Episode 119 / May 30, 2021

Disrupting real estate market with Amit Agarwal, Founder, NoBroker

54 min

Episode 119 / May 30, 2021

Disrupting real estate market with Amit Agarwal, Founder, NoBroker

54 min
Listen on

In this episode, we chat with Amit Kumar Agarwal, Founder & CEO, NoBroker.

NoBroker, as the name suggests eliminates the middle-man/broker most of us have to go through when we look out to buy/rent a property.

NoBroker handles $2 billion worth of transactions on its platform every year and claims to have helped save brokerage worth Rs 1,100 crore last year.

During the podcast, Amit shares how he built NoBroker while facing troubles from local brokers and brought it into realization as a broker-free platform at a time when larger competitors like and Commonfloor still had brokers on their platform.

Notes –

01:39 – Family background & childhood, shifting cities too often

06:36 – Challenges while beginning with your Startup in your 30s

09:54 – Ideating the concept of NoBroker

13:25 – Approaching VCs for initial funding

14:37 – Investors seeking the existence of a US/China counterpart

22:18 – Choosing BTL advertising over ATL considering the ROI at a premature stage

26:02 – Not expanding too fast to multiple cities

37:43 – Listening to what your customers want

42:58 – Bringing premium Add-on services

47:01 – Changes in his personality as a founder in 0 to 1 & 1 to 100 journey


Read the full transcript here:

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:00

Hi, this is Siddhartha Ahluwalia, welcome to the 100x entrepreneur podcast. Today I have with me Amit Agarwal, founder of NoBroker. Amit, welcome to the podcast


Amit Kumar Agarwal 00:10

Thank you. Siddhartha


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:12

To give all of us a background NoBroker is the largest C2C real estate platform in India with 1.2 crores that is 10 million customers and no broker is eliminating brokers and agent in real estate transactions with a tech-based approach. they help owners and seekers save more than 90% of the transaction cost. So, Amit, I would love to start with you know before diving into how you raise $1 million of venture capital and building India’s largest platform in no brokerage and this is a new concept altogether, I would like to start with your journey growing up right your family. please share you know your childhood journey growing up family everything before you know starting NoBroker.


Amit Kumar Agarwal 01:01

Sure. So, my father was a civil servant and he was posted in UP and hence because of his job, we kept on shifting cities every two to three years. So, I think when you shift a lot of cities either you become too introvert or you become too extrovert. So, I moved towards becoming more extrovert because I had to change schools every 1-2-3 years and make new friends, I just do a new school and so on. And so, a lot of my schooling was done in Agra, which was in and then as everybody as it was prevalent at that point of time and to some extent even today, that if you get good marks in 10th and my 10th exam went well. So, I was among the top 20 in the entire state in the board exam. So hence it was understood that okay, because you are good in studies, which means you need to either choose engineering or be a doctor. And then I basically aim for IIT and then went to IIT Kanpur, studied there for four years, and then did then join like everybody else. Then again, there are two options either going outside and study and giving GRE or do a job here, then followed by MBA. So, I gave GRE I got into a good university in US to pursue MS because I was the class, I was the batch topper. And again, it was quite prevalent that if you are among good in studies, then you basically go for further studies. But then I realized that I am perhaps following too much what everybody else is doing, and do I really see myself pursuing MS or pursuing PhD, or just like everybody else switching into computer science, and I realize it I would, I am more interested in business, rather than pursuing further studies in engineering. So let me do a job for a couple of years and then pursue MBA, which I did. So worked in Cognizant, and then in for cat, and luckily, it worked. And then I went to IIM Ahmedabad two years there.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 03:14

And what after IIM Ahmedabad


Amit Kumar Agarwal 03:18

So, after IIM Ahmedabad, I was interested in management consulting, it seemed to be something which is pretty challenging. And I joined PwC management consulting and I loved it so in in consulting either you either you just burn out in two years, three years because it’s you’re traveling every you’re getting up early Monday morning at 3:30-4:00 taking a flight and then coming taking the last flight on a Friday night and come in at two in the night because the Friday Night Flight and I tell you it always gets delayed so either you burn out in two years or you enjoy so I think the thing which I enjoyed most was that the general that a CEO would give an assignment that okay, you need to reduce costs, you need to improve customer service, you need to find ways to improve revenue. But then when you land up at the shop floor of the place where people are working, and I was in banking and financial services, so they’re most of the people will be hostile because their boss has asked them to add this new group of guys young youngsters who do some work and they have no idea how this business is done. And they are just going to see our watch and tell us all the time which is a popular joke goes about management consulting. So, working very hard figuring out what is the improvement area in their business turning that hostile and via environment into an environment in which they feel that no these guys are well meaning and they are just trying to improve our business was a thrill and was a challenge that really excited me so I worked in management consulting for almost 10 years and then after that I joined ANZ bank, which was Australia-New Zealand bank as a head of strategy, reporting to the CEO of the country,


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 05:08

So, you were not in India at that point in time?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 05:10

No, I was in India, ANZ bank had had recently come to India. With this was around 2012. They had come to India just a couple of years back again back in India. So, I joined them.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 05:24

So, Amit, like, most days a concept in startups that most people start startups at very young age. So, if I may ask you, at what age you started, nobroker?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 05:35

Yes, I think I was 34-35 years. Of course. Now, even today, I see lots of guys who are in late 30s. But yes, at that point of time, I was one of the few.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 05:50

So, when going to VC pitches at the office, you would have seen like a lot of younger folks even first year IITs in the lobby along with you,


Amit Kumar Agarwal 06:00

of course, so. So, I think the general perception at that point of time, was that a lot of youngsters are doing startups and the chances of a youngster’s being successful is perhaps a little bit higher. And the way in which I thought about myself was because ANZ bank was such a comfortable job in terms of very good salary, very posh bank, good working hours, that it felt that if I continue from here, the only thing which I’m going to chase is okay, a bigger designation or more money, and perhaps an overseas posting. So, then there’s that path, right. And that path, once you take on that path, then you can perhaps rarely come back and leave all of it and take a risk and become entrepreneur. So, I felt that if I don’t leave a job, then then perhaps I’ll never be able to do it. Because once you are earning well then you inevitably you take mortgage you take one more house, you want to invest there, and then it’s a golden handcuff. So, from that perspective, from that age, and from the timing, it was a very bad timing because we were expecting our second grade. So, my wife, Priyanka, she’s my batch mate from IIT Kanpur. So, we were expecting a second kid and she of course wanted to take a year off. And me doing startup basically meant that you had to join early because at least 1 person needs to earn. So that perspective it is it was perhaps the worst time. But what I felt was that unless I do something of my own now, perhaps I will never be able to do it. And the mental trick which I use to fool myself, or persuade myself, was that see I have around what 35 years left to work more. And what if I give only 10 percentage of that? So, two years, if I do that to start up, and if I earn nothing? And even if I blew out the savings, which I have, I still have 90 percentage of my career left. So, one that cover it, and if I don’t take this now than when so I think that’s the mental trick, which I used to jump into, to convince yourself in your life. Yeah.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 08:23

It was a 10-year professional journey before starting up, roughly. Yeah, it is at PwC and two years at ANZ.


Amit Kumar Agarwal 08:31

Yeah. And plus, pre-MBA experience. So yeah.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 08:34

So how did you find the idea of no broker venue? And how did you find your co-founder?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 08:39

Yeah. So basically, me, Akhil and Saurav started no broker. Saurav had thought of the name and he had registered the domain many years back. And we three as a as individuals, we were had experienced brokers, because me and Saurav had lived in Bombay, Akhil had lived in Bangalore and we had shifted houses and our experience of brokers was pretty bad. In fact, when I whenever I used to have long assignments, for example, in Calcutta, I had a long assignment. So, my wife also basically shifted there for that period of time and we took out and give it a horrible experience with brokers. yes, there are some great amazing brokers also. But because this field does not have any entry barrier, right, at least for advising the client about taxes, you need to have a degree you need to perhaps be a CA, you need to be a doctor to give any medical advice, but to give advice about which house you should take and when you are making such a big amount of money, there is no entry barrier. So, the grocery guy the pan vala is also basically a part time broker. And because the entry barrier is zero, people are doing it part time. And their main objective is to close a deal because you Just need to have one phone number, connect to three people over WhatsApp, get the client and, and get everything in cash, there is no income tax that you need to pay. So, which has attracted a lot of people who are in there for Quick Bucks, my experience very bad. So, all three of us had experienced that customer service, the ability of guiding a broker is pretty bad. And if you put it in context of the money that they’re taking, then it is purely unacceptable. And we just couldn’t figure out why is it so that it is not being done anywhere else in the world that people are just trying to shortcut the broker and connect both the parties directly with each other so that we should never understand as to why it is not happening. So, I think that was how they germinated. And that’s how all three of us came together.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 10:52

And what was the first version of no broker? was it an app or whether it is a plain website or one of the yellow pages?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 11:02

So, it was a plain website. And you’d be surprised to know, in today’s age, that it can be thought perhaps app is not something which really work. So, it’s not very well, it’s what basically six, seven years back that we are talking but at that point of time. Today, app is basically omnipresent, and you can’t think of anything without an app. But at that point of time, we thought that but at the same time that people will use it once in a year once in two years. So, isn’t a website? Aren’t mobile friendly websites sufficient enough good to have? Why would you need an app or perhaps even if you need an app, perhaps couple of years down the line? Of course, thankfully, we launched the app. And we were not late about it. But the initial version was a simple website. up very clean website, which we try to maintain even today, trying to connect owners and tenants directly with each other.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 12:02

So, do you remember the year in the month when you launched the first version of the website?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 12:06

Yes. So, we launched it in March 2014


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 12:13

almost been seven years? And how can you share how did you build the initial traction, and at what point you approached the various VCs.


Amit Kumar Agarwal 12:24

So, we started approaching VCs very early on because from these IIT/IIM connections, we had some couple of friends who were already in the VC industries. So, we started sounding it off with them. And of course, the effort became more serious the moment a couple of months, passed away after launching the website, because we came to know that this is a very competitive industry, where there are very large players in the industry who have been there for a very long time. And if you really want to make a major difference and get a decent set of customers, then you need to have good amount of traction. Because this is a network effect sort of business, like the more tenants you have, the more owners will come and post the property. And more owners you have more properties, you have more tenants will come. And the same thing basically holds true for buy and sell also. So, we realized early on that we need to get funding and just our pool savings will not be sufficient. So that’s when we started approaching.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 13:29

And if you can share the initial set of challenges, right, including the funding challenges, the traction challenges, which you faced while building nobroker.


Amit Kumar Agarwal 13:39

So, in terms of the tracks, traction, I think the traction has was always good given the amount of money that we had in that we’re spending because we bootstrapped for almost a year. So, I would say the traction from the customers was good, because many customers will read that yes, this is exactly what we have been waiting for how to avoid a broker and how to connect directly because people are making those small Facebook groups and trying to trying to basically jump the broker and connect directly. So that was anyway happening in this society to some extent. With investors, I think we faced huge amount of challenge and the reason was that everybody asked us that okay. So, you have no tell us what is the US equivalent of this, but tell us what is the China equivalent of this. Now there US equivalent or China equivalent. So, so we are not a copy of any other company, which has been famous outside and we are not copying that concept. And although it is being said in the general in the VC industry that they love to take risk and love to put money behind new ideas, but actually they don’t. They all they all they need to return money to their own investors and they would like to take a bet on something which has a higher probability of success. So earlier we faced huge resistance. People ask if no brokerage was such a good idea, then why isn’t there is a large company in USA or China? No, we had no answer. You don’t know why there is not a large company. But as the context is different in US, it’s a regulated industry, you need to clear an exam and there is accountability to a broker. In China, there are large branded chain of physical brokers, physical shops, which is not there in India. So, there is no answer to it. Apart from saying that, hey, we don’t know about that. But we know about India, and people in general, don’t like broker. And so, when I asked when will ask a VC, whether you like a broker, they rarely say, yes. But why has it not worked somewhere else? One was this big challenge. And second big challenge was that how can you collect money from customers upfront, because your broker can always arm twist and collect money from you. After the deal, you can’t basically say no to him. But if you are a platform, and you want to collect money from the customer before the deal is done, because you can’t chase him after the deal is done, then this is something which has never been done anywhere else in the world. So nowhere else in the world has a real estate platform taking money from the customer before the deal is consummated. Which was also another question to which our response was that if the website is successful, if we are able to close a lot of deals, then of course, then customer would feel much more comfortable paying money upfront, because he knows that it has worked in other instances. But yes, that was something which was not done before.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 16:54

How many here would you have approached, I think we have approached every VC in that town, at least 20-25 VCs. And so, I think almost everybody said looks interesting, comeback shows more data. And then there was this big company, which got a mega funding $90 million at that point of time, which is a very, very big amount. Now when I look back at it, I realized that even more so how big that amount was. So, we were in conversation with three VCs, who were in the end who are very bullish, and who wanted to basically invest and we reached the valuation stage, discussion stage with them. But the movement economic times printed, that news about, everybody just vanished. Because they said, Now, we don’t want to put money in this sector because a guy under guy’s got such a huge corpus. But then thankfully, SAIF partners, which is now known as elevation partners, they are the ones who really trusted and they felt that they should take some risk with us, which they did. How big was the first check?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 18:08

So, the first check was, was 18 cr ($3 million), and which basically came into two branches, 1 million and then 2 million. And this basically deal was finalized in early 2015. So, till then we had no office. And that was a time when we first of all started with an office.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 18:31

And what would have been the traction back then, if you remember on how many houses were listed on nobroker, and in how many customers?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 18:41

So, NoBroker basically had in two cities, Bombay and Bangalore. And I think the number of listings would be barely 1000 in a month. 1000-1500 in the months, in the month? Yeah.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 19:01

So, you one unconventional thing is right, when everybody in your sector was burning money, housing was there, common floor was there, which was very prominent, you choose a very conservative approach? What is the reason for that?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 19:20

So, this is a good question, because at that point of time, many of the companies which were there and do very good, so common floor hadn’t. common floor housing, grab house, all three amazing founders, very solid founders, very good company, very good brand that they were building. And so, if you see from that perspective, it was impossible to imagine as to how can we beat them. So, we thought that let’s forget about beating anybody, we can only focus on ourselves and perhaps both the market is big enough for multiple players because these are good companies. These are good founders. We can just focus on ourselves. Let’s stop looking at others. And everybody had raised so much money. And even when they had raised money equal to us, they were spending a lot. So, so I remember basically getting down from the airport and seeing that the, the Meru car is covered with branding of one company and adjoining billboard is covered with the ad of that company. And we were figuring out as to how can we make money because real estate in real estate, if you are, if you have huge amount of if I show you right now, if I show you the world’s best ad to shift the house, will you shift the house because there’s a one by 12 chance that if you shift the house every year one by 12 chance that you will be in that month, today. So, what is more important is that I need to be in your memory for a longer time horizon so that whenever the time comes to think about us spending money like crazy, this is not ecommerce where you will order another pair of jeans because there’s a discount going on a jean, right? So, and we figured out and we thought we saw that at the size that we were in it made much more sense to do BTL then do ATL, because the ROI was much higher. So, we basically viewed every activity as an ROI. Am I getting more customers by doing this activity? And I know there’s a human element also to this. See, if you have just raised funds, you get a lot of congratulatory messages from your friends. If you have a big newspaper ad, 10 will call you and say how happy they are to see the ad. It feels good as a human being. But as a business man, is it a good choice. And we felt No, it is not. So decided, we are going to be very frugal, because this industry has seen many, a lot of graveyards because of not being frugal and spending money too quickly. So, we said we are going to be very frugal, we don’t care how everybody else is operating we are going to spend money as slowly as we can. And as effectively as we can. So, I remember that even after having 18 cr in the bank, we took what we did not take a corporate office, we took a building. And in that building also, sorry, we took a house with kitchen and everything. And within that also when it was summer, we did not buy any AC. and investors were like come on you can afford an AC. We are going to save every penny that you can. It’s better to put that money into the business now rather than anywhere else.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 22:35

And was any of the three or four competitors doing similar to what nobroker was doing or They were more like, broken and the transaction was happening on them.


Amit Kumar Agarwal 22:46

So, grab house, which was founded by another very good founder. They were doing exactly what we were doing. And they were ahead of us by I would say six months, with bigger numbers. Well, even more famous investors backing them. So, they were even ahead of us.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 23:09

but common floor and housing. At that point in time, were focused more on the brokerage side


Amit Kumar Agarwal 23:14

correct, but the question is investor used to ask us tomorrow, they can also focus on brokerage. Right. So how do you answer that. Yeah, of course, everybody can book as a non-brokerage. But at that point of time, most of the players felt that brokers are important part of the chain, it makes sense to always include them and make money from them. While we felt that reaching directly to the consumers pocket gives you a bigger revenue pool. And hence it basically it makes sense to attack that directly because it puts more money in customer’s pocket.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 23:45

And everybody was expanding like crazy at that point in time. Remember, 2015-16-17 timeframe. But what was the reason that you never expanded that fast?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 23:59

So, I think the question which our teammates used to ask us most and I remember, I still remember the guys who in my office used to ask me every few days as to why are we not opening more cities? And our simple reason was that see even investors many of the investors as to buy when are you going to add one more city. And we felt that adding more cities also another vanity metric, because it gives you a feeling of aha that you are expanding your become a larger company bigger. But for a moment, just think about from a customer’s point of view. As a customer, you don’t care whether we are in Ranchi or whether we are in Vishakhapatnam. But now, you just care that right now the street on which you are searching the house is the house available or not. if I’m not able to do a good job on that, then you don’t care as a customer and how many cities am I? So, our question was, why shouldn’t we do better in the city that we are already in rather than basically going to a new city. First of all, our market share in the given city should be decent. Customer Experience should be decent. And moreover, when you expand more and more cities, it puts a huge amount of pressure in terms of your finances, because every new city will consume a lot of money, first of all to become to make, you establish there, and then some revenue will start flowing. And many of the investors basically took this copy paste model from the e-commerce model. But e-commerce is different right there, if you have to, you just need to have the logistics partner, and then you can open up Meerut you can open up Patna. because the partner will deliver those goods, but in our case, you need to be physically the houses should be physically made available in that city. So, we could see that this is, is a mistake, which many of these startups are doing, of expanding too fast before getting decent market share in the city that they are in? So, so we said no to get in hindsight, this seemed to work well,


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 26:00

how long were you in Mumbai and Bangalore?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 26:05

So, in Mumbai, and Bangalore, I think we were there for almost two years before we expanded to more cities. And then we slowly expanded to four or five cities more, but it was very gradual, and very thought after it was never hurried.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 26:24

When everybody was spending, you know, huge on branding, what was your customer acquisition strategy for the first three years, right? Even when he was you had 18 cr in your bank?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 26:37

So, see, our strategy was more focused towards BTL that instead of putting billboard ad, can I put a no button board? Can I put an ad on behind the auto? So why should I spend 50,000 rupees on a billboard if I can spend 200 rupees on the back of an auto that will give me more visibility. So, and of course, Facebook Google gives you gives you a very good ROI in terms of actually knowing how many customers came. So, I think it is also different stages when you are very small, it makes sense to go more for BTL because the ROI is very high there. Now when we have become bigger, of course, now we know that now at given our size, we need to have TV Ads. So, for the past couple of years, we regularly do TV ads, and we do billboards, so that we do, but my only point is that you that we did not copy and try to do TV ad too prematurely when we knew that the other less expensive mediums will give us better ROI. So, we let the ROI decide rather than the vanity metric or a copy pasting of others decide


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 27:47

And you have only two models of revenue, you were charging the customers, for example, in different plans of nobroker starting at 1800 rupees, which goes up to 6000 rupees. And in some cases, you were also charging the homeowner for premium services. Right? So how long did you keep this model?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 28:08

So, the model is still there now. So nobroker is basically a freemium website. So, you can you can, you can come to no broker site, you can search for properties for free, you can post properties for free, there is no charge. But for value added services. If you want more options, if you want premium filters, if you want a relationship manager helping you, we want your phone number to be hidden, then we will we have different payment plans. And we launched our payment plan very early on. So, some people thought that we are going to take a year or so before the year or two years before we start monetizing. But I think After establishing office, it just took us seven or eight months when he said hey, we want to start charging we might just get 10 rupees, but we want to charge something because otherwise we were very fearful that army just is the concept is going to catch fire get importance, we are going to we could see that customers are increasing, but we wanted to be sure that are we going to make money or is it just going to be more and more customers like many other listed platform bid with no money in sight? Because in Indian context moving from a customer who is paying zero rupees to who is paying one rupee is a very big move. But from one rupee to 100 rupees is not a big move at all. If a customer is taken out his wallet and he was able to pay one rupee, he will pay you 10 rupees. But when you shift from free to paid, even when now when is optionally paid only some customers be charged as the customers to use it. But you need to learn a lot customers become suddenly become much more demanding. You need to have your services much sharper. Everything changes the moment you start charging money. Everything changes, the moment just does it for free? You’re under cool startup, everything is fine. And that’s when you when you are really tested that Are you really that good.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 30:08

So, Amit, you mentioned that it was a very different journey when the customers shift from a free to a paid customer. And currently less than among the 1.2 crore user base, what is the percentage between the free and the paid.


Amit Kumar Agarwal 30:22

So are nine, even today 90-95 percentage of the customers in different categories we allow for free. And the rest basically pays for the percentage varies for different products and services. But the great thing is that because it’s a tech-based platform, so the cost of the free customers of getting the free customers is very low, and the amount and because we don’t have physical people on the field, our cost base continues to be on the lower side comparatively. And as a model basically makes sense. So the objective has always been that if we can save more and more money, then it means that that we can pass more and more benefits to customers.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 31:04

But to your competitors, we’re doing so many things your investor would also be saying to you. Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you try this? What was your reply to them?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 31:16

So, I think it was just perseverance we, we three as a nature, we don’t like to argue a lot. So, I think we just always with I think we have also been very lucky to get investors who are very understanding. So, I think when so we just basically followed an approach in which we try to tell them this is what the business reality is. And we have this much of money, we don’t want to copy others to burn like crazy. We want to focus on getting customers, we want to focus early on revenue, and most of the things make common sense. And you also pointed out towards the lot of failures, which has happened in this industry because of not following these common sensical rules. So, I would say that, in hindsight, I think we were just lucky to have very good investors be next and SAIF. They’re awesome, amazing investors. They don’t interfere at all. they guide when it is required, and they have huge faith. Teru has basically from Beenext has helped us like crazy, has used his own personal connections to get us funding when the times were tough. So, I think that way, we have been blessed to get good supporters.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 32:34

And what was the time period when you raise your second round after SAIF? And were there any challenges raising the round after SAIF?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 32:43

So, after SAIF I think the next three, four years were very challenging. So, I would be honest there that that until basically, from 2015 to I would say 2019, those four years were very tough. See the reason was it earlier, people were not giving us funding, saying that, hey, another, other players have raised huge amount of funds. So how are you going to compete with them? In the moment, a couple of these large players got in trouble, then the question became that he this looks to be some problem in the industry. There looks to be an industry so we are not going to invest. Now, how do you answer such a vague insight? Then what’s the problem? Look at See, we can only show us show you our numbers, we can only show you the traction that we are getting the acceptance that customers are giving to this concept. And we can tell you that we are not repeating the mistakes which others might have done. That’s all we can do at our end. But I think so many Indian investors had burned their fingers investing in real estate startups, unfortunately, just a matter of time, that everybody was became super cautious. So wherever we went, we said yeah, numbers looks good, but not interested. So, I think at that point of time, two things which happened well was that SAIF continued to and Mayank Khanduja, which is a board member, he continues, they continue to support us, and Teru from Beenext, he basically reached out to his contacts in Singapore, In Japan, and got those funding. We, we tried a lot in other countries, we basically got hold of a Southwest investor. And somehow over one year, we convinced him that we are doing the job that we aim to do. And then they invested. So somehow, we managed, we basically managed to get a couple of couple of million bucks every few every year or so and managed to basically continue to grow slowly and survive.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 34:51

how much was the second and third round of funding?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 34:55

So, this second and third round of funding was basically through this south core investor, one round was through him and another was through be beenext friends, which were in Singapore and in Japan. So, these second and third round of funding basically


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 35:11

so combined would might have been 5-6 million in total, not more than that.


Amit Kumar Agarwal 35:15

So, we raised $3 million, then $7 million, and then $10 million. So, we raised $20 million in the first five years of our journey. But, of course, it was a pittance compared to what other people have had raised in this industry.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 35:33

Oh, well, did you at any time feel right, have entered the wrong space, because other people have raised so much money, am I doing something wrong here, people are not giving me money in spite of customer growth.


Amit Kumar Agarwal 35:44

Somehow, that I think as a founder, you are always trying to basically solve what is being thrown at you. So, what was being thrown at us was that okay? Indian investors are not interested, or investors are slightly interested in, they’re giving you some money. So, we responded by saying that, okay, we are going to respect this money, we don’t really spend a lot, we are going to spend less. And we’re just going to focus more and more on monetization. And more and more in terms of expanding Were, were, which can be future seeds of monetization. So, and everything. So, we, as a philosophy, we generally don’t go after sexy product feature, we don’t. Our objective is that we are going to do what customers are telling us we are very shameless in that manner, we are just going to learn from customers or of our entire game is to just keep our ears to the ground, listen to what customers are saying. And just copy that. So, if customers are saying, we want Hyderabad city, we will launch Hyderabad. customers are saying, why are you doing only residential can gone to launch commercial, will launch the commercial then. So, we have been just basically listening to customers and also monetizing them. So that we don’t end up creating a huge company in terms of customers which, and have no idea as to how to monetize because it takes a huge amount of time, at least for us, it took a huge amount of time to really figure out how to make a customer happy. charge him upfront and make him happy. And it’s an ongoing journey because customers keep on evolving. And they keep on becoming more demanding every month every year.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 37:25

And when did the large growth round by Tiger & general Atlantic happened?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 37:30

So, so this, this happened in year 2019, and 2020. So first of all, Shantanu from the Atlantic, those are the guys who basically saw that this is a platform which is doing well. And they felt that this approach is right. And this basically can be something which can become big and the revenue pool is bigger. So, they invested in turn 18-19. And after a few months then Tiger guys and they invested. And then in 2020, GA did one more round to increase their stake. So then basically, suddenly, from $20 million in five years, certainly 130 million dollars more than in next less than one year was something which basically gave us a lot more fuel than we had earlier this year.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 38:23

one thing which you shared with me offline, was that, you know, for every decision, you know, that you could have failed. You said that if I fail, I will fail in a way that I’m most comfortable with


Amit Kumar Agarwal 38:38

Yeah. So, see, because there are there’s so much dilemma, and many times its strategic level that see many companies have flourished because they have been frugal, but there are also in lots of instances where companies have failed because they were frugal at the wrong point of time and their competitors were spending and expanding like crazy and which is how they basically attracted most of the customers and investors and employees and so on so forth. So, the problem so I have generally I been good in studies, but the problem The good thing studies is that you know that you need to read a book and if you are good at it, you will correct the exam. But in business there is no set rules. Based on the context things change a lot. And hence it was obvious to us and it will always be obvious to us that there are 100 ways to fail 100 ways to die. So, we basically thought to ourselves, what am I most comfortable with tomorrow if no shuts down? Am I comfortable with the way in which we have died? Or so we felt that we are most comfortable with the approach in which we are saving money within which we are being frugal in which we are charging customers Faster than later. That’s approach and not doing something which is sexier looking for investors but doing something which is much more on the ground benefiting customers, and so that we can monetize more. So, we said we are going to we are going to use some basic common sensical rules, they may not work. But this is how we are happy to die. Even if we die, at least we will be at peace that okay, we followed what common sense told us, or what we felt is the right approach.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 40:28

So, one more anecdote you shared, or let’s say, the three founders, were traveling to a foreign city, you used to take a single hotel and put an extra bed.


Amit Kumar Agarwal 40:40

So that we continued doing for a very, very long time. Because we beat because we went to many, we went to Japan, we went to Singapore, we went to South Korea to raise funds, and many times it involved two visits, because you need the ice, they need one more time and so on. And, of course, if you see from a logical point of view, you have couple of cr in the bank. So, it doesn’t matter whether you take one room or two. But I think our general approach became that we need to save every money that we can, and spend it on getting more customer but not spend on ourselves. So we will, with three of us will go to a country will take a double bedroom, and we’ll ask one extra bed to input we’ll manage. So, yeah, that we kept on doing for many years.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 41:31

And what point of time you started expanding more services.


Amit Kumar Agarwal 41:38

So, this is a revelation, which basically happened in the middle of our journey, where we realized that so we were very, very, I’m not sure if that’s good or not, but we were very, very internal focus. So, we, we will not check any competitive websites for months and months, because we felt that even if we check and even if you see what they’re doing what’s how’s it going to change as we are any, we’re going to do what we are doing. And because our model is different, so we have to pursue our own path. So, let’s, what’s the point of being biased by seeing what others are doing so, not because we thought we are right, but because practically speaking, our journey is different, right? We are eliminating broker. So, we need to change our case our own thing. So, so that we kept on doing and then we realize that because we are eliminating broker, we are connecting both the customers directly with each owner, seller, or buyer and tenant and property landlord. So, we realize that because we are actually reaching at the moment of truth when the customer is closing the deal. And customer is not basically it’s not a broker was taken away the deal. We are there on the website itself. So, we can give these services like packers and movers. And these are very unorganized industry, right? Because how many branded players are there handful of band players and customers anyway searching for a curated player credit vendor who can give them the service. So, we said that we should offer it. Now here again, nobody else is offering. It is not at that point. Nobody else was offering these woman’s lady services. But we felt that this is what customers were asking us. So, customer asked us that, hey, I understand that you will get us a house. But who will do the rental agreement? Because a broker typically helps with the rental agreement. So, if you are not in agreement and who will do so we said OKAY, we are going to do rental agreement. So, I think all of these services came from customers demand and whatever customer told us, and slowly we became very good at it. So, it took many years for us to really create vendors to give this service to get some really tricky service right many of these services can have a very good reason to do very bad customer experience unless you really do a job which is which is top notch. packers and movers painting cleaning, rental agreement and so on. So, I think middle of our journey we realize it we also experiment a lot with it. lead generation or revenue generation many models. But I think over the years, then we know we have become very good at


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 44:14

and what are the services, if you can share the broad spectrum which you’re not at currently, what’s the share of revenue between the old procure services that you offer?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 44:25

majority of the revenue 50-60 percentage of our revenue comes from the core real estate business then then then comes the Home Services which basically forms some percentage of the revenue which is about right, everything right from home loan to insurance to furniture, to rental agreement, everything which is basically related to Home Services, like we do. And then we also basically make 10-20 percentage money from the financial services, which is rent payment. home insurance and home loan. So, so now we are, we have these four big verticals, which is financial services, Home Services, no broker hood, it’s the West End gate management app. And the core real estate, which basically drives all of these businesses.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 45:17

What made you come into no broker hood when there was you know, my gate and it was so much competition in that space? Why did not stick to core offering?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 45:29

So, I even the core, no broker had a lot of competition when we started it. So, there is rarely ever a good field which has no competition. So, no broker hood came comes very naturally to us, because this is a business in which you deal directly with the apartment residents, who are our eventual customers anyway. And this is a good way for us to connect with the customers who are using us for their rental and for their buy and sell needs. And this is how we basically remain in their minds across the year rather than being just reminded once in a year.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 46:05

But what other customers asking for no broker at that point in time, because that is the lens you use to build everything.


Amit Kumar Agarwal 46:17

No. So of course, this question was asked by customers, many of the customers to buy Are you not in into this service. But we felt like we were so much focused on the because every business takes a huge amount of bandwidth, and focus because you if you don’t do it right, then your core brand suffers. So, building home services took a huge amount of focus of ours. And once we felt that we are good at it, then only we basically started moving forward.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 46:48

if you can share, you know, your approach has been as a founder from and what has changed in you in the zero to one journey, one to 10, and now 10 to 100.


Amit Kumar Agarwal 46:59

So, I think many in the zero to one journey, we basically were much more focused on finding out whether which things are working. So, experimenting, again, again, in feeling again, again, in trying to figure out which ones which things are working. So that’s and being very frugal basically made sense. Now, when we are into the one to 100 journeys, then it has to be a balance, we need to continue with that, with those frugal tendencies. But we also need to invest a lot, because we want to grow a lot. And so, what worked in the zero to one stage will not necessarily work in the one to 100, in zero to one state we three founders contributed much more to how no broker is moving. But now in the one to 100 stage we contribute much less. And the team which is basically working with us, they act more like mini entrepreneurs running their own businesses with a very, very high amount of independence, accountability, and very little oversight from us. Because that’s because many investors ask us so how is it that you are able to do so many businesses? Isn’t it confusing? Isn’t it a loss of focus? And our answer is that that for every business, you need an entrepreneur. And the advantage of having three entrepreneurs is that you can have more entrepreneurs within them. And if you give them if you take people who are better than you and give them huge amount of freedom, then they do it with full passion, they do it with full fun and with huge amount of hard work. So, I believe that today wherever no broker is, and we have more than 1.2 crore customers, we have more than half of cr property listings posted on mobile site till now. So, in terms of numbers, we are pretty large and but I would say 90 percentage of the credit goes to the team which has done this in the past couple of years. Our credit is only in the first one year when we when we established the concept.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 49:07

And there was an incident when you know your officers were vandalized by brokers. It wasn’t a validation for you. Now, you have the product market fit on how do you take it?


Amit Kumar Agarwal 49:20

Today, when I tell the incident, it is seen as Yeah, it’s a validation. And this is how this is a very good example of how your brokerage is working. But at all of that is basically now in hindsight at that point of time, it was a huge pain. It was huge inconvenience and trouble for the company. Because suddenly one day when we were basically in this house, which I told you earlier that we had rented or we were working and there were some 8200 employees that our company was big at that point of time and suddenly we see some 60-70 brokers standing in front of the house, and they’re trying to break in trying to basically break laptops, trying to scare females’ employees, because they wanted the company to be shut. Because many of the customers told them that they will first check on no broker. And if they don’t get the property, then they will go to the broker, which basically irritated them. And then, of course, basically the police got involved, but we did not get much support. And then those brokers basically started chasing the female employees late in the evening towards their home, started damaging the bikes which were parked outside. So, it became inevitable. And we had to almost overnight we had to vacate the house. And even when we were vacating many brokers chase the vehicle has to be or is it that now they are. So, we were without any office, we had to disconnect the customer here phone number, of course, the website running here also had disruptions. And then we search for offices, you can’t find a working office overnight. And then we had to split the team into two portions and somehow manage for the next two, two and a half months. So huge service disruption. But now Yes, when I, when we look at the hindsight it made the team very strong, it certainly gave the feeling towards to the team that that we are doing something which is good. And we are not just part of another company. And many of the customers also have a habit of just using the service, liking it, but they don’t come out on social media and talk about it right. If you’re unhappy with something you come to social media and talk about it. But generally, we are happy, you’re just happy you tell your friends, but you don’t come on social media. But at that point of time, we were so overwhelmed by so many customers posting on social media saying that they are in support of us, etc. which basically also made us very proud. And I remember Teru coming to our office from Beenext and basically saying, hey, this is going to make you strong, actually, I was like, how it will make a strong. But he was right. And he did make, made the team strong.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 51:58

Thank you so much for sharing your journey has been wonderful to hear you to learn the no broker journey heart to heart from you and to see how it has evolved. into now it’s no longer I think a startup. It’s is a household name.


Amit Kumar Agarwal 52:13

so, we would like to believe that but you’re still a long way to go. The we will one day we would like to be a household name, the way in which many of the other established companies are. Real estate is indeed a difficult business to crack. And especially the C2C market takes a very long time. When you broke a lead model, you can quickly make a website you can get brokers to post properties for free, etc., etc. And you can build attraction pretty quickly. But getting a customer-to-customer site is very time consuming. And that’s why it took us so many years to basically reach where we are. But let’s basically hope that we will continue to put hard work in to the best for the customers.

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