Pivot and Persist: Anindya Dutta of Stanza Living explains how the startup has expanded its services during COVID-19
A large number of students and young professionals live in rented properties in cities across the country. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, many of them have migrated to their hometowns, resulting in the slowdown of the rented accommodation sector.
Delhi-based Stanza Living is one such startup that has been impacted due to the COVID-19 crisis. Early this year, the startup, which was one of the first to tap into the student accommodation market in the country, decided to diversify its business and provide rental accommodation for working professionals.
However, it is now seeing COVID-19 as an opportunity to improve its services. The startup has introduced bulk dining facilities and contactless dining experience among other services during the pandemic.
Last month, Stanza Living announced that it will be investing Rs 400 crore over the next two years to expand its operations as it sees opportunities in the rental accommodation business.
Started in 2017, Stanza Living has so far raised $70 million from investors like Falcon Edge Capital, Sequoia Capital, Accel, Matrix Partners, and Alteria Capital. It currently has 200 centres across 14 cities in the country, with a total capacity of 55,000 beds, which are being provided in the price range of Rs 4,000 to Rs 25,000 per bed.
In an interview with YourStory, Anindya Dutta, MD and Co-founder, Stanza Living, said, the pandemic has led to a recalibration in some of its processes and frameworks to continue ensuring that its customers have a seamless and safe living experience, its employees are secure, and its partnerships are strengthened to brace for any impact.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
YourStory (YS): What are the strategies and measures you have taken to tide over the COVID-19 crisis?
Anindya Dutta (AD): Our entire service operations during the pandemic has been aligned with our fundamental proposition to provide high-quality, fully-managed, hospitality-led product that is adaptable to the emerging needs of our customers. Consequently, we have displayed agility in the face of the pandemic to develop a unique, industry-first COVID-Combat Ready Operations Framework.
We are following strong sanitation and hygiene protocols, prioritising staff and resident safety, with minimal interface opportunities, social distancing markers for common areas, strict entry/exit hygiene controls, etc. We also follow stringent visitor norms and we have a 24x7 quick response team and have tied-up with medical facilities.
In partnership with our vendor ecosystem, our employees continued to deliver uninterrupted services even during the lockdown. We are making sure there is 24x7 in-house staff availability and a non-perishable supply in stock.
We have instituted employee safety and well-being protocols like remote working support for corporate employees, frequent temperature checks, mandatory PPE for our on-ground staff, hygiene and safety protocols at residences, and training and wellness sessions with an aim to provide a safe and secure working environment. We have an employee contingency fund to support them in case they contract the virus, and we also have frequent residence / kitchen audits by reputed health agencies.
We have adopted best-in-class practices to deal with the current pandemic, and continue to focus on a living experience that has #NoRoomForError.
YS: Did you come up with any new product offerings to adapt to the new normal and/or seize potential opportunities if any?
AD: While the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as an unforeseen disrupting force for businesses across sectors, we believe this challenge also has an intrinsic opportunity.
As mentioned earlier, we have utilised our learnings and understanding from healthcare guidelines, and hygiene and safety standards adopted across the world to create our industry-leading COVID-Combat Ready Operating Framework.
From a host of measures that are now standard operating procedures for us, I would like to highlight our F&B interventions. Unlike the industry practice of buffet-style meals in bulk dining facilities, we have established a contactless dining experience across centres.
Under this, we are serving pre-packaged meals and freshly-cooked food under minimum-contact methods at our FSSAI-approved kitchens. Additionally, designated sanitised meal trays are provided to each resident for in-room consumption. This is done to ensure social distancing and minimal contact in the dining areas.
We have also stocked enough food to ensure there is uninterrupted supply even during lockdown situations. Our F&B processes are regularly audited for the highest safety and hygiene standards in the industry.
YS: What are the trends and outlook for the rental accommodation and co-living business in the current scenario, given the likely emphasis on cleanliness, health, and physical distancing?
AD: The increasing focus on following physical distancing and maintaining cleanliness in the wake of the viral outbreak will outlast the lockdown. Against this backdrop, people will prefer self-sufficient ecosystems, facilitated by new-age managed accommodation companies like us.
With hygiene continuing to be the top priority, especially for students and young professionals who have been living in local, unorganised PG accommodations, there will be movement to safe, convenient, economic, and managed housing options like ours.
By choosing operators like us, residents can depend on an all-inclusive, self-sufficient ecosystem that takes care of everything. Further, each Stanza residence has a dedicated in-house staff to manage everything, and so there is no dependence on external resources.
Consumers are trying to navigate the shift from workspaces/educational institutions to a seamless home-based work/study ecosystem. This means power back-ups, stable internet connectivity, timely meals, privacy, etc., will become essential, which can be provided only by professionally managed accommodation firms like ours.
YS: What is your view of the tailwinds favouring the managed accommodation industry?
AD: The rental accommodation sector is among the best poised segments to be a green shoot for real estate.
Firstly, with looming economic uncertainty, we believe consumer sentiment will shift from big-ticket property purchase to renting. Families/couples who were likely to consider property purchase decisions will now move towards renting, putting pressure on the limited ‘quality’ rental supply. This will ‘crowd out’ access of young, unmarried, millennial consumers (traditionally not a favoured tenant profile for most property owners) to rental apartments, moving them towards dedicated managed accommodation like ours.
Next, against the backdrop of a depressed employment market, people are expected to return to pursuing higher education opportunities. And with certain prominent overseas education markets impacted by COVID-19, student sentiment is likely to shift towards domestic higher education options. These factors will create a need for quality accommodation solutions for migrant students.
Also, small businesses, especially in Tier II and III cities, are under deep financial strain and are unlikely to be able to weather the economic slump. This might impact white-collared employment opportunities in smaller cities, driving significant migration to Tier I cities for jobs. This will lead to an increased demand for rental accommodation in urban hotspots.
Against this backdrop, professionally managed accommodation will be the preferred choice of living for the young population.
YS: What is the funding outlook of the space in the second half of the year and in the long term?
AD: Managed accommodation companies have attracted significant consumer attention as well as increased interest from business partners (including investors, landlords, developers, and real estate owners) over the past few years. As consumer sentiment leans even more strongly towards high-quality, secure, and hygienic living options in the post-COVID world, we believe the sector will continue to grow and attract investor interest.
YS: What are your expansion plans?
AD: Recently, we ventured into managed housing for working professionals in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Coimbatore, and Pune. At present, we have an inventory of 55,000 beds under both student housing and working professional offering. We will be expanding the working professional proposition to Indore, Delhi, and Chennai later this year. We will also be scaling our student accommodation business to Ahmedabad, Jaipur, and Nagpur this year, apart from growing all our current markets.
YS: Can you shed light on the areas of investment/priorities as businesses are forced to evolve their processes and technologies to emphasise security, privacy, and health of consumers due to COVID-19?
AD: We have always believed in driving cost-leadership and capital-efficient growth, while delivering great customer experience. Our technology infrastructure has been a key USP in helping us set industry benchmarks on these aspects.
With health and safety becoming top priority, especially against the backdrop of the pandemic, it was necessary to quickly adapt our operations to ensure a secure, hygienic, and uninterrupted service environment for our residents. Hence, maintaining high-standards of hygiene and sanitation, and delivering continued consumer value on an ongoing basis are our top focus areas.
(Inputs by Tenzin Pema)
Edited by Megha Reddy