Bringing Service Apartments to Your Online Doorstep
Startup helps customers find and book service apartments in nine cities
It took just a month-long trip with the attendant hassles of finding affordable and safe accommodation to trigger an idea for a new business. Posted to Pune on a business trip by search giant Google, Ashish Agarwal was keen to find a service apartment that would accommodate his wife and young son.
Finding one though proved tricky. “I could hardly find anything listed online, and later found that what they claimed and what they offered were vastly different,” said Agarwal, who quit Google in May 2012 to work on his new venture.
A year later, he had a plan ready for Scrappy Ventures, which runs RoomLion. com, an online portal that helps customers find and book service apartments in India. The business that covers nine cities has over 7,800 service apartments registered. “We list detailed features on our sites about each apartment, and also physically verify what the owners claim,” said Agarwal, who claimed his portal offers Google street view, as well as a 360 degree virtual tour of the apartments that must have a living room and a kitchenette at least along with all basic furnishings and housekeeping facilities. At the moment, registration for apartment owners is free, and the revenue comes from customers who book an apartment through their site.
Eventually, the company expects to charge a registration fee from service apartment owners. Abid Iqbal Ansari, who owns Eden House Corporate Service Apartments, said that using RoomLion.com has helped his business grow. “Customers opting for longer stay period have especially increased by almost 25 %,” he said. RoomLion which began with seed money of `40 lakh is in talks with angel investors to raise a further `2 crore.
Agarwal said his company will be profitable in the next year and a half, while earning revenue of `5 crore by end-2015. Apart from major Indian cities, the company will also expand services to foreign shores.
“There is a huge opportunity in places such as Singapore and Dubai, as there is heavy expat presence there, and virtually no players yet focusing only on service apartments,” said Agarwal. For the yearold firm, the focus on corporate clients is expected to help deal with competition from industry leaders such as AirBnb
“Portals like AirBnB target budget customers mostly, and it is usually those renting out rooms to vacationers. They don’t have service apartments listed on their sites,” said Agarwal who expects competition to come from other portals such as BridgeStreet.com, and CityzenBooking. com in global markets.
Experts said the increasing number of expatriates coming to India for long stays will help grow this segment. “The growth of Indian economy, will fuel the demand for service apartments,” said Pragya Singh Associate Director, Retail, Technopak. Over the long term, Agarwal wants to operate a franchise business model to expand and take the brand further, and also wants to own and rent a chain of service apartments.
-VASUMITA S ADARSH