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Building a super-app for customers, the No Broker way

Founded, in 2014, the founders of NoBroker Akhil Gupta, Saurabh Garg and Amit Kumar believe that the only way to build a startup is to solve for customer problems and not build a cool product that pleases a few.

Seven years ago, there were around sixty brokers that hijacked the office of NoBroker, in Bengaluru, and the founders had to escape the mob. That experience made them live in a virtual office for a while. Today, the company founded by Akhil Gupta, Saurabh Garg and Amit Kumar has gone pan-India and is disrupting real estate services.

In this conversation with Amit Kumar tells us about how one can build a customer first company by just listening to the customer rather than solve a problem from an engineering first point of view. Here are the excerpts of the interview:

Talk about the early years?

Amit Kumar: It all began with experience in 2013. We were wondering why one has to pay such high brokerage when looking for a house. We are living in a world where you can send messages to anyone, including your favourite actor on social media, and it made no sense for us when one has to go through brokers to find homes. The hypothesis was to find landlords directly. Earlier the reaction, from critics, was that nobody had done it at scale around the world and whether this could be done in India. We became a SuperApp, around homes, for customers because they wanted it that way. What started out as a bridge for home renters and owners, today we offer a host of other services around properties.

Our own experiences, dealing with brokers, became the company. The three of us had met so many brokers that we realised these folks did not really care about your requirement. When we started theinitial challenge was to understand why existing players became platforms for brokers. You have to know that you can never control competition, it is what it is. We went ahead with a belief that customers will like the service we are providing.

It was true, in 2014, that other players were already well funded. We decided just to do our job well, which was to build a great product and we stayed in three cities, if you remember, for a very long time, before we scaled up our organization with the network effect that we had gathered.

Nobody bet on NoBroker for five years, how did you manage this difficult time?

Amit Kumar: Creating a narrative is difficult when one has just started. There are several people telling you several things. Today, truth to be told, after our first round of investments nobody wanted to help us for five years, but, our belief that we are solving something big made us focus on a product that customers began talking about and that’s when the big rounds happened. The five years were tough because a large classified had been funded. Those five years were difficult our initial investors SAIF Partners and BeeNext helped us and things changed because they were patient with what we were building.

Good engineers and business people will build for the customer because they are constantly listening to what the customer wants. I believe in this a lot because I don’t want to claim that the founders come up with all the ideas, we listen to our customers and put those requests on to the product. We started building the commercial properties business because of customers and it was their pain point that became our product and engineers built features around it. When you are a founder you have to ensure that the engineers you hire do not build features that they think are cool for the customer, it is actually the other way around.

Why is customer success important?

All founders must take to drawing board what the customers say and then make engineers build on that knowledge. We are obsessed with customer success and we forgo short term revenues because it can hurt our brand in the long run. If we believe that a service is not helping our customer we return the money back because we cannot meet their expectation. You have to be transparent with what your product can do for them.

As the company grows the founders should let teams handle various products and services and set the ground rules right, the common vision will cut across teams. Our teams will be customer obsessed. However founders should not micro manage everything. I ran customer success and service for the first two year and later I set up a team to run it. Also remember India is a market where there are so many geographical preferences, it is not a one size fits all market. In the beginning we had a price plan which was for everyone, we soon got to know that young people migrating to large cities on work needed a different type of pricing. One has to know India is a low trust economy and has cultural nuances, with these Indian specific plans we have realised that people come back to use the brand.

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