She Broke the Glass Ceiling To Establish Her Coliving Start-up
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India is characterized by a young population which is constantly on the move, due to either job or education. This is one of the major reasons behind the growing need for shared and affordable accommodation. While rented flats and paying guest facilities are common ways to find a home away from home, several coliving players are leveraging the digital platform to offer high standard and economic shared accommodation options.
Bengaluru-based Zolostays is one them providing hassle-free living experience especially for students and young professionals. Speaking to Entrepreneur India, Sneha Choudhry, co-founder and chief business officer of Zolo, said after conducting extensive research on the paying guest market, the founders realized that the quality of supply was substandard. Zolo was founded in 2015 to address the quality gap in the shared accommodation space.
Founded by Choudhry along with her friends Nikhil Sikhri and Akhil Sikhri, Zolostays works as a connector for property owners and prospective tenants.
Zolostays acquires properties from builders and owners, and then suitably equip them to ensure a pleasant living experience. It offers an online platform for guests and residents to choose their accommodation from listed properties.
“While our revenue model is solely based on the rents received by our tenants, our high-service standards and an early mover advantage in the market has clearly helped us stay afloat and keep going in what is becoming a busy space now,” said Choudhry.
Entrepreneurial Journey And Rising Above Biases
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, Choudhry always aimed to be an one but the only question was when. “When Nikhil floated this idea of wanting to solve the larger issues of our times, I was hooked on. When we ideated and debated about the sectors we wanted to tackle and worked after office into the wee hours of the morning, I knew the call of entrepreneurship had to be answered sooner rather than later,” she added.
While entrepreneurship has its own set of challenges, the journey becomes a little tricky for women due to underlying biases practised in our society. “The initial years were tough especially as a woman entrepreneur leading the business team in the company. It used to irk me when I was the only woman in a room of start-up founders but now it is heartening to see so many women break the glass ceiling and move ahead to consciously make their role in their own start-up more visible and speak up for the entire sisterhood,” Choudhry said.
Choudhry explained that while she did encounter glass ceiling during her journey, she ensured to not be conscious of it and kept pushing forward till she made a breakthrough.
“In my family we were always taught about entrepreneurship, professionalism and work ethics irrespective of our gender. So I seldom recognized any discrimination based on gender. I ploughed through with the knowledge I had and kept bettering myself. In hindsight, I believe that the discrimination was not intentional but an overall symptom of our societal values that are now changing,” Choudhry explained.
Zolostays is not the first venture founded by these three friends. Prior to this, the trio had founded Augbrain which uses artificial intelligence (AI) in education. However, the product was too complicated for mass adoption and for schools to understand. The product had to be unfortunately shelved because they could not explain how AI was being leveraged to understand what makes comprehension, reasoning and memory weak.
However, the founders realized that the biggest takeaway was to identify a market with a problem which could be solved with an immediate solution and made a more direct and tangible impact. Thus, they decided to foray into the housing space.
Backed by prominent investors including Nexus Venture Partners, along with Mirae Asset and IDFC Alternatives, Zolostays has raised $37 million in total till date. Choudhry revealed that the start-up is in advanced talks with new investors to raise up to $100 million for Series C round through a mix of equity and debt options.
Zolostays is currently operational in 10 cities including Bangalore, Chennai, Kota, Gurugram, Hyderabad, Pune, Mumbai, Noida, Delhi-NCR and Coimbatore. “Over the past four years, a team of 500 committed workforce have helped 50,000 individuals find reasonable and high-quality facilities across our 450+ properties in ten cities,” Choudhry said.
The company is now planning to expand its services to other cities and increase its capacity to nearly 200,000 beds by FY2021. The company plans to enter new markets such as Chandigarh (Tri-City), Nagpur, Kolkata, Indore and Ahmedabad with new product segments such as investment sales, couple’s accommodation and geriatric living through new avenues such as manchise model.