahesh Parasuraman (Ex-MD, Carlyle PE), Dheeraj Jain (Partner, UK based Hedge fund), amongst others.