"Time to put life into something new. Time to get reborn."
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He will be back from a Vipassana camp by the time you read this. It’s a 10-day camp where you don’t interact with anyone and learn to calm the mind by observing your breath and meditation, and Advitiya Sharma, Cofounder, Housing.com, says it’s just what he needs. Having spent the past year or so amid high-decibel speculation, glaring media attention and blinding gaze of investors, Sharma needed these days off the grid for sure. “Meditation has been a powerful tool for me. Every morning, I didn’t know if I was ready to face the day, but I had enough energy and passion to attack a problem. With god’s grace, brains came in handy, too,” says Sharma, chuckling.
Despite having quit on 9 March, however, Sharma speaks as fondly about Housing.com as if he was still a part of the team. He harbors no ill will either. “After Rahul Yadav (Housing.com’s co-founder) got fired, the biggest fear in the company was that other people would also leave. I realized this was the most critical phase and decided to stand by the company,” says Sharma, and reveals how he decided to continue to put his weight behind the brand to bring stability to the company. “It was only after this that my conscience allowed me to think of something else.” He concedes the past nine months were the toughest time for the start-up - the company had to shut down some departments, revisit its vision and strategy and even asked many people to leave.
A chink in the armor had begun to show much before that, however, says Sharma. “We were the fastest growing start-up in the first two-and-a-half years. But fast growth is an erroneous feeling if that is the only thing that matters,” he warns, discussing how the company got “dragged into that” after it raised big funding. “We thought we could buy growth. And I think that was the inflection point of the company,” he says. But Housing.com was not just one of the heavyweights in the property business; it brought about a sea change to the market, where the customer was indeed the king. “Before we started Housing, companies in the sector were merely phone directories of brokers,” he says, laughingly. Housing brought to the table answerability and credibility of the properties listed; Sharma claims there are no less than 100 unique data points for every property that are given. He also remembers how this verification of data was a big resistance. “We didn’t have a data collection team in the beginning, and I had to visit houses to collect data,” he recalls, sharing how he once had a door slammed on his face even as he stood at the step, sweating, with a DSLR camera slung around his neck. “But I didn’t go back and knocked again,” says Sharma, adding, “I looked into his eyes and spoke – such was our belief in our venture.”
Calling his days with Housing some of the best days in his life, Sharma feels they taught him everything there is to know about parenting. “Parenting?” I repeat, to be doubly sure. “Yes parenting. When there is a threat to the baby, parents become strong. They take extra care of the child and do whatever it takes to make sure the child is healthy, happy and running again,” he says. Sharma is now looking at areas such as finance, education and green technology to start his next venture. He also feels most start-ups don’t address the fundamentals of business. There’s also the Bhagavad Gita, which Sharma seems to go to, to clarify, understand and strengthen his logic. A day after his resignation, Sharma updated his status with a line from the book: “As a human being puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts material bodies, giving up the old ones.” He ended it with: “Time to put life into something new. Time to get reborn.” Here’s to new beginnings, then.
This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (April 2016 Issue).