Kolkata-based Monest reviews and rates real estate agents to bring transparency to the online market; currently operational in two cities, it aims to expand to 22 cities in 18 months.
The walls were closing in on Mohit and Nidhi B Sancheti. As first-time buyers of real estate, the couple came face to face with multiple problems: connecting with multiple agents who added no value to the property scouting process, wading through a barrage of information, and struggling to find quality amid the quantity.
The problems led them to think of solutions and in January 2018, the couple founded Monest, a real estate platform that helps consumers search for property agents, share their requirements, and rate them. The idea was simple: to build a platform like Zomato or LinkedIn for the real estate industry. This would allow agents, developers, and realtors to have an online presence and profile, and allow reviews and ratings to make the process easier and credible for end-users.
Kolkata-based Monest aims to be a global marketplace that helps users ﬁnd the right property advisor, facilitates agent-to-agent business transactions, and assists developers in ﬁnding the right channel partner. It is currently operational in Kolkata and Pune.
Mohit, who was running an F&B venture in Kolkata prior to starting up, says, “Our goal is to build trust and credibility of the agent community by showcasing their skills. This will ensure consumers seek agent services for their real estate transactions.”
Mohit and Nidhi – both under 30 years of age - have a strong real estate background. Nidhi's family is in the real estate business, and she started assisting her father when she turned 18 as part of a sales team that developed and sold residential units in Nagpur. Her first stint with entrepreneurship was in 2014 when she launched Lifestyle Interior Mall, a furniture and furnishings store spread across 15,000 square feet in Nagpur. The mall scaled in the first year of operation and achieved break-even in the second year. “You can say we were trained to be entrepreneurs and it was what we were prepared for,” says Nidhi. Her husband too had a similar background.
Mohit graduated from Singapore Institute of Management in Business Management (RMIT- External Programme) in 2012. He soon joined his family's real estate business, which helped him understand the nuances of the sector. From 2012 to 2016, Mohit managed and led the Kolkata operations of VEDA, a chain of restaurants by renowned fashion designer Rohit Bal. He also founded and launched two other brands Zasu and Kaps.
Mohit, whose areas of expertise include digital marketing and application of technology in web and mobile marketing, helped his father build a website for his primary business (land development).
“It was while working on the website that I realised the need to simplify the real estate decision-making process. This, coupled with our frustrating buying experience, gave birth to Monest,” Mohit says. At Monest, Mohit leads the company’s technology division – he has built the platform from scratch, in addition to shaping the platform’s mobile and web presence.
The duo has invested Rs 3 crore of their own money into Monest. They have three mentors/directors and seed capital investors - Prashant Chopra, Saurav Dugar, and Nikhil Karnani, all reputed names in the Kolkata real estate market. The three are helping Mohit and Nidhi fine-tune operations and brand strategy.
The market and Monest’s proposition
Globally, 70-80 percent of the transactions in the real estate market take place through the agent route. Approximately 60-70 percent of sales in the primary market are agent-driven for structured and organised developers.
“Real estate agents are crucial and at the centre of all transactions internationally. However, in India, real estate agents are possibly the most ignored segment,” Mohit says.
According to Knight Frank, the real estate broking industry in India is Rs 18,000 crore in size. But Indian brokers don’t have certification, registration, or due verification by authorities. As a result, unorganised broking firms have mushroomed.
Strong governance laws like The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act 2016, which seeks to protect home buyers, boost investments in real estate and establish Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) in each state for regulation of the sector, are a welcome change and bring a lot more credibility and regulation to the sector.
Monest aims to solve the common problem that buyers perceive around property listing portals: numerous listings, unclear status of properties, unknown ownership, misleading pictures, unverified/fake listings, and more.
How does it work? Monest helps buyers and developers discover, connect, and transact with the right agents to get the best deals. Apart from this, it:
- Facilitates agent-to-agent connectivity and business transactions.
- Brings agents back into focus by creating a differentiating factor between professional and non-professional agents through ratings and reviews.
- Helps real estate agents generate more quality leads and grow their business with less time spent on conversion.
The business model
The real estate ecosystem has three important stakeholders: end users, realtors, and developers. Monest, through its platform and technology, is impacting all touch points of the real estate ecosystem. It charges customers for accessing the agent and closing the deal through the agent.
“Our search algorithm takes into account a bunch of parameters - one of which is matching properties (there is a weightage assigned to matching properties as well as to rankings). Once the consumers connect with an agent (based on ratings/reviews, affiliation, history of customers serviced, matching properties etc.), the matching properties are showcased to the consumer,” Nidhi says.
On the B2B side, a couple of brands are attempting to connect the agent fraternity and offer solutions through Monest.
Their first launch market was in Pune. In the initial days, they focused on investing in the supply of agents on the portal - the first client meeting was with a well-known realtor when the couple had quit their jobs in reputed tech companies. The meeting, in a coffee shop, lasted over two hours and focused on how Monest would make a difference to their professional life with its unique proposition of bringing agents into the spotlight.
“They made their digital profiles there itself on our platform. They also went through the product and provided suggestions. The very next day, they called us up and referred 10 more professional, like-minded realtors who wanted to enroll with us,” Nidhi says.
Two months into their consumer launch this May, inspired by the response from listed agents on the portal, they decided to roll out their “premier agent partnership programme” to a select set of agents who fit the criteria for Monest. The Monest partnership programme focuses on two important aspects: building the agent’s brand and generating business for them by providing high-quality business inquiries.
Challenges and way ahead
The journey hasn’t been without its challenges. The main one, the founders say, has been building a company from scratch, without prior experience. Being bootstrapped makes it tougher, especially when building a product with a B2C arm and a quick monetisation plan. Along the way, they needed to tackle issues like building different teams (what to keep in-house, what to outsource), scouting for talent, and fund allocation to each vertical.
Monest has 1,150 plus listed agents in Pune; they have serviced over 10,000 consumers. “There are more than 5,000 agents seeking to be listed with Monest, but the process is slow as we follow a stringent verification process,” Mohit says.
Since their launch in March 2018, the company claims to have showcased a growth rate in its website traffic by 3X along with a steady addition of over 300 agents every month. They have generated an average ticket size for buying and selling of properties between Rs 40 lakh and Rs 45 lakh and an average rental ticket size between Rs 22,000 and Rs 25,000. About 40 percent of active agent base contributes to the business month on month.
Monest is already generating revenue - in the first month of monetisation for Pune, the startup hit a monthly revenue run rate of Rs 2 lakh per month. It expects to double this figure in the next month. It has ambitious plans for the future: expanding to 22 cities in 18 months, growing developer-agent partnerships, and closing gross revenues at Rs 21 crore.
Will Monest be able to use technology to scale up and hit a home run?