[The Turning Point] How a doctor-turned-entrepreneur built one of India's largest co-living startups

The Turning Point is a series of short articles that focusses on the moment when an entrepreneur hit upon their winning idea. Today, we look at Bengaluru-based Zolostays, the co-living space that is making waves in the real estate market.
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An MBBS from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Delhi in 2007, Nikhil Sikri practised as a doctor for a while in Singapore’s Institute of Mental Health (IMH). However, his calling seemed to be away from the world of medicine.

After completing an MBA from the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, Nikhil took the entrepreneurial plunge. 

Hailing from Haryana, Nikhil always wanted to build something that would create an impact in the everyday life of an individual. 

The team at Zolo Stays

To begin with, he started a medtech company with his younger brother Akhil Sikri, but realised the product just didn’t reach the number of people he had hoped. The brothers, along with Nikhil’s wife Sneha Sikri, then decided to look at the education space and started AugBrain in 2014

“At that point in time, I was only moonlighting for them. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the right model for the product,” he says. 

But the trio were still focussed on building something that truly impacted people’s lives. Digging deeper, they realised that one of the biggest problems people faced was in the real estate space. The paying guest market in India was largely unorganised, with a huge gap in affordable living space. With dirty rooms and no focus on food or community, they realised the space needed a shift. 

The eureka moment 

“Today, people are changing the way they live, and it just isn’t students or singles looking at the co-living space, but it is also the need of the strong transient population and couples. Yet, the market didn’t have many safe and reliable options. It was a highly broken space, and it led us to start Zolostays,” says Nikhil. 

Founded in 2015, Zolostays originally started as an aggregator of PG accommodation by on-boarding existing suppliers on its platform, and unifying these under its branding. But within six months and despite touching a scale of 20,000 beds, it decided to pivot the business in order to control the entire experience. 

“When we were in the aggregator model, we didn’t have control over things like maintenance and repair, food, cleanliness. Because, the property wasn’t owned by us and we didn’t have much of a say. Training works only up to a certain extent. Our whole premise of starting up was to give our tenants the best co-living experience. This we couldn’t promise with an aggregator model, so we pivoted to a lease model,” says Nikhil. 

At present, Zolostays currently has over 350 properties across 10 cities including Bengaluru, Chennai, Kota, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Coimbatore, Pune, Gurugram, Noida, and Hyderabad. It works through two kind of models - Zolo Standard and Zolo Select. 

Zolostays, which raised $35 million in two rounds of funding, has 45,000 live beds and has locked-in 2,00,000 beds for the near future. Its target customers are students and early professionals.  

(Edited by Megha Reddy)