The Last Ditch Effort
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Will Vineet Singh - a sales veteran and one of the key instruments in Info Edge’s 99Acres and Naukri.com’s growth - be able to keep the defamed realty portal Housing.com afloat.
Housing.com, from being the beloved start-up for investors to a perceived blot on their portfolios, will be sold off by this calendar year. The beleaguered platform, which was reportedly in stake sale talks with e-tailer Snapdeal in December 2015, will be snapped up by the one offering best possible price that includes US-based mass media giant News Corp (which has stake in one of Housing.com’s main competitors PropTiger), Snapdeal and possible others in the fray.
But there’s a silver lining to it – the Japanese technology major SoftBank (which has been one of the biggest investors in Indian e-commerce) and Nexus Venture Partners that seemingly have been pushing for Snapdeal-Housing.com deal being the common investors in both of them, might slam the brakes on acquisition if Housing.com led by its CEO Jason Kothari is able to hint towards profits probably by July this year or year-end.
And the key to that might be their recent strengthening of advisory team through Singh in April 2016 to drive sales (also putting in an undisclosed angel amount) even as it moves its focus back to where they it started from – buying and selling segment. That’s the only way out for Kothari and his team after the unceremonious exit of five of its co-founders within a year (beginning with Rahul Yadav who was sacked by the company’s board in July 2015) and more recently a six-fold hike in net loss from Rs 49 crore (2013-14) to Rs 279 crore (2014-15).
This is where Singh aims to be the devil’s advocate and help Housing.com with a leaner and fitter model steering organically towards bottom line. Singh was quite instrumental in building Info Edge’s real estate portal 99Acres and jobs portal Naukri.com over a decade through his strong sales leadership.
“Unlike other realty portals that focused on supply aggregation instead of consumers per se and simply list ads of builders and brokers and collect money, Housing.com is India’s only platform, which is consumer-focused,” says Singh who is also an angel investor. In March 2015, Singh started Buildzar, an online marketplace for building materials based in Delhi.
While Housing.com had been accused of cash burn as high as $10 million a month last year, its sacked CEO Yadav had claimed of it to be less than $3 million including around $18 million marketing campaign last year, renting as much as 19 offices across India, over hiring (now reduced to less than 2,000 employees), paying industry’s best salary packages, etc. But the new management pulled the plug on overspending. Singh, too, wants every single penny spent is accounted for.
“I built businesses at Info Edge with two ethoses, first, to use money wisely and second to ask yourself what return you will get on every rupee spent. At 99acres, we were a 50-member team and ran it like a start-up as everybody traveled economy class, stayed in cheaper hotels etc. Almost every consumer start-up started in last five years including Housing.com which raised money easily, they overspent a bit,” says Singh.
As with the renewed focus on the buy-and-sell segment, Singh wants Housing.com to pay emphasis on lead generation. “Not just consumer, the platform needs to take care of brokers and builders who are going to pay for lead generation and presence. So some changes which are needed have already begun to be more
“Not just consumer, the platform needs to take care of brokers and builders who are going to pay for lead generation and presence. So some changes which are needed have already begun to be more advertiser friendly,” says Singh signaling towards more layoffs and acquisitions by Housing.com and more consolidation in the sector till early next year. If all goes well, Singh would invest in Housing.com’s next fundraise, probably by the end of this year. But if not, then the portal will ‘Look Up’ for selling itself to get
If all goes well, Singh would invest in Housing.com’s next fundraise, probably by the end of this year. But if not, then the portal will ‘Look Up’ for selling itself to get much needed stability instead of investors writing it off.
This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (May 2016 Issue).