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.
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