SimplyGuest is a twist to the idea of home-away-from-home, hostelsSindhu Kashyaap
SimplyGuest is a Bengaluru-based platform that not only aggregates housing options for working professionals, but also has a hostel of its own.
Founders: Subbu and Ambareesha Athikunte and Mayank Pokharna
Year it was founded: 2015
Where it is based: Bengaluru
The problem it solves: Accommodation
Funding raised: Bootstrapped
A home away from home, which happens to be close to work - this is one thing any young professional or student looks for, and is exactly what Bengaluru-based SimplyGuest provides.
SimplyGuest offers fully-furnished homes to single, working professionals in close proximity to their workplace. A unique hostel of its kind, the accommodation provided by the platform is completely managed, and hassle-free, and the rent includes electricity, water, 30-100 mbps WiFi, DTH, domestic help, repairs and maintenance, and unlimited LPG.
A unique PG accommodation
“SimplyGuest takes care of finding qualified flatmates, as well as their entry and exits. Tenants can move to any house in our network at no extra cost when they change jobs or workplaces,” says Subbu Athikunte.
SimplyGuest has also recently started a professional hostel.
Subbu says the attempt is to improve several aspects of the traditional paying guest accommodation. For starters, the food offered at SimplyGuest hostels is of high quality. “We have monthly audits to ensure that food standards, safety, and hygiene are maintained. There are also no curfews in these hostels,” says Subbu.
Bengaluru attracts a lot of single individuals; many of them earn well and don’t want to compromise on the quality of their lifestyle. At the same time, they don’t want the hassle of finding flatmates or managing the consequences of changing flatmates such as splitting furnishing costs, adjusting security deposits, paying and splitting bills, managing the house overall etc. This is the problem SimplyGuest looks to solve.
The workings of the platform
One can look for details of an accommodation, including pictures, utility connections, and community, on the SimplyGuest website or app. Once happy with what they see, they can make a booking, and move into the house/hostel. All bill payments and maintenance needs are then taken care of by SimplyGuest.
“We also have tools to split expenses with other flatmates, order food, rent bicycles, and additional furniture etc. All these are automatically settled transparently in the rent payments. When they want to vacate, they can pack their personal belongings and leave, with minimal effort,” says Subbu.
Managing the home owner’s needs
From a house owner’s perspective, the platform offers property management services. House owners get their own portal which enlists all asset details including furniture, appliances etc. They can see who their tenants are, and access their identity documents as well.
They can also check when the last electricity and water bills were paid, who the domestic help at their property is, and for how long they have been there. They can even request pictures of their property at any time.
A house manager is assigned to every property, and the owner can interact with the managers for any assistance. SimplyGuest pays rent to the owner and also helps with repairs and additional maintenance work.
“When we take on any house, we document everything from the lift to the motor and the sump with pictures and videos. All this data is then available to our house owner,” says Subbu.
All payments - rent, security deposit, bills, and owner payments - are executed online. Tenants get an itemised rent invoice, which they can pay online.
“Currently bootstrapped, I mostly borrowed money from my wife’s savings; she also helped us initially in finding houses and setting them up. Also, my brother Ambareesha was working on civil projects at the time, and promptly saw the long-term prospects and benefits of the idea,” explains Subbu.
The current team is composed of five members, of whom three work part-time, while Ambareesha and Subbu work full-time.
The world of co-living
The idea of co-living and shared rental spaces have been catching on in the past two years, especially in cities like Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Chennai, which have a large white-collar migrant population.
Many of these move from one city to another but are not keen on owning household goods and tackling the intricacies of widely different local rental customs.
According to a PwC report, the residential rental market in India is pegged at $20 billion, of which urban spaces account for $13.5 billion. The founders of CoHo, however, peg the co-living market at $10 billion. Tiger Global-backed NestAway raised a total of $43 million in funding and is already present in eight cities.
While co-living is still a nascent market in India, there are several players trying to carve a niche for themselves: Gurgaon-based CoHo leases apartments and villas, and converts them into co-living spaces. WudStay follows a similar model. Most such spaces provide furnishing, kitchen utilities, and rental and maintenance services.
Pivoting from a certification model
For the 40-year-old software professional, the idea of SimplyGuest was serendipitous. Subbu and Ambareesha had set out to build a platform that would certify rental houses along the lines of certifying used cars.
“We would certify a house for its livability quotient by trying to answer questions such as, ‘is there a provision for a washing machine?’, ‘are there enough plugs in the house and are they all working?’, ‘is the geyser working and what is its capacity?’ and so on. But unlike certified cars, people weren’t willing to pay for certified rental houses. They would rather go through the difficulties of living in a sub-optimal house,” says Subbu.
It was then they decided to pivot to aggregation of paying guest accommodations. However, that didn't work as well, because PG owners weren't open to the idea of upgrading their facilities with technology and many were shoddily maintained.
That’s when they decided to create an alternative to paying guest accommodation. The duo rented a flat in an upscale apartment society, furnished it with everything a family would require, got a very good WiFi connection, DTH, LPG, made the kitchen functional and hired domestic help; it was everything one could possibly ask for in a house.
“People could rent rooms in a good apartment without worrying about finding other flatmates. Soon, the flat was fully occupied, and that was our Eureka moment,” says Subbu.
Running an operationally intense business
He adds SimplyGuest is an operationally heavy business. Setting up and managing a home for a long-term living requires sustained effort on a regular basis. Customer happiness depends on the physical services that the team provides or oversees: housekeeping, repairs, Wi-Fi, security, etc.
“Sometimes, tenants tend to blame SimplyGuest for disruptions in fundamental civic services like water supply and electricity that governmental bodies are actually responsible for. Even otherwise, they discount good work executed by other departments. Housekeeping quality is a subjective measure. We are trying to train the housekeeping staff to provide consistent quality to tenants,” says Subbu.
Apart from this, the other challenge is the fact that housing societies and associations impose several restrictions on unmarried people, making their lives quite difficult.
Moral policing is also often an issue in such spaces, and often individuals are refused accommodation. The team is trying to engage with societies in a constructive way so as to change this perception.
Numbers and future plans
SimplyGuest’s annual revenue is Rs 1.6 crore. It has close to 120 beds in private flats and another 27 in its hostel. Of the 120 beds, 57 percent are occupied by women. In November 2017, the company started a ladies hostel that has 27 beds, and occupancy rates hover around 95 percent.
The team is looking to be able to offer close to 330 to 350 flats, and 150 to 200 beds in hostels within 12 to 18 months. “Our technology systems and processes are in peak condition currently as well. We are looking to raise capital and in about five years we want to be managing 50,000 beds in shared flats and another 50,000 beds in hostels,” concludes Subbu.