This article is sponsored by YourOwnROOM.
For YourOwnROOM, a startup that is revolutionising the way room rentals for singles are managed across the country, the 12-month journey since their launch has been exciting. They are already working with a significant number of tenants across Bengaluru and Pune, validating their value proposition.
Prabhat Kumar Tiwary, CEO and Founder, and a Stanford Business School alumnus, says, “We want to grow pan-India. With this in sight, we strategically began operating in two cities, one each in North and South India. We want to understand what the common woes faced by singles are, irrespective of which city they are in.”
Prabhat manages the operations in Bengaluru, while his co-founder Sachin Joshi has taken charge of Pune. “This helps us deep dive, learn, adapt, strengthen our offering and plan the next steps,” say the co-founders. The experience of running the business for 12 months and adapting based on what they’ve learnt, has helped the first-time entrepreneurs get their fundamentals in place. Now they are looking to pedal growth.
YourOwnROOM has a clear goal for the next two years. By the end of 2017-18, they want to expand their network to 1,000 tenants, and a five-fold increase in the subsequent year. They are also keen on expanding their coverage to two other metros. More importantly, they want to be seen as the most trusted partner – for tenants, house-owners and related businesses – and among the top three players in the space in terms of market share.
Driving this growth plan is the startup’s strategic focus on “profitable scaling” by correctly driving unit economics and keeping the customer acquisition cost low. Prabhat says, “We do not want mindless scaling by burning investor cash. We are very clear on that.”
Among several factors that can be credited for the initial momentum that the startup has gained is solid investor support.
With a clear path in sight for growth and expansion, the startup has been actively working towards raising investments. So far, funding from angel investors has helped the startup hire seasoned talent in property acquisition, sales and marketing and customer support. It has also helped them strengthen their technology platform and launch a mobile app for owners and tenants.
Speaking of the market and why he chose to invest in YourOwnROOM, Ravi Chaturvedi, mentor and angel investor, former President-P&G and former Group Chief Executive - Jet Airways says, “The residential rental market in metros is highly fragmented, unorganised and, frankly, not dedicated to delighting the customer on the demand side. On the other side, the people who rent out their premises worry about the property's security and sustained returns. YourOwnROOM's mission is to consistently deliver a delightful customer experience to the renter, and build a trusted relationship with the home-owners, thus creating great value for all stakeholders. This, for me, is a great recipe for building a sustainable and differentiated business in a cluttered space.”
He adds, “The single renter is highly under-served, providing YourOwnROOM the opportunity to grow.”
This optimism is reflected in the co-founders as well. Prabhat says, “We are upbeat about the potential of our idea and its success. We are working aggressively to up our game every day, while continuing to focus on our core deliverables. That said, we would need the continued support of the investor community and are looking for strategic Investors. We are in advanced talks with a few more angel investors. We need funding to expand our footprints faster through property acquisition, strengthen our analytics to deliver an enhanced customer experience and boost our marketing and sales endeavours.” Keeping in mind the millennial audience they cater to, the company will also have a strong focus on digital marketing strategies.
Sachin says, “We have charted our value stack with an eagle’s eye. We want to add value to all stakeholders – tenants, owners, partners and our investors – by continuing to focus on operational excellence, customer delight, and strengthening industry partnerships.”
Operational excellence for YourOwnROOM translates into getting the basics right every single time – attractive properties at a good location and justifiable price, a seamless KYC process, integration of payment gateways and Mobile Point of Sale (MPOS) systems for easy financial transactions, among others. A key factor that makes YourOwnRoom’s properties a preferred choice for single professionals is that these are usually located 15 to 30 minutes away from employment hubs like IT and business parks.
All these elements have been integrated into their scalable technology platform. Sachin says, “We built the platform to enable transparency and efficiency, by integrating almost every aspect of each business process into our technology platform.”
YourOwnROOM also partners with a number of industry players who are experts in specific areas, such as Razor Pay for payments, PineLabs for MPOS, Fox Mandal for Legal, Gapoon for house maintenance and BetterPlace for KYC. “With the right technology, right processes and meaningful industry partnerships, we are able to focus on our core USP, minimise operational challenges, while making day-to-day operations more efficient.”
The second part of their scaling up plans is all about partnerships to create customer delight.
“For us, growth does not just mean an increased number of new tenants, but also renewals and long term contracts. In other words, growth also depends on customer stickiness.”
YourOwnROOM is looking at making life easier for their customers by partnering with other startups that meet the basic needs of singles such as travel, food and household needs. Prabhat says, “There are so many things that a person who has just moved into a new city has to figure out, other than just finding a place to live in. Even simple tasks such as finding a maid, to buying basic furniture can get cumbersome. Through these tie-ups we are able to offer discounts, which helps the customer, creates the delight factor and also acts as an upselling opportunity for our partners.”
One such partner is Gapoon, a startup that provides comprehensive home maintenance services like plumbing, carpentry, painting and electrical work. Talking about how the partnership has helped Gapoon, co-founders Apoorva Mishra, Ankita Asai, Ankit Bindal and Nikhil, all IIT Kanpur alumni, say, “Partnerships like this give us access to multiple customers at once, in turn boosting the business. It also helps us save on customer acquisition costs.”
The third part of the scaling up plans involves industry partnerships, primarily focused on real estate players including builders and Investors. The co-founders say they are in talks with real-estate players about collaborating to let out properties for rental purposes. “We are seeing a lot of positive traction. People in the real estate sector – builders, property management agencies, developers and investors – can tell you how there are several properties that are vacant even in well-established housing complexes and gated communities. Our proposition can help them optimally monetise that vacant property and increase saleability, while enabling us to scale rapidly as well.”
From crafting a well-defined problem statement about a key problem in India, to designing an effective business solution, or understanding the landscape of the sector, the co-founders have gone beyond the surface.
“What we are trying to do is reinvent the rental landscape, especially for singles, and champion the cause of single living.” say the co-founders.
“It’s both, a business and a social problem that we are trying to solve,” quips Sachin.
“’No more nights adjusting on the sofa for singles. Welcome to a life without comprises – that’s the larger message YourOwnROOM wants to send out, loud and clear,” concludes Prabhat.