How this college dropout is aiming to make his startup the OYO of office rentals
For 27-year-old Gourab Paul, solving big problems was always a passion. That’s why he chose to work with several early-stage startups between 2012 and 2016, including adtech startup AdPushup, and self-drive car-rental startup Peersome. He eventually landed up at tech-focused venture capital firm Kalaari Capital.
Brought up in Siliguri, Gourab dropped out of college back in 2012. He says,
“I was a misfit in the college education system, hailing from a small isolated town in West Bengal and with almost no exposure to the real world. I had no knowledge on the possible career paths. And, later, I realised that the rat race made absolutely no sense to me.”
While working with Kalaari Capital, Gourab was fascinated by the insights of commercial real estate space and came across unique problems. While studying different sectors and keeping an eye on trends, be it vernacular internet to AI, ML, Blockchain, and IoT, he realised that the commercial real estate space, especially the office space segment, is largely ignored by new-age startups in India.
Startups like Nestaway, Ziffyhomes, CoLive, and others were providing sophisticated solutions to renters, but the office rental spaces puzzle was still waiting to be solved.
Not long after, in June 2018, he took the plunge and started The Hacker Street, which pegs itself as a tech-driven supply aggregation and unified provider of office spaces, be it co-working or managed.
However, being an outsider in the ‘commercial real estate industry’, Gourab didn’t have it easy. Convincing real estate folks was the hardest, confides Gourab, who was often asked about the total experience he had in the real estate space.
The problem they are solving
Over the past few years, there has been a surge in the co-working concept, with the likes of 91springboard, WeWork, Coworks, BHIVE, AltF Co-working, and many others offering fully furnished and serviced office spaces.
However, Gourab says that a customer looking for an office space ends up visiting multiple coworking operators and still finds that his or her requirements are not adequately matched. With multiple co-working spaces, it often becomes frustrating for a customer to go through available options, make site visits, compare, and finally find the best fit. Real estate aggregators like 99acres and Magicbricks have hundreds of listings on their websites run by different real estate agencies; this creates a monopoly and controls the pricing artificially.
Enter The Hacker Street, which acts as a supply aggregation platform, letting customers discover carefully curated and verified office spaces with all the details they need.
“When you think of hotel aggregators, the brand that pops up to your mind is OYO. When you think about cabs, it’s Ola, but no brand comes to mind when you think of office renting. Our aim is to become a unified brand in the office rental space.”
The Hacker Street at present works with more than 500 office space operators in India, including major co-working brands. However, the startup does not share specific names.
Currently doing the match-making through manual backend operations, the founder says that the automation tech for an matchmaking engine is being built in-house and that they plan to introduce it with a new web app in a couple of months.
While most rental advisory firms and co-working spaces are looking at clients wishing to house thousands of employees, The Hacker Street is focusing on customers looking to house anywhere between one and 100 seats.
“Not a lot of players are looking at this target size. Most focus on clients looking to house more than 300 employees at least. But early-stage startups are the most in need of a good office space,” Gourab says.
So, how does it work?
Users can go on to platform and browse hundreds of curated office spaces from partner operators. For the startup’s ‘managed space offering’, the user can submit a requirement, and post-verification, the platform sends links of private database of verified properties. Users can also schedule visits to the shortlisted properties.
These ‘managed office offerings’ include properties that are managed by either a landlord or an individual entity. Additionally, the startup also claims to provide an optimised price that which is significantly lower than what the space operator quotes.
Through partnerships, the startup has more than 30,000 seats of office space available across seven cities, including Bengaluru, Mumbai, New Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, Ahmedabad, and Pune.
The Hacker Street shares 10-14 percent of the commissions with co-working and office rental providers after a deal is closed. According to Gourab, the bootstrapped startup is cash-flow positive.
Currently, a team of eight members, the startup claims to have close to 25,000 users visiting the platform every month. This number is growing at 30 percent month on month, according to the company.
The Hacker Street competes with online office space aggregator Qdesq, which was founded in 2015 . Based in Gurugram, Qdesq offers rental services in 32 Indian cities and, like The Hacker Street, has partnered with the top co-working spaces in India.
The market for office rentals in India is heating up. In March, hospitality unicorn OYO acquired co-working startup Innov8 in an all-cash deal worth about Rs 220 crore ($31.84 million).
A recent study, Global Outlook 2019, from real estate agent Knight Frank, stated that Bengaluru was the third fastest growing office market in terms of prime rental values for office space globally. The report said that the estimated growth in office rental values in Bengaluru by end of 2019 is expected to be 6.6 percent over 2018.
Further, New Delhi is expected to see a rise of 6.5 percent in prime rental values in 2019, and is dubbed as the fourth fastest growing market globally.
The Hacker Street wants to tap this demand as it scales. The company plans to spread this network to Chennai, Hyderabad, and a couple of other cities in the coming months, Gourab says.