Capitalising on the power of data

Capitalising on the power of data

Advitiya Sharma, along with 11 co-founders, set up Housing.com as a map-based home search portal that offers more than 100 data points, at just a click

POORNIMA KAVLEKAR

Twelve IIT Mumbai graduates, during their discussion about their future after college, realised that house hunting was going to be a nightmare for them. And just as expected, Advitiya Sharma and his friends took around 45 days to 50 days to find a house of their choice – close to work, good locality and within their budget. This is not unique in anyway but their journey from here is a story that we would like to bring to you.

Hailing from small towns, Sharma and his friends worked on this pain-point and set up Housing.com, a map-based home search portal.  Housing.com is in the business of helping people showcase their property, land and new projects in the best possible way and charges subscription based on the requirement, visibility and time frame.

“We decided to couple our passion for technology and solve this long standing issue,” recalls Sharma. He and his co-founders worked out a simple strategy – to replicate the offline experience of a home search without necessitating a physical presence.  For this, one needs to understand the main factors that work on people’s mind while searching for a house.

“We knew we had to give information about what lies inside the house and came up with process innovation through in-house data collection,” says Sharma.  The portal currently offers close to 100 data points about a house which include price, information about features inside the house like availability of furniture and fixtures and presents photos of the house from various angles. The company has around 300 to 400 people in its data collection team.

The founders decided to enter the Mumbai market initially as they believed it was the most dynamic and toughest market to crack. They took the learnings from this market and expanded across country.  With a team size of around 900 spread across all offices, Housing.com is present in the eleven major real estate markets of the country and has around 70,000 to 80,000 people visiting its portal, each day.

Mapping out its process

While speaking about the company’s processes, Sharma begins with data collection. “After we hire people in our data collection team, we train them for two weeks,” he says.  Subsequently, they are sent to take data inventory from partner agents, landlords or builders. As mentioned earlier, the extensive compiling of data ensures that Housing.com’s users have close to a 100 data points to base their decision on.

The company soon realised that their prospective customers also want to know what lies in and around the house. So they started providing information on society, amenities, availability of transportation and so on. “We developed a map-based interface with icons of the house which will give complete information about house,” says Sharma. So, through the photos and data points, people know about the inside of a house while the map gives information about the neighbourhood.

Building its brand

Most of the traction that the platform has received so far has been through online marketing and networking. The company wanted to first focus on building the product and its business model and is now working towards building the brand over the next few quarters.

Its competitors have had large spends on marketing, especially in television and print media, for a nearly a decade. However, Housing.com has received a good response through just its online marketing initiatives which has given the founders the confidence to expand into 40 Tier-II cities over the next two quarters.  This will help it boost the number of daily listings to 10,000 over this period from the current level of 3,000.

The company recently received funding to the tune of Rs. 115 crore from Helion Venture Partners, Nexus Venture Partners and Qualcomm Ventures. These funds will be utilised to expand the company’s new projects, extend its technology to new platforms and accelerate its branding and marketing activities. Over the next two years, Housing.com plans to map one crore houses on its website.

Going beyond the basics

The company, which has access to mass data, has set up a data science lab. The Housing.com team collects data and structures and builds algorithms in such a way that the users can get an insight into topics of their interest. For instance, it offers a housing lifestyle rating. Sharma explains, “If you are confused between two locations which have similar price and variety, this rating will help you decide between the two, based on the lifestyle. The algorithm considers more than 150 variables for the score and helps people find out which locality has a more suitable lifestyle.” The portal also offers a price heat map (to understand the variation of price), child friendliness index (which tells you how friendly a society is towards children) and so on.

In it for the long run

While the online real estate industry in India is less than a decade old, Sharma believes that the market leader of developing markets will be the global leader, unlike what happens in other sectors with the market leader being based in the developed markets. He says, “This is because in the developed markets, the market leader is a US $ 2 billion company and their aim is resale. But, in a developing market like China, the market leader is a US $ 6 billion company and there are new constructions and development from a real estate point of view.” And hence, he believes that this sector is a multibillion dollar industry and by end of the next five to ten years, he wants Housing.com to become the de facto platform for home search.

Sharma is, however, very clear that the founders are not building this company for next 5 years; they are in it for the next 50 years. And as an investment for the future, the company bought the domain name, Housing.com (earlier known as Housing.in) and the national number 03-333-333-333 for US $1 million last year.  “We see a lot of potential in taking this product to the global platform and having a powerful domain name is very important. So we bought the Housing.com domain which clearly spells out what we do,” states Sharma. As far as the number goes, Sharma says, “We get calls to this number from people in villages who want to list their property. And as we are in Tier-II and will eventually go to Tier-III cities as well, where request for data collection cannot happen online, we believe this number will help in creating an identity and easy recall.”

Going forward, Sharma believes that the lack of authentic information will be a major growth driver for Housing.com. He says, “Over the next five to ten years, you will see a lot of people believing in online searches that provide authentic solutions for their problem.” While this growth will happen over the course of time, Housing.com has its own plans for the next few years. First, it will look to develop its portal further by offering aerial view of the sites and projects.  And second is to make sure that the product reaches as many people as fast as possible.


Concept in brief :

Housing.com is a real estate portal which allows a person to search for properties for rent or for sale. It gives them the option of taking a virtual tour of each room using the photographs that its data collection team has collected. It offers more than 100 data points for the customer.  The company has introduced an option of scanning the neighbourhood and making sure it has everything needed for a comfortable life, right from banks and schools to entertainment.


Snapshot

Housing.com

Founders: Rahul Yadav, Abhishek Anand, Snehil Buxy, Sanat Ghosh, Neeraj Bhuwal, Amrit Raj, Ravish Naresh, Abhimanyu Dhamija, Jaspreet Saluja, Rishabh Agarwal, Vaibhav Tolia, Advitiya Sharma

Year: June 2012

Funding: 

* August 2012 – Rs. 60 lakh, an angel round led by Zishaan Hayath,  co-founder of Chaupaati Bazar and ex-VP of products at Future Bazar and other investors. 

* In March 2013, Rs. 1.5 crore from Former Network 18 CEO and managing partner at India Value Fund Advisors, Haresh Chawla

* In June 2013, first institutional funding from Nexus Venture Partners for US $ 2.5 million

* In June 2014, Rs. 115 crore from Helion Venture Partners, Nexus Venture Partners and Qualcomm Ventures 


HOUSING.COM HAS  A TEAM OF 12 FOUNDERS. WHAT’S THE CONFLICT MANAGEMENT LIKE?  

From the very first day, we were clear about a few things. For Housing.com to become great, we needed amazing people. Co-founders working together productively is the first step for that to happen. And if you are passionate about what you do, things get done easily. We have assumed roles based on what each of us is passionate about. And since we knew each other from our IIT days, it works well. Besides this, we have been friends for a long time and we know how to communicate well with each other.