India and US based Propadis provides NRIs with a safe and secure property management service for their homes in India. In the past few months, the team has on-boarded 50 properties.
Vinod Poddar was in a fix. Sitting in the US, he was required to pay the quarterly maintenance for his apartment in Mumbai. But his bank account was locked for want of certain documentation and his US credit card had been declined.
“The only option I had left was to call my father, who is over 70 years, my cousin and everyone I know, and also call the person up who does the maintenance work, all in IST timing,” says Vinod, who along with his friends, Shantanu Dev and Prashanth R Bhat, co-founded Propadis – a platform that provides property management services – to deal with situations such as these.
Following a B2C model, Propadis offers services such as preventive maintenance for increased value of the asset, ensuring higher quality for tenants, tighter rent collection process and quarterly visits.
The team has productised most of the services, including an initial property report that it sends to its customers for a token fee or sometimes even free. The report provides a bird’s eye view of the property, trends in the area and analytics.
“In a short period, we have been entrusted with 50 India properties to be their custodian. This is across six cities, and we also have over 10 verified service partners,” says Vinod.
The team also provides a B2B solution for developers and builders. Vinod adds that having an on-ground presence in the US made it possible for them to launch their B2B proposition.
“Currently, we are in talks with about eight builders. This is interesting simply because, along with our B2B offering to them, we can complement with our B2C offering to their actual customers,” Vinod says.
Understanding the market
In early 2016, when Vinod started talking to his friends in the US who he knew had properties in India, to know how they managed them, he was none the wiser. In most cases, a relative or a friend back home would manage the process, or someone would visit India for a few weeks to straighten things out.
“I wondered if we could do something about it. Should a happy event like buying or owning a property in India really become a nail-biting, teeth-grinding occasion,” asks Vinod. He discussed his thoughts with Shantanu and Prashanth.
“We want to help over 30 million NRIs living abroad get a good night’s sleep by delivering trusted property management services for their immovable property in India,” explains Vinod.
Overcoming the challenges
Like any startup, their initial challenge was building trust, acquiring customers, funding and actual servicing. “After all, everyone’s ‘homes’ hold a lot of memories, and has been acquired with not only hard earned money but emotional currency as well,” explains Vinod.
Building “trust” among NRI customers was one of their topmost challenges. To begin with, they started emailers to about 2,000 people the founders personally knew. They also started venturing out to cold leads in the eastern part of the US with on-ground marketing (which has an NRI population of seven lakh people), by visiting temples, train stations, grocery stores, meetups, events along with social media marketing.
Another challenge included finding a balance of growth with bootstrapping, and the actual servicing itself. Vinod adds that the model needs to evolve and they aim to bring in some technology piece to reduce some of the dependencies on the human factor.
Currently, the founders claim that almost 80 percent of the NRI investment in property is in Bengaluru, Mumbai and NCR. The team claims to have established a small service partner network in Bengaluru and Mumbai.
The B2C customers pay a yearly fee of $299. The team claims to have increased its reach in their neighbourhood. They intend to capture the US and slowly other countries. The company is looking to hire more people for on-ground sales, marketing and customer service in the US.
“In India, this being an unorganised sector, we aim to be quality conscious and service differentiators by bringing quality service providers under our belt,” adds Vinod.
The real estate space in India is looking at more specialisations, especially after PropTiger’s acquisition of Housing. There are startups like HomeInspecktor that provides end-to-end home inspection to ascertain the health of any property. Like Propadis, the platform is both India and US based.
According to IBEF, the Indian real estate market is expected to touch $180 billion by 2020. The housing sector alone contributes five to six percent to the country’s GDP.
For the first six months, Propadis is aiming at 100 properties with 10 paid customers on the B2C front, with $3,000 fixed yearly fee and $7,000 for rental or sale of the property. In the next nine months, the team will be looking for a funding of $150,000, as well as for 10 service partners across India.
With the aid of funding, the team will look to scale their marketing and sales across the US, followed by scaling the service segment, operations in India. The team will also want to build a robust technology platform, as well as scale the B2C sales and marketing in India.