Technology is changing the world, in a very big way. It is now influencing almost every aspect of life and will continue to do even more so as we move forward.
While it helped streamline and simplify several aspects of life, there still are multiple challenges to be solved in several sectors and in multiple areas before technology could be adopted as the defacto standard for conducting transactions.
Real-estate, especially home buying and renting in India is one such industry which is yet to be perfected by technology. It is an area with huge scope and potential. So far, we’ve seen real-estate and property related sites like housing.com etc., that help searching for the right home to buy/rent but none that go all the way to the last-mile for the customer. In other words, none of these existing realty sites help with important things like negotiating the price and terms of sale or rent. But all that is set to change with a new real estate portal from India.
TheHouseMonk.com which labels itself as a “Technology Powered Real Estate Agency” has set-out to disrupt this space by helping real-estate clients through the last mile. They not only help with the online listings and initial search but also assist with negotiations, paperwork and to the point of closing the deal.
In other words, TheHouseMonk is like Google & Amazon rolled into one for real-estate transactions. They are currently servicing the Bangalore market but will soon expand to other cities in India. Here is their startup journey in the words of one of its founders, Ajay Kumar.[hero heading=”Ajay Kumar, Co-Founder, TheHouseMonk.com”]“I got into startups to right a wrong”[/hero]
1. The Pitch
TheHouseMonk.com is a Technology Powered Real Estate agency. Unlike other property portals which merely provide a platform for buyers and sellers to connect, TheHouseMonk employs a team of Real Estate agents who accompany property seekers during site visits, helps with negotiation and closes the deal on their behalf.
2. The Spark
I was not really a ‘startup enthusiast’ before – I was happy with my corporate job. While shifting houses, I had a bad experience with the realtor who got me the house. As most of us do, I started by searching online classifieds and then moved on to property portals. Most of the listings on those are by existing agents and I ended up contacting a few of them. My interaction with them was horrible – most would ‘bait and switch’ i.e., promise one property and show another. Many couldn’t even communicate clearly and worse still, they were all unprofessional. For the money I ended up paying to them, I felt I deserved a better service.
Following that bad experience, I asked around and everyone has had similar experiences with existing agents. While my relatives in the US had very positive things to share about the real estate agents there, it was the exact opposite in India. It was then that I felt a need for leveraging the power of technology to professionally run a real estate agency.
The solution was apparent –
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- Create a property portal where people can discover & research properties easily
- Build a team of real estate agents within the company who can service customers professionally
- Use technology in every way possible to alleviate customer problems
A month later, I put down my papers and convinced Ankit to do the same.
I can probably summarize and say I got into startups to ‘right a wrong’.
3. The Team
TheHouseMonk has been co-founded by me and Ankit Oberoi. We were team mates in Mu Sigma Business Solutions Pvt. Ltd., where we were working as Business Analysts. Together, we have about 5 years of combined experience in the analytics/consulting domain. I’m an engineering graduate from NIT-Surat and Ankit is a business graduate from Loyola College, Chennai.
4. Why the name
Coz both the founders are big fans of Old Monk rum :p
There’s no logic to the name actually – we were trying to think up easy names that people would remember. When we came up with TheHouseMonk name, people loved it!
5. Our USP
Our value proposition is end-to-end services for customers. Portals merely connect buyer and seller, but don’t get involved in the offline activities (site-visits, negotiations, paperwork, etc). Given that we have a real estate field-team (in addition to our portal), we personally accompany customers for site visits and help them rent/buy a home they love.
6. Initial customers & Market validation
We’ve just begun but our Early adopters have been family, friends and former colleagues. From there we have been gaining traction. People started recommending our site to their friends and so on. So, it was word-of-mouth. Soon, we started getting leads from our site and things are picking up! We use Social Media Marketing extensively – it’s a great way to make people take note of you.
7. Growth & Metrics
Reviews have been very favorable. People love the fact that we’re more than a portal – and people love our portal as well! Our agents are put through 30-40 days of training before interacting with customers and the effect shows in our tremendous growth.
The metrics we use include (#leads, #leads/#deals closed, Avg. ticket size, etc.)
8. Growth pains
I won’t sugar coat it – Startup is an incredibly tough life. For every win that you have, you’ll have to face 100 obstacles and it is not easy. What keeps us going is that we genuinely believe that we’re solving a problem which many people face. And every win offsets the obstacles. 🙂
9. Growth plans
We’re bootstrapped and are getting in touch with investors to raise a seed round now.
We definitely want to grow TheHouseMonk into a National level real estate agency. We will continue to build technology, empower our agents and solve the house hunting problem that most people in India face. Over the next year, we want to scale our operations and cover the entire city of Bangalore.
10. Hiring effectively
We’re still trying to figure this one out; hiring is an incredible challenge for any startup and we’re no exception. We’ve made mistakes with regard to hiring in the past and what I can say is this –
Hire the best people, at whatever cost. At an early stage, people will join you for your vision and not just because you’re offering a huge paycheck. Get people who believe in your solution to the problem – that’s the key.
Truth is, we still face challenges in hiring and I don’t think we’re effective at hiring good people. Readers should probably reach out to more experienced entrepreneurs to validate what I’ve said J
11. Trends in Real-estate market
Property management seems to be picking up of late. Many owners(especially those living abroad) are turning to professional property management companies to manage their properties in India. This is a superb trend and will help the rental industry in the long run.
12. Benefit from startup eco-system
Not much, but that’s mainly because we didn’t reach out to anyone for help (in retrospect, we should’ve. Bangalore has a burgeoning startup ecosystem and people should make the most of it)
13. Areas we need help
We always need help J We’re looking to raise funds at the moment to scale our operations. Also, we’re looking to hire tech people who can come onboard and help develop the software.
14. Our Advice
“In God we trust. All others bring data”.
Don’t blindly trust Subject Matter Experts. Do your own research, think via first principles, collect data from prospective users/customers and then take decisions.
Learn how TheHouseMonk.com is righting the wrong with online real estate.
(If you are an amazing Indian startup founder or enabler of startup eco-system in India and would like to be interviewed or featured on Startups.in then I’d be happy to talk to you. Contact me right away.)
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