How Startups Are Leveraging Tech To Revamp Society Management
App-based security and community management services for housing societies and gated communities are evolving like never before, thanks to COVID
As housing societies in India become larger in size, with many apartments encompassing more than 1,000 units, managing them has become a huge task for resident welfare associations or committees. From ensuring safety, managing guest entries and staff attendance to monthly collections and maintenance of payment reports, the work that residents have to do is endless. The pandemic added more tasks to the list such as maintaining social distancing norms, limiting the movement of delivery personnel, sanitization and others.
The huge inconvenience faced by residents have pushed them to make use of apartment management apps offered by many players such as MyGate, NoBrokerHood, SmartGuard, Jio Gate, Apartment Adda, ApnaComplex and few others. Since the last few years, we have seen the launch of many new security and community management solution providers as well. Additionally, the existing ones have also been doing fairly well. For instance, MyGate hit 20,000 communities in March 2021 and around 3.5 million homes are now on its app. It also processes INR 150 crore in monthly maintenance payments.
"We see this as a huge opportunity and it will also play a pivotal role in the transformation of the reach of local businesses, hence it's also playing a very important role in society. Given the scope of the opportunity, there are bound to be others aiming to serve the opportunity in many ways. However, we do think that in the coming years, leaders will emerge and there will likely be some consolidation in the space,” said Sanjay Swamy, managing partner, Prime Venture Partners, which has invested in MyGate.
The Market Opportunity
Housing societies are complicated spaces. Five years ago, nearly everything was happening the old way, whether paying maintenance, hiring a maid, authenticating a visitor or receiving a delivery.
“As residents of gated communities in Bangalore, we felt the need for change and over five years we have built a digital experience for nearly every community need. You can pay your bills, sign in a guest, book pest control or other home services, accept a parcel, sell an old cupboard, hire a maid, even sell your home on MyGate,” said Vijay Arisetty, founder and CEO, MyGate.
While MyGate began with the intention of making the gate frictionless, it has been adding more features to its plate since then such as
- Purchase home products and services
- Make rent and utility payments
- Buy or sell any second-hand items
- Participate in housing society elections
- Buy, sell or rent homes in one of the 20,000 MyGate societies in the country
- Make private, secure VOIP calls to neighbors, guard
For NoBrokerHood, a visitor, society and payment management super app, the idea took root when the founders realized that most residential societies across India were still dependent on physical registers to manage everything. “This outmoded approach was inconvenient, lacking in transparency, and manual record-keeping rendered it vulnerable to errors. This major need-gap could be easily resolved through a tech-led intervention. This motivated us to expand our services beyond being a property search portal to leverage their tech capabilities further to upgrade society living and community management through NoBrokerHood, launched in 2018,” said Akhil Gupta, co-founder and CTO, NoBroker.
The app allows society residents to manage society entry, staff attendance, payments and accounting, club maintenance, all through a single platform. The tech-driven upgrade empowers society managers and residents to access digital records in real-time, making society management processes faster, smarter, and more secure. Other key features offered by NoBroker include:
- Collection of recurring payments such as rents and maintenance fees by integration of NoBroker Pay into the app
- Intercom feature
- SOS button for emergencies and Guard Patrolling with geotagging of QR codes
- A feature called ‘Explore that allows users to access a range of community-driven services in and around their societies
- Users/homepreneurs/homebakers can also list their own services and host events to connect with customers
Other platforms also offer similar services that reduce the burden on residents and resident committees.
Additionally, service providers in and around the society – especially those like small kirana stores that do not get listed on mainstream e-commerce platforms – are listed on these apps, thereby unlocking twin benefits for sellers and buyers alike. “We adopted ApnaComplex in August 2013. It has drastically improved our communication with residents on money matters and has also substantially improved realization of timely maintenance payment and recovery of past dues,” says Pankaj Lal, a committee member on ApnaComplex’ website.
How Covid Changed The Game
Like many industries, a lot of external factors come into play in this space too and what matters to the customer is the company’s ability to adapt to the times. While product requirements and customer preferences keep changing, the pandemic brought in a huge change and opened further doors for these businesses. For instance, NoBroker claims to have grown from 500 to 10,000 societies within a span of 5-6 months.
These startups jumped into the opportunity and added more features to their bouquet. In the last 18 months, MyGate released more than ten features to help its societies and users deal with the pandemic. It began with temperature and mask checks in April 2020 and continues still and most recently it launched Society Vaccine Status as well.
Post the viral outbreak, NoBroker enabled touchless entries via facial recognition for regular staff entering the society to avoid accidental transmission. It also added the following features:
- Grocery Services feature to help residents in gated communities to access essential items and grocery services
- Homechef feature to connect bachelors, students, and young working professionals with homechefs within their society
- AI/ML-backed COVID tracker to collate and share real-time containment zone data with society residents
- A Vaccine Finder feature, synchronized with the CoWIN portal, on the app
“We realized that while the consumer behavior and purchase patterns are different for everyone, the needs and requirements of residents in gated communities are more or less the same. These include cleaning, repair, and grocery services, pest control, as well as services from plumbers, electricians, mechanics, florists, homechefs, etc. We continued to upgrade the product with evolving customer needs. The main thrust of the updates was to make society living safer, securer, and more comfortable for all residents, besides augmenting community management,” said Gupta of NoBroker.
Post pandemic, the local municipalities started depending on the apartment management team to disseminate official circulars about Covid restrictions among all residents. "This has increased the demand for official society platforms like us that offer central residents database and communication channels like mobile app, email and SMS to ensure all residents including senior citizens receive the information. Covid has also brought about other tools for society such as vaccination camp organizers, good karma board for neighbors to offer help to Covid homes such as home-cooked food, oxygen concentrator etc," said San Banerjee, co-founder and CEO, ADDA.
Experts believe service providers will increasingly advance towards becoming an omni-commerce marketplace that takes care of the multi-dimensional requirements of the users over a single platform. “The idea is to grab a continued – if not permanent – spot on the user’s home screen by meeting their various needs via multiple use-cases. It’s a fight for relevance in a highly competitive ecosystem and only discerning brands with unique value propositions – despite the move towards an increasingly homogenous, integrated marketplace – will be able to thrive in the coming years,” said Gupta.
Even today, only 15 per cent of housing societies in India use a community app, offering a huge opportunity for these apps. “Five years from now, this number will go up manifold. The product will also become more sophisticated and we believe that the collective knowledge, not just of the community, but entire neighborhoods will be available at the click of a button and ready for everyone to benefit from,” said Swamy from MyGate.
Shanthi specializes in writing sector-specific trends, interviews and startup profiles. She has worked as a feature writer for over a decade in several print and digital media companies. She is also a mom who looks forward to playing a game of cards with her tween daughter every evening after work.