One would normally not associate the real estate sector with women entrepreneurs. Buying, selling, renting properties is a man’s job, you would say. Till a woman comes along to shut you up.
Kanika Gupta is one such woman entrepreneur who is leading the way in the male-dominated sector with her real estate aggregator Square Yards.
Founded in October 2013 with just three employees, Square Yards now has team of over 1,200 employees spread across 29 offices in nine countries. It has closed over 6,000 transactions with a GTV of $800 million.
Kanika, winner of ‘Young Achiever of 2014’ by Franchisee India, narrates how she and her husband, Tanuj, hit upon the idea of Square Yards while living in Hong Kong.
Trying to invest in the Indian property market, they found it a distressful exercise. “The market was led by intermediaries operating business in an unprofessional and non-transparent fashion. The process became more cumbersome because of activities such as documentation, taxation, legalities, mortgage, etc. Our friends in India and abroad shared the same grievances, indicating that the problems were widespread,” says Kanika, Co-founder and COO of Square yards.
Kanika graduated in economics from Delhi University. She completed her post-graduation in management from All India Institute of Management Association, with specialisation in finance, and also cleared the Chartered Financial Analyst Level 1 from Singapore.
It was clear to the duo that there was a need for an independent and unbiased real estate advisory, and to put the focus back on the requirements and convenience of buyers. Kanika explains: “Square Yards was born with the simple idea of handholding buyers through the entire cycle of property purchase in a hassle free and transparent fashion.”
Along with her husband, Kanika was involved in early execution of the company and was instrumental in setting up operations from scratch in Singapore, Hong Kong, London, UAE as well as India.
As a brand, Square Yards has been growing at a scorching pace in the Indian real estate market, which is worth around $100 billion, of which the primary residential market is estimated at $60 billion.
The brokerage market is estimated at around $3 billion, and 60–70 per cent of it is concentrated in the top 10 Indian cities. By 2020, Kanika aims to capture around one-fifth of the market in major Indian cities.
She lists the USP of Square Yards: Under its revenue model, nothing is charged from the buyer for the services rendered. The aggregator markets and distributes portfolio of over 500 Grade-A developers to homebuyers and investors across the world. For every property sale, it charges a sales commission from the developers.
Square Yards is present across the entire value chain of the property advisory segment – research and consultation, property listing, and primary brokerage and mortgage advisory. “Of this, we are strongest in the brokerage off-plan properties,” says Kanika.
The company’s strength emanates from its unique omni-channel distribution model that leverages a right mix of digital and offline marketing capabilities. It adopts a multi-modal distribution force with help from large sales force, channel partners, events and roadshows, along with a strong digital buzz consisting of web, mobile, social media, and PR.
It points out that human resources has been a key propellant of its growth through the challenges. “We have always emphasised on hiring the right set of people who are not just skilful, but are capable of taking ownership,” adds Kanika.
In a short span, the company claims to have captured revenue of $30 million – more than any organised online and offline player in the property advisory segment.
One of the biggest struggles initially was to earn acceptability from developers as the fraternity was apprehensive about dealing with a new player that was based out of Hong Kong. To overcome this, they set up offices in various Indian cities and deployed sales force and on-ground staff.
But this created another challenge – to acquire and retain the right workforce. Kanika says, “At the top management level, we have a layer of principal partners who are also stakeholders in the company. Today, we have a team of 14 such partner-level individuals who act as mini CEOs, with everyone having full command of their key areas. In the sales organisation, we follow a PnL structure where each business division is responsible for its profit and loss, along with full accountability and a share in the rewards linked to performance.”
Square Yards was bootstrapped till the time the founders were very sure of its success. “Our belief was that unless we are confident of financial viability, we should not be risking anyone’s capital. Our savings and investments helped, followed by retail HNI money. Overall, we have invested $20 million before going to any institutional capital investor,” she explains, revealing that they are in talks with some private equity players for funding.
A significant component of growth strategy would be the Square Connect app, “wherein 2,00,000 brokers would be added in three to five years,” says the founder. Using this app, small brokers can access exclusively sourced deals and inventory from grade-A developers. Likewise, the company plans to continue to expand its NRI presence in which it claims to have monopoly.
Another segment in which they are starting to focus is international projects. They are aggressively sourcing good deals and products from across the globe under the flagship International Project Marketing.
According to the company, it will soon launch a digital marketplace to facilitate pre-money buyer-developer interactions and negotiations on a multi-sided “fair price discovery” platform. This would be a self-regulating marketplace that will take away a lot of unnerving experiences buyers and developers have to go through while a transaction is being materialised.
Prior to Square Yards, Kanika earned hands-on experience in the entertainment industry, being involved in a gamut of things and events. After a fruitful acting career in Mumbai, she relocated to Singapore and then Hong Kong and executed NRI-focussed events, including real estate events for top Indian developers. This gave her a deep understanding and penetration into these markets in addition to enhancing her people management and soft skills.
Kanika has also over the years been associated with social causes like empowerment of women, supported an NGO for refugees in Hong Kong, another NGO that helps children without families, and a Hong Kong initiative to better the society we live in.