We are first time entrepreneurs. Building and running a startup hasn't been a glamorous job. Newspapers only report 2 things: how much money someone raised or which startup closed down. Fun of building something lies in between these 2 extremes. Its actually about getting our first customers, retaining them, then getting a few more. Its a lot more about operations, providing consistent experience. Its about building a viable and sustainable business. People don't talk about these hard things. These are our experiences while building SimplyGuest.
How to Name It? is a famous music album by Ilaiyaraaja, one of my favourite music composers. The story goes that he didn't know what to name the album after he composed it; he left it at that and the album's name remained 'How to Name It?'
Although rare, some buildings don't come with any names when we onboard them. We don't have strong opinions about naming houses. We prefer owners give a name to the house; it saves us from unnecessary thinking. We are so terrible at naming houses, we take the easiest approach; we just start calling the house by owner's name. It's natural after all. Owner's name is the first thing that we know about a new property. That's how Kiran got its name (that's the name of the owner). We realized it was a terrible idea and now force owners to suggest a name, and it has worked out really well. For owners its a personal thing — something that they deeply care about — they spend a lot of time naming their properties and it shows off in a positive way. See some examples: read full article
After my payments gateway article I haven't written much about technical or developer oriented stuff. I want to break that this year. One of the difficult things to get right when you are starting out is, where to start with the website on! How much traffic will you get? What kind of users? Where do they access the website from? Mobile Vs Desktop? Which browser should I test the website? Too many questions and not much information is out there to help you out. This post is about all of that with respect to simplyguest.com public website. All the screenshots here are directly taken from simplyguest.com Google Analytics dashboard.
Should I target desktop or mobile, or both? That's a question I had when I started building simplyguest.com website (I am not from mobile-first generation, I still prefer a proper keyboard). Here is a definitive answer.
Only 40% of simplyguest.com traffic comes from desktop screens, everything else comes from mobile screens.
We are fortunate to be part of a generation in which women enjoy greater access to many things that were beyond their reach not too long ago. It is indeed easier and more normalised for a woman to aspire to do practically anything that was once considered to be part of masculine territory. And yet, every day, you are given a harsh reality check when you come across seemingly unending accounts of violence against and exploitation of women. While women may have broken the glass ceiling and entered several professional fields that they couldn’t before, you can’t run away from the fact that there is a conspicuous wage gap in almost every field. These are only a few examples reflecting why, even if we’d like to believe otherwise, gender equality is as much a problem today as it was a few years ago. Simply put, as much access as the women of today enjoy, they are faced with an equal (and in some cases, greater) number of obstacles.
For example, a working woman and a working man living independently in a city both have the freedom or the permission to stay out and roam the city as late as they want- in theory. Thus, they may have equal access here. In reality, however, the chances of the woman encountering harmful elements such as sexual harassers at night – or the obstacles – are much higher, which means that nine out of ten times, she will choose to be back home by an “appropriate” time even if she doesn’t really want to.read full article
If you are a house owner, a real estate builder, or land owner and want to build for SimplyGuest, or attach an existing property with us read the following sections to know more. SimplyGuest operates only in a few localities of Bangalore, limiting our ability to on board new properties. We also have some specifications that new properties must meet.
Urban demography has changed in ways most builders and house owners can't imagine. Lot more people are single, and they are happy. We see married people living in different cities; they only live together during weekends. They can afford good housing; A 2BHK or a 3BHK doesn't suit them; it's too big for one person, and they don't want to share the house with others.read full article
We have been in business for many years now, and we have dealt with hundreds of tenants. Majority of our tenants are good. Some times, we do come across bad tenants. When I say bad tenants it could mean any combination of the following behaviour: they could be rude and not considerate to fellow roommates and housekeeping staff; they could be abusive; they may boss around people; they could put everyone's safety at risk; they waste shared resources like water & electricity; sometimes they violate SimplyGuest terms. They make life difficult for fellow residents, service staff, and the neighbourhood. It's difficult to deal with them. They collude with other flatmates and shut out anything that affects their bad behavior. Anything that comes in the way of their bad behaviour will be stopped, or avoided. This affects overall quality of the house; housekeeping doesn't happen, service staff starts to avoid these houses - either because they are not welcome, or they start thinking the quality is already bad, and their skipping of duty won't get noticed.
A lot of our houses have some quite, non-trouble-making, introverted tenants. We hardly hear from them. They only ping us if there is a service issue; we haven't heard from some tenants in years. We like it this way; maintain service quality and get out of their way. Biggest problem with low quality tenants is that they attract even lower quality flatmates; they suppress minor, but good tenants. Over a period, all the good ones leave, leaving behind bad tenants.
Issues arising from bad tenants are significant; the association or the owner may ask us to vacate the house; other tenants may not feel safe. If SimplyGuest staff has to show the house to prospective tenants we are always scared what we might encounter during the visit.
When we have sufficient proof that a tenant is bad we ask them to vacate — sometimes, but rarely, bad tenants self correct and the overall quality improves. This means we may have to keep the place empty for a period until we find a replacement, but in general this loss is offset by not having to deal with issues arising from bad tenants.
On the other hand, having good tenants has positive effects on pretty much everything; we have fewer issues, neighbourhood is happy, no flatmate related issues, waste gets segregated, service staff is happy to serve them; and, more importantly, they are good for business.
It takes an effort to maintain this quality; left as is, tenant quality goes down.read full article
For a period of three months from May to July 2018, I had the opportunity to be an intern at SimplyGuest, and suffice it to say that it was one of the best learning experiences of my life. My association with SimplyGuest began when I moved into one of their houses in 2016. The house began to feel like home very soon, and before I knew it, I was part of the SimplyGuest family.
Sometime last year, I began writing articles for the SimplyGuest blog. I wrote on a wide range of subjects, ranging from lists of events happening in Bangalore to my accounts of my travels to sites near Bangalore, such as Hampi, Mysore etc. When I graduated from college in April 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in media studies, I approached SimplyGuest for an internship in content writing, hoping to develop some of the skills I picked up in college and learn more from the industry itself.read full article
SimplyGuest houses come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Each house has its own unique features and facilities. Very often, houses come with small gardens or at least a decent number of potted plants. However, while any amount of greenery goes a long way in making a house seem appealing, one of the challenges we face regularly is ensuring that these plants are adequately watered. Unfortunately, whether they like having the plants at home or not, not all of our tenants are green-thumbed!
Often, we ask our housekeeping staff to water the plants, but just like tenants, they can also be indifferent to the flora of the house. Ambareesh sometimes specifically asks the caretaker to water them.
In fact, he is the sole reason Peace Haven and Aditi's are still green. Nevertheless, it is rather futile to depend on people when we can't follow up on them regularly; invariably, the plants have died in most cases. When we recently took on a new property in Koramangala, Ambareesh decided to fix this problem once and for all. If you’d like to replicate this minimal-effort model, here’s a step-by- step guide to how we went about the whole process.
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When Ambareesh and I signed our first BTM property about 2.3 years ago, it was a big investment for us; there were several uncertainties as we had spent large amounts of money towards deposits and furnishing the house.
The house was booked by three guys referred by an existing customer. The first occupant— Mayank — wanted to move in first. On the day of moving in I made him wait for 30 minutes that it took me to get to the location, and while helping him move in, we started talking about marketing, websites; he had just started working at Practo straight out of his MBA. His enthusiasm was hard to miss.
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Customer support is something I underestimated when I was starting up. I didn't even think about it. These days though, it takes up a big chunk of my time. Some days it’s more time-consuming than sales, operations, and software development put together.
Our customer support is simple- all our customers can call me, Ambareesh or Mayank directly. There is no third number, there is no IVR. We also have a WhatsApp group for every house.
All those years as a software engineer, I could hide behind my headphones and pretend the world around me didn’t exist - even when operations and other support functions were firefighting. Good software engineers could be jerks and still get away with it!read full article
When we started SimplyGuest, we kept pretty much all data in our heads. Containers start rejecting eventually; when I started forgetting, I moved the data to spreadsheets. But spreadsheets are terrible at keeping history. If I want to go back in time and see how a room's rent has varied over time, that'd by a circus. I have moved the data to a database now. That helps me visualize the data. The booking data is anonymized.
We don't have enough data to make strong observations, but it still gives us some indications:
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At Apigee, my previous company, one of the corridor discussions we'd have is how many AWS servers we were running — that'd give us bragging rights. You could see the pride and amusement in everyone's face, including mine, when the number was higher than the last count. Some of this cost could have been paid by customers, or by Apigee itself. But none of the engineers knew, or cared about, how much these servers cost. Since starting SimplyGuest, I am forced to go in the opposite direction. No AWS, cheap discounted servers, fewer servers. What changed? Now I literally take out my wallet to pay for the servers.
How much do I spend on keeping simplyguest.com up and running?read full article
We are always thinking of how to make living in our flats better. Short distance transport is a challenge in cities. Commuting 1-3 kilometers is an annoying problem that our guests face. Aditi, one of our guests, wanted a way to go to gym at 5 in the morning. Autos and taxis weren't available at that time of the day — even if they were, they may not start their engines for a 2 kilometer ride. Buying a bicycle was an overkill. Renting appeared like a reasonable thing to do, but the cheapest bicycle rental was Rs 350/day. That was about a month back.
Today we are introducing bicycles on rent, exclusively for SimplyGuest tenants. You can rent a good bicycle for Rs 99/day. That's 3.5 times less than the market price. Its gets even cheaper if you want to rent for an entire week: 399/week, that's Rs 57 a day. Hold your breath still, its Rs 999/month if you rent it for an entire month, that's Rs 33 for an entire day, less than a plate of idli vada!read full article
Although SimplyGuest pays for many essential things in our flats, flatmates will spend on a few things that must be split among other flatmates. Drinking water cans and cleaning liquids are common examples. When flatmates hire a cook they buy groceries together; it's a hassle to maintain another app just for these. Moreover, external apps or notebooks don't help you settle up. You still have to exchange money at the end of the month.
We have built a tool to solve this problem. Take a look: adding an expense is easy.read full article
SimplyGuest houses come with a fully functional kitchen. As part of it, we provide a gas stove and provide unlimited LPG. Our guests just have to call us when the cylinder becomes empty and we replace the empty cylinder with a full one. How much LPG does our tenants use?read full article
Occupancy rate is a way of measuring the Angel's stay, a measure we use internally to know how much revenue we loose to empty beds. How many beds are occupied on a given day? A day is the lowest measurement of time units. So the occupancy rate must be calculated per time measure per unit of stay. Unit of stay is a bed or a room. Room could be ambiguous as it can have multiple beds, so I'll stick with beds.read full article
SimplyGuest tenants pay rent at the beginning of the month. We started with cash and netbanking. Occasionally people would give me cheques. But that's too cumbersome. Now we have moved most of the guests to online payments. Occasionally we accept cash and netbanking transfers; but that's an exception.
We started with HDFC, but that was a terrible choice. They delayed the process by 6 months and they said, on the day we were to go live, they want 8 lacs of fixed deposit as a security. Apparently we were too risky for them. That bitter experience made me integrate three separate vendors for payments: Razorpay, Instamojo and Paytm. I switch between these 3 every month; randomly initially, but now I am narrowing it down to just 2. I'll probably select one vendor in the coming months to make operations easier.
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Angels' share is a term for the portion (share) of a wine or distilled spirit's volume that is lost to evaporation during aging in oak barrels.SimplyGuest faces something similar. Our properties may not have 100% occupancy at all times. The accommodation may go empty when we are not able to fill a bed or room for any reason. This can happen for various reasons; the gap between a guest leaving and the next joining; during the initial days when we sign up a new house; when we are about to let go of a house. read full article
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