Every year, IIT aspirants flock to Kota in the western state of Rajasthan. They attend coaching classes to crack the entrance exam, and spend hours working on mock question papers to improve speed and dexterity.
And if there is one thing that all these students look for, it is good accommodation. This is where Aayush Garg and Abhilash Geetha Balan are making a difference.
According to several reports, over 10.4 million students move away from home for an education in India each year, and while options like hostels and paying guest accommodations are aplenty, there are now organised entities that make living easy.
Aayush and Abhilash’s startup, Being Home, provides all the basic facilities offered by a traditional hostel such as a well-furnished living space, food, laundry and housekeeping. But that’s not all. It is also build a community for the students, organising meetups with IITians, and other professionals such as doctors.
“Over 25 lakh students in India appear for competitive exams in India like JEE MAINS, Advance, NEET, AIIMS ,and CA, and we anticipate around 30 percent of these students stay away from their homes. This led us to start a student accommodation startup Being Home,” says Abhilash.
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How Being Home works
The team of Being Home leases buildings and properties from landlords and these are furnished and then sublet to students. Each property is leased at a monthly charge of Rs 4,000 to Rs 7,000 per bed, and students are charged Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 a month. Abhilash explains the startup not only appropriately furnishes the accommodation for students, but also takes care of maintenance and other services.
“A student spends six hours at coaching classes and the rest of the time is typically spent at the hostel daily,” says Abhilash, adding that the nearly 18 hours that students spend at the hostel should be used to study and not worry about tasks like cooking or doing laundry. “This would improve the selection chances of any student.”
The startup is also focusing on arranging meetups with professionals and building a community. Abhilash explains, “When a student receives any form of guidance from a qualified person, it makes a world of difference to them. We invite IIT alumni, doctors and psychologists to share their experience and journey and emphasising the need and importance of other subjects.”
The bootstrapped startup currently has operations across six properties in Kota and is a boys-only hostel at present.
Going the app way
Being Home is now working on launching a mobile app that will help students not only find accommodation, but also resolve maintenance issues. It's currently in the beta phase and Abhilash says it could be launched by the end of this year. The app will also provide live feedback on food and hostel hygiene, staff behaviour, menu suggestions, taste of the food, etc. Students will also be able to schedule a doctor’s appointment through the in-house app.
Being Home has a staff of 30, including maintenance staff, cooks, as well as administrative staff.
The important question for Being Home, and other startups like it, is how they can differentiate and stay relevant in an already-crowded domain.
“Once an initial blueprint was ready, we started to pitch the idea to our closest friends circle - Siddharth Gautam a marketing expert from Delhi, and Akhilesh Jain from Kota. They helped in refining the idea and tying up the loose ends. The refined model was circulated among a few other friends with the intent of raising funds to get started, and that’s when Ashish Jain joined the core team,” says Abhilash.
According to real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle, the student accommodation market is growing in India, where it is believed to be worth $15 billion. A survey conducted by JLL in 2017 suggested there were close to 50 lakh students enrolling in colleges and universities across 20 cities in the country.
Currently, other startups in the space include Delhi-based Placio, which raised $2 million in pre-series A funding led by Prestellar Ventures, as well as Student Acco. Others like OYO are also keenly looking at the student accommodation space, as part of its OYO Life vertical. There also is the Kalaari Capital backed OxfordCaps, as well as Sequoia-backed Stanza Living.
Abhilash says that currently, Being Homes’ main focus is student housing in Kota, and it is not looking to either expand to other cities or other verticals. "Having operated the business for three years now, we have evolved the business strategically looking for other allied revenue streams to improve the overall margins of the business,” he says.