MUMBAI: It’s a simple case of necessity giving birth to invention. Back in 2012, when Pankhuri Shrivastava was a fellow of Teach For India, a non-profit organisation, she experienced firsthand the many challenges of living in Mumbai. It was tough to rent a house without paying high brokerages and even tougher to find like-minded flatmates.
Around that time, her friend Prateek Shukla too had completed his engineering course from IIT-Kanpur. He came to Mumbai that October and the two of them decided to find a solution to the housing problems of students and young professionals.
Over the next six months, they asked around in the city’s colleges and realised that the major problems were high brokerages (two months’ rent in Navi Mumbai) and house-owners reluctant to take in tenants who were single.
“We didn’t know how to start, but were sure that just as travel agents had been replaced by travel websites as they didn’t create any value, the same model could be replicated in the rental space,” says Shukla.
The duo then happened to be selected for India Quotient (IQ) Bootcamp, a free and no-contract 50-day incubator for tech start-ups. The Bootcamp team, including Anand Lunia, angel investor and founder of IQ, and Tarun Davda, venture capitalist at Matrix Partners, provided mentoring and free office space.
‘Share’ a home
By July 2013, Shrivastava and Shukla were ready to launch in its minimalist avatar — an online space that lets you find roommates without paying brokerage. Those looking for a flat can post requirements after answering with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to eight lifestyle-related preferences, including smoking, drinking, food and overnight guests.
“We are leveraging the power of social networks to help people find flatmates and tenants through their common friends, keeping in mind compatibility. We have built a smart algorithm that matches owners with tenants and flatmates on the basis of their preferences,” says Shukla.
This, then, has been the USP of Grabhouse: zero brokerage and heavy use of social media to reach out to youth looking for rented accommodation — markedly differentiating it from the bigger daddies 99acres.com, commonfloor.com and magicbricks.com
Within three months of its launch, Grabhouse had saved ?25 lakh in brokerage and, by October-end, it had helped around 350 people find a house in Mumbai. That prompted IQ and MV Krishnan, vice president of Deutsche Bank, to provide an undisclosed sum as seed funding in January 2014.
Know your housemate
Grabhouse has now added a flats section, where owners can call for tenants. The challenge was to narrow the choice to ‘educated and well-placed’ hopefuls. “We’re creating a sign-up for seekers through LinkedIn that will give the details about their educational and professional background. This ensures people get quality seekers,” says 24-year-old Shukla.
Yet another challenge was to counter brokers, who charge a commission to publicise a property on real-estate websites. “We countered it by generating the details of a flat in the form of a poster, which the owners could post as a photo on FB, Twitter or WhatsApp. In this way, they could wouldn’t have to type in the details repeatedly or pay a commission,” he says.
Grabhouse also allows users to create a customised tiny, easy-to-remember URL, which can be shared by a house owner or seeker. A click on this will generate the house details or a prospective tenant’s requirements. In December last year, the website acquired a Facebook group — Flats and Flatmates Mumbai, which is adding 700-800 people every day. From 10,000 initially, the number of members has grown to 25,000. This has strengthened the website’s reach in Mumbai. It has also spread to 10 cities including Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Indore, Bhopal and Ahmedabad.
“About 250 houses are listed daily by those looking for tenants or roommates,” says Shukla. But so far, Shrivastava and he haven’t spent a penny on marketing. Their costs have been nominal as their eight-member team — average age 22 — hasn’t taken a month’s salary yet. The angel funding has enabled them to rent an office in Malad and meet other expenses.
Having carved a niche for itself, Grabhouse is now ready to charge for its services. For starters, flat owners have to pay ?100 for the contact details of a prospective tenant.
“House-seekers too are willing to pay for the services and we are considering charging them,” says Shukla, but nowhere near what brokers charge. He is also ready to take rent agreements online and charge ?200-300 for each. “We’ve tied up with lawyers in all the cities we are present in. Flat owners and seekers just have to sign the papers,” he adds.
In the next six months, Grabhouse will spread to Chennai, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Kota... “Right now, people are posting requirements through our website and WhatsApp. In future, they will be able to do it through any social media website,” he says. Brokers excuse… click!