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What are some interesting startups in India?


Housing.com

Aren’t all Indian startups bad clones?
At the risk of sounding pretentious, I’ll admit – I thought after spending two summers in the Bay Area not just working, but poking my head around at other companies, I’d thought I’d seen the very cream of all technology startups. Hell, the internet exists, and given past data and personal experience, I too had been a strong adherent of the general belief that companies in emerging markets like India and China are bad clones.

Recently, I came across a startup (that I am in no way associated with or representing) that changed my mind about all that. It’s called Housing.com.

Wait, aren’t all startups clones?
To a hater, yes, this idea is also reducible to pre-existing startups. Just like Quora is reducible to “Yahoo Answers, except better”, Housing.com is essentially “Zillow and maybe Airbnb, except … better”. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from venture capitalists, it’s that companies are more valued by their execution than their idea. As it was with Housing.com. I’ll attempt to walk you through my judgement of the site and the company.

Hey, that’s a fine name you got there
Hmm, Housing.com seems like a pretty valuable domain name. I wonder how they bagged that. As a side note, in case you didn’t know, Indian companies have a horrible reputation (at least in my books) for coming up with the tackiest names. Just check AngelList – India out if you don’t believe me.  I think the mere fact that this company came up with a company name that is

  • an English word (there’s a company called Motorpaneer. One might argue that Baidu is Chinese and a perfectly alright name, but I just prefer simple pronounceable English names. Here’s another – Webchutney. Like come on, mygola.com just doesn’t sound usable.)
  • is not a random nonsense word (why would anyone call their company fusedcow, or ixigo.com)
  • is spelled correctly (try explaining to someone how to spell PlayCez or Delyver. There’s another called MobiKwik. Like Jesus, would it kill you to call it MobiQuick)
  • doesn’t have random capital letters in it (ANTfarm. Major pet peeve)
  • instantaneously tells you what they do (one would never be able to even guess what Unbxd or Airwoot do. At least Facebook is a book of faces and Quora just seems to mean Q&A)

I mean sure – not all companies follow these rules, and there are obvious exceptions – but it’s replenishing to see an Indian startup that does.

A cursory glance
They seem like they’re worth checking out.

Oh, wow, for an Indian company, that’s a surprisingly minimalist landing page. I’m already impressed. Is that their helpline number? 03-333-333-333. Damn, and I thought Housing.com was professional enough, but for a startup, these guys made some darn pro decisions.

A more than cursory glance
Excited, I scroll down.

Wow, still maintaining that minimalism. No ads too. Wow. Those are some darn beautiful icons, completely in sync with the color scheme. Not too much overwhelming text – simple curt messages. Some great statistics and wow – 638,000+ users. That’s fairly impressive. I’m already hooked. Can’t wait to see more. I also can’t believe this is coming out of India.

Professionalism at its best

Wow, a video. I don’t usually click on marketing videos, but I’m so impressed, screw it. And damn, this is some pretty snazzy marketing, some high quality animation in the video too. The video is also under a minute and does an incredible functional job. Wow.

You gotta be mobile

Damn. They’re on mobile. What a professional picture of mobile. Complete with direct links to Android and iOS purchases. Right now, I’m still so surprised they’re on mobile. I’m already half-betting their mobile app sucks, but if their website is any indication, it probably doesn’t.

I heard someone say Big Data

You’re kidding me. Add to a product a dedicated team of  data scientists. Fucking hell. Wow, wtf, price heat maps. PRICE HEAT MAPS. For a nerd like me, I’ve been dreaming about making something like that for India for years. I’ve literally had ephemeral startup ideas based solely on price heat maps. I need to check this out after I’m done with the landing page. The other things just seem too good to be true, really.

I’m not dreaming – other people are raving about them too

Still, simple, people’s testimonials… wait, what. “.. needed a simple tool to find housing after they graduated. So they built one.” I realized this whole time I subconsciously was thinking that Housing.com was run by two Indian guys who probably worked at Airbnb or Zillow for a few years in the US and came back to India and ripped it off. That would make sense given this level of professionalism. But college grads!? Wow, I need to look these people up.
And damn, VentureBeat, Forbes and TechCrunch. The other names are meh, but these are 3 big ones. So, I’m not imagining things. These guys are pretty big. Wow. In shock.

They’re college kids. Well-funded college kids.
But wait, seriously. College grads? They better mean like graduate school students or maybe Indians who did their masters abroad. Pardon my cynicism, but I just don’t see this coming from guys straight out of, say, IIT. Let me look on Crunchbase.


Wow, $40m of funding in 3 rounds. That’s insane. These guys are legit. It’s not that after seeing their landing page I thought they were some guys who wanted to call themselves CEO, but still. $40m is big even for a Bay Area startup, and we’re talking India.

Being new and innovative
Founded in June 2012. Wow. It’s been a little over 2 years since their inception, and they’re already making a killing.
“The company literally photographs every single property they ever list!”.
“Their interface is fabulous.”
“They take 360 degree views for every piece of land listed with them.”
“They create 3D models for every single new project planned”
“They collect aerial views using quadcopters”
You’re fucking kidding, right? I mean, damn, I knew India could offer cheap data collection services, but this is refined to another level. Quadcopters. Fucking Quadcopters. What am I doing with my life.

Looks like the next generation of parents will rave about IIT too
Let me find out more about the founders though. A little googling reveals this:
IITian co-fouded Housing.com to expand operations on foreign shores over next two years
Well, what do you fucking know. IIT Bombay grads. The co-founder is 23 in 2014. If it was founded in 2012, he was 21 then. They were serious when they said straight out of college. As someone leaving college soon, this was about the time I was so impressed with this startup that I felt bad for not doing something more useful with my life.

“We have hired about 50 IITians in last few months and are recruiting about 25 IIM graduates this placement season to our workforce, which is 780 people strong,” said Sharma, who along with the other cofounders are amongst the 110 IITians in the company.

Lol, typical Indian reporting, I thought. A few minus points for this one  – who the hell reports how many IITians the company has – that’s just elitist. But 780 people, holy mother of god. It’s been 2 years. 780 people! I thought about it, but then it made sense. That’s probably what they do with all their people – use cheap labor to collect a bunch of high quality data. This is genius, I thought. That’s probably what Zomato does too!

Some great business decisions

The company used $1 million ( 6 crore) to buy the domain Housing.com as well as a customer care number 33333333 from Reliance Communications. “We have seen a 40% increase in traffic after we switched over to Housing.com,” said Sharma.

I was right – these guys are some insanely sharp minded founders. Not overwhelmed by big money, they made some (in my opinion) great business decisions.

Price heat maps are awesome. And Mumbai is expensive.
Back to those pricing heat maps though. Obviously, I want to see prices in Calcutta. A few clicks and a beautiful URL later, I see this.

Stunning. Absolutely stunning. Not surprisingly, the data makes so much sense. A quick hover over the places I know, and damn. This is surprisingly accurate. Let’s see what’s expensive in Calcutta I thought. Oooh, Ballygunge – I go here a lot. Upto Rs.13000 per sq ft. Interesting, I thought. At this point, I’d kinda given up raving about the company. I was engrossed in their product.

I thought – damn, they always say Calcutta is cheap. I wonder what they mean. I wonder how it stacks up to, say, Mumbai. Let’s see.


Oh wow, Mumbai’s graph definitely looks prettier because it’s on the coast. And damn. That’s some deep read on that peninsula. A quick hover over Colaba and Malabar Hill, and the price pops up. God damn, Rs.70,000 per sq ft. Buying a mid-sized 2000 sq ft apartment here would cost (runs numbers) Rs. 14 crore. Involuntary mental note: next time someone tells you they live in Malabar Hill, judge them. They are rich.

I ended up spending a few more hours on this page. I’m a data whore, but I’m not gonna bother you with all of that. Going back to this website though.

Oooh, tech easter eggs and a backbone on rails.
For the nerd inside me, I want to see how they built this thing. Let’s look at their source.

Amazing. I’m literally blushing at the screen at this point. Taking a leaf out of the books of many successful web companies, they have some awesome ASCII art, as well as a note pointing people to the careers page. Absolutely marvelous. Too good, guys. Too good. Otherwise, I see some bootstrap (they are a startup after all), and I see some backbone (++ for modern-ish technology).

What about their backend, I think. A quick search on BuiltWith – Web Technology Profiler reveals Ruby on Rails. Not the best, I think to myself, but modern enough. Very impressive. I would probably judge hardcore if it was PHP or something, but RoR is passable. Still awesome!

Does it just look pretty, or does it actually work?
Let’s go back to seeing how the website does what they’re supposed to do in the first place – find housing.

I’m met with this beautiful interface. Very Zillow-like, I think to myself. Except, better. Much better. The cynical Indian in me was half expecting half the buttons and controls to break if I clicked too quickly, but not only was this very well designed with consistent, professional, flat design, but the site was very stable and functional. I made a test search in Kolkata. Wow, all the features seem to be there. I wonder how the quality of data for these listings are.
The prices seem accurate enough, I think. I click on a listing.
Wow, watermarked actual photos of a house!? Are you shitting me? In India. This was the kicker. This sealed the deal. Their data is great. I click on another listing to verify.
Yup, same. These are actual legitimate photos of a house, in a presumably exact location with an exact price.
My eyes zoom in to catch these ratings – ‘Lifestyle rating’, ‘Great Locality’, ‘Premium Society’, it says. I’m in disbelief. I’m half inclined to believe these are just random numbers. There’s no way, I thought to myself.
I clicked on details.

Yup, it actually works.

I’m continually shaking my head in amazement at this point. The detail is ridiculous. I don’t think I know everything about my own house. Square footage, rent, security deposit, lease type, facing direction, power backup, security, wow. These are not just arbitrary features – these were clearly well thought out and tailor precisely to an Indian home seeker. These guys definitely did their user research. And what’s this? Amenities? Bedrooms, Bathrooms, AC, TV, cupboard, bed, dining table, parking, …. , washing machine, servant room, gas pipeline. I can’t think of one thing I want to know about this property that the site doesn’t tell me.

It actually works pretty darn well
But, behold. I click on the two other tabs left. At lightning speed, Housing.com presents the precomputed paths from the housing point to all the nearest bus stops, train stations, and airports. Do I even need to visit this property before purchasing it any more?

 


The ‘Nearby’ tab. In a fraction of a second, Housing.com will show me nearby night clubs, ATMs, hospitals, schools, and 16 other such necessary establishments around the listing. Crazy.

Much awe. So rave.
I could go on, and talk about how this experience is customized for land areas – complete with seamless 3D panoramic views of every patch of land, or even New Projects – complete with floor plans, prospective prices, brochures and guess what? 3D models of your house!
There’s even small things – PG/Hostel search allows you to search by gender and the each listing has its associated male/female/unisex icon.

Conclusion: brilliant
All in all, despite the occasional self-pity, I was extremely impressed by everything I read about Housing.com. I didn’t worry too much about their revenue model, but I’d be curious to know how they are raking in their dough. More than anything, I think, I really wanted to meet the people working and there, and the thought of working for Housing.com briefly crossed my mind – mostly because I was so impressed by the quality of their product. Just from this a n00b overview of a company, just about everything about them left me awestruck. I’m no Indian startup veteran, but it definitely struck me as potentially one of the hottest startups in that market.

Disclaimer: Again, I’m not associated with or representing Housing.com in any way. This is my unbiased view on a startup I heard about.

No, really – I have no clue who and what the Housing.com people do, or are. I am not being paid or otherwise told to do this.