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These IIT-ians make your home-hunt easier

Last updated on: November 2, 2009 17:57 IST

These IIT-ians make your home-hunt easier

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Manu A B in Mumbai

Meet Ashutosh Upadhyay and Snehesh Mitra, two IIT-ians who founded EasySquareFeet.com to offer hassle-free solutions for home-hunters.

Their mission is to make real estate services market transparent, efficient, reliable and truly professional. They believe that the real estate brokerage industry in India is fragmented, localised and inefficient. So they have come up with a solution that will make your search for a dream home or house on rental easier and effective.

People who are looking to buy, sell or take a house on rent can place a request by making a call, or just post a request on the website (easysquarefeet.com). They will get an immediate response from the team. Instead of listing a large number of properties in the database, the customers are shown houses after understanding their requirements.

Photographs are shown to them on the Web site or mailed to them. After they shortlist the properties they would like to see, they are accompanied to the site. "The service is very personalised, making sure that the customer gets the best deal for his money," says Ashutosh.

The company focuses on service quality and information credibility. A fascination for social entrepreneurship, creating opportunities for others, handling bigger challenges and building a strong and reliable service prompted Ashutosh who joined hands Snehesh with to start this real estate servicing venture.

"Property rentals and prices have risen a bit and stabilised. We expect them to remain stable over the next few months," says Ashutosh. Here's how the two are planning to make their mark in the booming real estate sector.

Tell us more about how you became an entrepreneur?

Ashutosh: After exploring multiple ideas and taking opinions from several entrepreneurs, I started looking for a good business partner.

I decided to join hands with my IIT Kharagpur batchmate, Snehesh, whom I have known for a decade. He was doing the preliminary study for setting up a venture in the real estate services sector.

The sector fitted my bill because there is immense potential for making a social impact by educating and empowering real estate workers.

Snehesh:
I wanted to be a leader who creates opportunities, and makes way for the masses to follow. So for me, it was just a matter of time before I took the plunge.

Though it hasn't been that simple, the endeavour is still on. There is still time before I call myself an entrepreneur.

I see difficulties as the fun part of being an entrepreneur. Believe me, I would have never wanted to be one, if it was all so simple. I had a lot of fun breaking this news to my wife, though she always knew it was round the corner.

The questions about where do we start from, how we will manage without a job, will it work, where do we get the money to sustain. . . There was so much to think about and do. The fun still continues.


Image: Ashutosh Upadhyay.

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What kind of challenges do you face?

Setting up has lot of challenges right from deciding whether to take the plunge or not. It was extremely difficult to inspire confidence among real estate professionals of diverse background and change their behaviour.

It was tough to get to a business model, which made sense for all stakeholders. Hiring and retaining the right talent has been another big challenge for us as a startup.

However, underlying these challenges are the people issues -- our business thrives on the power of collaboration, which demands strong leadership, management and organisational capabilities.

Convincing people to change their old behavioral patterns was the most difficult step. So people related issues are our biggest challenge.

Was your family supportive?

Ashutosh: I have been lucky as my family backs my decisions. Lack of support or resistance from friends and family can make an entrepreneur's job more difficult.

In fact, one must give due consideration to the support system before pursuing entrepreneurship. A supportive environment from the family and friends is extremely important for sailing through the tough times.

Snehesh: Yes. To say the least, they have been always around. With those comforting words to that handing over the last penny from the bank account, to sleeping with the lights on and handling my aggressive phone discussions late into the night. . .

I think they have become more of an entrepreneur than I am.

When did you start? How has the experience been so far?

Ashutosh: I decided to pursue entrepreneurship in early 2007. The first step was to work on attaining financial security, gathering more perspectives and exploring options alongside. While I was in France for most part of 2007, I did my groundwork to understand the challenges of entrepreneurship, evaluated business ideas and planned for my next steps.

Snehesh and I were always in touch and were aware of each other's entrepreneurial aspirations. I came to India in December 2007 and met Snehesh to discuss further. After considering my options, I quit my job and started off as an entrepreneur.

Snehesh: Things started moving by the end of 2007. Once Ashutosh joined, we were in the fast lane. It has been quite an experience. I always wondered how it would be when I walk this path, but the experience has been way beyond what I imagined it to be.


Image: Snehesh Mitra.

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How did you develop an interest in the real estate sector?

We realised that Indian real estate services was one domain, which is very large, fairly unorganised, uses little technology or best practices, and is powered by unskilled professionals due to zero entry barrier to the domain.

The industry lags behind in terms of innovation, organisation, etc. As a result all stakeholders in the sector -- consumers, agents, and builders -- have problems that we can solve.

We clearly saw that our experience/expertise can create significant value. The opportunity to make a huge impact drew our interests towards real estate services sector.

Most people find finance a major constraint to start a venture. How was it for you?

It was not an easy ride for us either. We bootstrapped with our savings. However, we had planned our finances reasonably well to run the show optimally.

Have you received funding? Do you have plans to approach venture capitalists?

We recently raised one round of angel funding, which was mostly through friends and known angel investors. We have no immediate plans to approach VCs. We plan to grow the business by internal accruals.

How much have you invested so far?

We have invested around Rs 20 lakh (Rs 2 million) so far. (This does not include the funds that we raised recently.)


Image: Making real estate services reliable.

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How many people are there in the company? How difficult to convince people to join a start-up?

We are a team of 7 members. Besides this, we have 24 sales associates, 12 supply associates.

Being a Morpheus Venture Partners (MVP) portfolio firm, we also get guidance from MVP s team of experienced entrepreneurs. MVP team works with us as a limited co-founder and plays an integral part in each step of execution.

There are a lot of job seekers in the market, so convincing people to join the start up is not that difficult. The difficulty is in selecting the right candidate.

Startups need to be very choosy and hire only the best talent. Since, the number of employees is so small for startups, every single one makes a huge difference.

Retaining the employees is another challenge. Employees working in lower and medium segments do not have long-term vision and can switch jobs for small hikes. It s important to create a good work environment, having timely appraisals and salary revisions in order to keep them motivated for a longer run.

How do you manage expenses? Do you take a salary?

Our expenses are managed from what we earn. We did not take salary for over 20 months. However, we have started taking burn rates from September 2009.

How many enquires do you get everyday?

We receive around 200-300 enquires in a month. On an average we get about 6-10 enquires daily.


Image: Ashutosh Upadhyay and Snehesh Mitra.

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How different are your services compared to others that already exist?

In the existing market there are two types of services: classifieds and local agents. EasySquareFeet believes that the key to servicing customers is to create a strong online infocentre, backed by stronger offline capabilities, and combine the two powers to ensure service quality and information credibility, on a large scale.

The biggest challenge in achieving this aim is to organise the sector and inculcate a sense of collaboration and team work among all entities.

With our propriety technology and organising capabilities, we are in process of modernising Indian real estate services space and ensuring highly customer focused services.

How did the IIT help in making you an entrepreneur?

Ashutosh: Clearing the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) to be among the 2,000-odd people who made it to IIT gives a big boost to your self confidence.

IIT offers you plenty of opportunities to learn and broaden your perspectives. IIT gave me the platform for all-round development, gave me opportunities to face challenges, demonstrate leadership and strengthen my personality.

Snehesh: I was not born an entrepreneur, but IIT made me one. Right from having a positive attitude to the killer instinct, to an illustrious alumni network I owe a lot to IIT.


Image: Making real estate services efficient.

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Has the recession affected your business?

Recession has had both a positive as well as a negative impact on our business. As a young startup we were affected by the slow market scenario. Lack of buyers dried up the outright transactions.

The rental market was also affected due to reduction in recruitments (people moving in from other cities). Hence the amount of business shrunk and our growth has been affected.

The positive aspect is that the tough times reduced competition as non-serious players moved out of business because of the difficult conditions. Strong fundamentals kept us going in the tough times.

Consistent growth in the recession period established a strong credibility for us in the market. As a result, we are reasonably placed to capitalise on the post recession scenario.

How's the feedback from people? What's the fee you charge?

There is a pressing need for professional organised real estate services. The concept and the service have been well accepted so far. Moreover, constructive feedback from our user base has helped us continually enhance the user experience.

We charge the market prevailing rates to individuals and provide discounts to existing customers.

How many transactions have you done so far?

We have done over 125 transactions in the bootstrapping phase.

What are your views on the real estate sector in India? Will the rental and property prices rise further?

The real estate sector plays a significant role in the country's economy. It is second only to agriculture in terms of employment generation and contributes heavily towards the gross domestic product (GDP).

Almost 5 per cent of the country's GDP is contributed to by the housing sector. In the next five years, this contribution to the GDP is expected to rise to 6 per cent.

Property rentals and prices have risen a bit and stabilised. We expect them to remain stable over the next few months. Any further increase may be temporary and prices may get corrected back to the current levels, in the near future.


Image: Need for professional service in the real estate sector.

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How do you see the company's growth when there are other agencies offering similar services?

The market is huge and no single vendor can cater to the whole market. More agencies that can give professional services will only help consumers. Moreover, our business model can also leverage the existing agencies and organise them. For us it's all about collaborative competition.

However, not many firms provide services in the manner in which we do. International franchising firms like Remax have recently entered Indian markets, but such firms have work to do because their business models, which worked in developed countries, need significant alterations in the Indian context.

On the other hand, we have a two-year advantage of understanding the nitty-gritty of the Indian real estate market and devising a model that works best for India.

Finally, the proof of the pudding is the fact that we are already generating revenues. The model is quite scalable and we are set for growth.

Is this a profitable business? What kind of revenues do you expect?

After achieving operational breakeven, we raised capital for implementing our plans keeping the future in mind.

Currently, we generate monthly revenues in the tune of Rs 1.5 to 2 lakh (Rs 150,000-200,000) by covering one third of Bangalore. The current set up is under-utilised and can generate 2-3 times more revenues.

A little additional cost can increase our coverage area to help us increase revenues further in Bangalore and leverage the economy of scale.

How do you sum up your experience as an entrepreneur?

Ashutosh: After graduating, I worked as a PLM expert with Infosys for five years. During this period, I travelled to several countries and worked for top notch clients.

However, in my less than two years of entrepreneurship, I have learnt much more than what I did during my regular job.

When I set out to be an entrepreneur, self improvement was one of my primary personal goals. So far, my journey has been a fulfilling one and there is a lot more to look forward to.

Snehesh: The experience has been great. I have always seen myself as multifaceted person, and entrepreneurship has allowed me to use my skills well. It's worth taking the road less travelled by, and it has made all the difference.


Image: Real estate market offers a big opportunity.

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Tell us 5 things that entrepreneurs must do to succeed?

Ashutosh: It would be too early for me to say what people must do to succeed. However, there is something common with all entrepreneurs I have met. Some of them were born with these qualities; others picked them up after taking the plunge.

1. Have passion:  Extremely passionate about whatever they do. They are most passionate about their ventures. They consider their ventures as their babies.

2. Stay determined: They never give up, have patience to keep trying in spite of repeated failures. They have a very positive attitude.

3. Have supreme self belief: Forever trust in who we are and 'nothing else matters'. They like to leverage wisdom of everyone around by taking opinions. Their self belief inspires confidence among the people they lead. Self belief also ensures that they enjoy what they do. Hence, it's easy for them to rub their passion on to their team mates.

4. Should be crazy about detail: Entrepreneurs have an eye for detail. Focus on getting all data points for arriving at the sound conclusion.

5. Have leadership qualities: This is one quality which comprises of an endless number of things and is hard to quantify. In short, he should be able to build teams, drive consensus to keep everyone together, lead by example, command the respect of his men and get the best out of them!

Snehesh: A good entrepreneur must believe in oneself, in the team and in the idea. He must have perseverance, work smartly rather than just working hard. Keep experimenting and improve on objective feedback. Have fun with whatever you do.

How important is innovation for an entrepreneurship to succeed?

Entrepreneurship is about identifying an unsolved problem and providing commercially viable solution to a large customer base. In order to succeed, the product/service should offer something unique, something that does not exist.

Entrepreneurs, like scientists, constantly innovate to improve that magic formula of an efficient and viable solution. It won't be wrong to say that innovation is the key to success. Without innovation there is no entrepreneurship.

Did you have any role model who inspired you?

Ashutosh: I don't really have one role model but I do observe good habits of people to draw inspiration. There are quite a few people whom I have high regard for.

Lance Armstrong: His determination to fight cancer, win 7 Tour de France races, reminds that one must always stay positive. Every obstacle can be turned into an opportunity.

Sachin Tendulkar: Humility, professionalism from a man of his talent and stature is a great lesson for not letting success get to one's head. His undying passion is also awe inspiring.

Vijay Mallya: For being an entrepreneur, who has created his unique personal brand

N R Narayana Murthy: Having worked with Infosys, I really appreciate his vision and ethics.

M S Dhoni: For his composure, presence of mind and leadership instincts.

My parents (Rakesh and Rajni Upadhyay): For always listening to their heart and giving it all to achieve what they believed in.

Snehesh: I really don't have one, but there are certainly so many people I look up to. They have all helped me understand what I want to do and how I should go about it.

But most important of all, I look up to my parents, Chinmoy and Madhumita Mitra


Image: Snehesh Mitra.

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What are your company's future plans? Where do you see yourself five years from now?

By Q2 2010, we shall consolidate our business in Bangalore and provide service across the city. Thereafter, we will look for expansion in one more city.

In the next five years, we aim to have a pan India presence. The Indian real estate is market is worth $60 billion and is expected to grow to $90 billion by 2014-2015.

The services market is estimated to be $3 billion and is expected to grow to $4.5 billion by 2014-2015. We will aim to be among the top market players in the next 5 years and look forward to grab market share in the range of 5-10 per cent.

How do you spend your leisure time?

Ashutosh: My work doesn't offer me much leisure time but I do make efforts to create a work life balance.

I have been a semi-professional cricketer. I train players and play matches. I go for Salsa once a week, play the guitar when I am at home and I like to spend time with family, friends and read books.

Snehesh: There are only two things I do, work and spend time with my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. She is my relaxation therapy as well as my work out dumbbell.


Image: EasySquareFeet planning a pan India presence.

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