SimplyGuest Success Story: Find the Best fully-furnished homes for working professionals

Today, with everything available on the touch of our fingertips, finding a house is yet a particularly difficult task. Subbu Athikunte, Ambareesha Athikunte, Mayank Pokharna thought of making it hassle-free and consistent experience. So in 2015, they came up with their startup SimplyGuest to make both the handover and handoff procedures of a rental transaction a conflict-free, pleasant experience.

SimplyGuest Highlights

  • Startup Name-SimplyGuest
  • Headuarter-Bangalore
  • Founders-Subbu Athikunte, Ambareesha Athikunte, Mayank Pokharna
  • Sector-Home Rentals, Real Estate Tech
  • Founded-2015
  • Parent Organization-SimplyGuest Technologies Pvt. Ltd.

About SimplyGuest and How it Works

SimplyGuest offers fully-furnished homes for working professionals close to their workplaces. These accommodations are completely managed & rent is inclusive of monthly bills: electricity, water, 30-100mbps WiFi, DTH, unlimited LPG, maid services, repairs, and maintenance. The flats are hassle-free, where SimplyGuest takes care of everything form paying utility bills, providing maid services, taking care of repairs, replacing LPG cylinder.

SimplyGuest also takes care of finding qualified flatmates, their entry, and exits. Tenants can move to any house in our network when they change jobs at no extra cost. SimplyGuest also has hostels; these are professionally managed to pay guest (PG) facilities. Hostels are slightly cheaper, provide quality food, and also have lesser lock-in periods.

Customers who are predominantly singles can choose from private flats ranging from studio rooms, 1BHKs, 2BHKs, 3BHKs, or live in a trendy co-living facility. These homes come with add-on services like meal delivery, bicycle rentals, car parking, furniture rentals, etc. SimplyGuest takes off keeping the homes clean and tidy on a day-to-day basis.

The idea, in the long run, is to be a space management platform. Customers should be able to rent just about any kind of space: houses, garages, storage spaces, bungalows, stadiums, parking spaces, etc via SimplyGuest, hire additional services via the platform, pay rent, and walk out when the need stops.

SimplyGuest - Target Market

According to a recent PropTiger study, co-living in India has the potential to become a USD 93 billion market annually. Co-living is an umbrella term used to refer to student housing and PGs. Another report by JLL states that the real estate renting industry is majorly divided into working professionals and student accommodation:

Number of Singles, Professionals, Paying Guest Rentals = 15M

Number of Student Accommodation on Rentals in India = 10.4M

Nearly  31.56 million people rent homes in urban India (2011 census) = $22 billion

Relevant Read: PAJASA Apartments - Specially Designed Serviced Apartments for the Corporates

SimplyGuest - Founders and team

Subbu Athikunte, Ambareesha Athikunte and Mayank Pokharna are the co-founders of SimplyGuest. Subbu and Ambareesha, the brothers started SimplyGuest in 2015. Mayank was an early customer of SimplyGuest but liked SimplyGuest concept so much that  he joined full time in 2017.

Subbu Athikunte is a software engineer. He worked at Apigee (later acquired by Google) before quitting to start SimplyGuest. He has worked on distributed systems, analytics, big data, cloud computing, UI, develops and nearly everything else in the field of large-scale software projects. At SimplyGuest, Subbu takes care of tech and product development along with supply acquisition.

Ambareesha used to work on civil and PWD projects before SimplyGuest. At Simplyguest, he takes care of all the ground operations from setting up new properties to maintaining and servicing the existing ones.

Mayank Pokharna did his BE and MBA from Nirma before starting his job at Practo. In his previous role as chief of staff at Cuemath, he worked on streamlining multiple business processes to drive productivity and sales. At Practo, he was responsible for creating and managing end to end operations and business intelligence processes. He was a SimplyGuest customer before joining hands with Subbu and Ambarish. At SimplyGuest he takes care of sales and marketing functions and anything that lies in between.

At SimplyGuest, they believe in value delivery. The core of the philosophy being every action should add incremental value to the overall business. They are a tiny team and let their software make up for the small team size. Currently, they are all working remotely and are on the field most of the time. And here, they treat everything as a software problem. This helps them find solutions that are more scalable and reduce points of conflict. The big vision for SimplyGuest is to become a platform for services that can be consumed by its tenants.

How was SimplyGuest Started

Simply Guest started as a listing website for certified rental homes. The listing had verified information about various aspects of the house, something similar to a used car in Maruti Suzuki TrueValue. People weren't interested in it. House hunters don't do things systematically. They trust they will get a good house. In reality that never happens. They'd rather stay in a suboptimal house.

SimplyGuest pivoted to listing PGs and faced different challenges there. PG owners weren't open to upgrading their facilities with technology. However, during the research for this project, they visited numerous PGs and realized that they were nothing short of cattle-houses. Even if tenants were willing to pay a higher monthly rent, they couldn't find a decent PG.

That's when they decided to create an alternative to paying guest accommodation. Around May 2015, they rented a flat in an upscale apartment society, furnished it with everything a family would require, got a very good WiFi connection, DTH, LPG, made the kitchen functional and hired domestic help; it was everything one could possibly ask for in a house. People could rent rooms in a good apartment without worrying about finding other flatmates. Very soon, the flat was fully occupied and that was the starting point for these brilliant minds. This setup provided the best of both worlds. Comfort and privacy of living in a furnished flat and services as you get in a PG without any unnecessary restrictions.

SimplyGuest - Name, Tagline and Logo

Once they had the idea in place, they started noting down all the names that could describe it. Made a list of 20 names in a couple of months, out of which shortlisted 5 and sent a survey to all their friends and colleagues. SimplyGuest was the second most popular and got selected because they couldn't get a .com domain for the most popular name.

The SimplyGuest team then went on and created a gig on Fiverr to create a logo for SimplyGuest. But they didn't like the logo that was received. So they created something on their own with limited Photoshop skills. After some dedicated conviction, they got the logo right and it's the same that they are using till now.

SimplyGuest - User Acquisition

The easiest parts were done first; building the website. They didn't have any houses to rent, so they took photos of the house where one of the founders was living in and listed it and marked it sold. But they still had to find a house to let out and also needed to find homeowners. Hence they started going around nearby areas looking for 'To Let' boards in front of the houses, call them up and explain SimplyGuest. After 10 unsuccessful attempts, they finally found an empty house. The owner was residing in a different city and they managed to convince him to let his property via SimplyGuest.

Finding the first customer was the toughest part. The founders would stand in front of the big corporates on Bannerghatta Road and distribute flyers with house details in it. It was awkwardly embarrassing at first, but they didn't know any other way. Few people agreed to hear them out of pity.

few people agreed to hear me out out of pity. Only one boy was interested, but our first house was meant for girls. I made a list of offices nearby, started visiting them one by one; we'd try to meet their admin or HR teams, but nobody seemed to care. Had I built something nobody wanted? - SimplyGuest co-founder Subbu recounts.

It had been one and a half month and they were paying for an empty house. None of the marketing channels had worked. They had a few inquiries but nothing potential yet. They were losing hope and they were starting to think that they probably won't be able to find customers. And Subbu was anyway not able to sell it and had a lot of free time. They thought, why not find a house for the boy who was interested earlier. They went looking around and found one flat close by; it was turned into a PG. Subbu was walking around the building checking the house, some guys staying in it mentioned they weren't happy staying there; the PG owner had promised them something and hadn't delivered; maintenance was bad and it didn't feel good staying there. He explained to them what he was doing and they found it interesting and wanted to check out even though the only house SimplyGuest had then was for girls. They visited the house and loved the concept. Subbu asked them if they would rent it from him if he found them a good home, they said yes. And finally, they were excited.

Subbu came back home and started searching for a house for the potential customers he had met. Bhanu found a house close by; it was within walking distance of their offices. Two of them worked at VMW while the last one worked at Honeywell. They liked the flat and asked them how much it would cost. Subbu hadn't worked out the details yet he promised them to keep the prices low and get back to them. Only part of the problem was solved but he still had to meet the house owner and convince them about bachelors staying in the house. Subbu met the owner and figured she didn't mind letting it to bachelors. He went back to the guys, told them about the rent, after they agreed upon the price, he told them they will have to pay an advance as a token of confirmation. They were happy because they were getting a private room with an attached bathroom at a low price - almost for the price of a double-sharing room. They gave him a cheque for 5000 rupees. And Subbu had sold a house that he didn't have!

The same week someone called him after seeing one of the sun packs - a small 2x1 feet display ad they had set up near the house. The caller was from Lucknow and was in Bangalore searching for a house for his younger sister - she was a postgraduate student in a dental college near Meenakshi Mall. They visited the flat and liked it. The girl wanted to move in next day itself; they were staying in a hotel near-by. In two days, two more girls made bookings.

And then they started listing properties in existing classified/listings websites. This started giving some leads. And in those days,  even one lead was a life-saver.

SimplyGuest - Business Model and Revenue Model

Simply Guest lets house owners rent their flats via their platform. They can rent unfurnished, furnished, and spare rooms via SimplyGuest. They find tenants for these houses, help them move-in and take care of household needs. They take a cut in the revenue generated every month for the services they provide.

They have 4 renting models:

Rent houses on a fixed rent

Rent houses on a revenue-sharing model where they take care of finding customers, managing them and the owner takes care of providing services

A car parking marketplace

Co-living projects.

SimplyGuest - Competitors

Major market players have come and played this field. NestAway is one of them. GetSetHome, VivaReal, PGstay, RentMyStay are some of the entities having a great market standing.

SimplyGuest - Growth

Somehow, the SimplyGuest team feels they had gotten lucky to find the first 16 customers. Things happened too quickly from a hopeless state of 45 days without a single customer to 100% occupancy in the next 30 days, numbers in the spreadsheet were overflowing. This could be a beginner's luck, and they didn't want to get fooled by it. Even if they weren't lucky, and achieved all this by hard work, they had to find ways to replicate this.

They also started trying out SimplyGuest advertisements on the traffic police warning signs. The majority of the calls originating from this were for BTM Layout, specifically Stage II. It became apparent that they needed some houses in BTM Stage II. Hence they started looking around for to-let boards in BTM Layout and onboarded a full building.

They installed sun boards, a small 1x2 feet semi-plastic board that you find in malls, in front of the house, and around BTM Stage II, these are different from sun packs. Since they had signed these houses and realized BTM is a hub for young people. Every second house had been turned into a PG; they thought they'll be able to sell their new houses very quickly.

People started visiting the flat after seeing the to-let board in front of the house; they were having 8-10 visits a day. They had a free listing on OLX and Quikr and these channels also started giving some leads.

They then went on to open up a referral program; every successful referral would get Rs 2000. They also messaged existing customers about it and created a WhatsApp group for every house. A customer from House #4 referred to three of her friends; these guys were college-mates and wanted to stay together at BTM. (One of them was Mayank; he later became a core part of SimplyGuest)

The marketing channels they tried to find customers were helping them in other ways. A lady called them one day and wanted SimplyGuest to rent 4 flats in Vijaya Bank Layout!  Subbu was surprised to know that she had taken his phone number from the sun packs they were using for finding guests. The flats were in the final stage of construction and they had already started looking out for customers. She and her husband showed us the flats, these flats were close to SimplyGuest's previous properties, and they ended up taking the property.

SimplyGuest - Future Plans

Domestic house help in general, and cleaning dishes specifically, has been the surprise element that makes customers stick to a house. If they can provide this consistently, they can retain almost all customers. Houses need regular maintenance for long-term use, initial customers don't stay put if the house becomes unlivable. Plus, if the commuting time to the workplace is manageable, people stick around the house. Scaling this business is not as easy as adding servers and staff; operations are the key. Scaling physical operations takes time and sustained the effort.

Spending on advertising will get new customers, but it doesn't help to retain existing customers. New customers are a finite set, whereas existing customers pay recurring rent. That's what they are currently focusing on.

Providing consistently good services year-long matters more than discounts. If the bed goes vacant for a day, the revenue is lost permanently. House owners may not want to absorb this cost. Simply Guest calls this angel-stays.

They operate in about 15 locations in South Bangalore. Unlike their competitors, SimplyGuest operates shared houses, co-living properties, and also hostels (PGS). This covers the entire breadth of home options.