Finding Spaces

For someone who’s taken on a completely alien industry, Nidhi Kumra, CEO, Your-Space, is mighty cheerful. And she has every right to be. What started out as a step into the sea of student housing with one hostel building in Noida, has today grown to 7 cities, 21 hostels and thousands of happy students and parents.

The Backstory

Hers is an interesting tale. A banker by education, Nidhi put in several years working at Merrill Lynch in London and had her own desk. But the routine of waking up at 5 am, being at the desk at 6 am suddenly stopped exciting her.  “I used to trade interest rates, and interest rates in Europe have been zero since the last five years.  I just lost the excitement to get up and go to work every morning. I wanted to move back to India but I wanted to move back knowing what I was doing.” Driven by this sense of purpose, Nidhi and her friend Shubha Lal (COO, Your-Space), who was also facing the same ‘done with corporate life syndrome’ spent a lot of time brainstorming on what they could do together in India. The rejected list of ideas ranged from a dating app to a booking tables app. Around the same time, a huge deal was widely publicized: A student housing company in London, Nido, has changed hands from Greystar to Blackstone for a record-breaking two billion dollars. Inspired by the story, Nidhi and Shubha came up with a plan—what if you could superimpose the same thing in India and price adjust it accordingly, you could target an entire new untapped market.  And both had enough horror stories about cousins staying at local hostels and mom-and-pop-run PGs to know the urgent need for organized student housings.

Learning Curve

By the end of 2015, they had a mentor, Sanjay Gupta, CEO, PNB Housing Finance, who helped them navigate the real estate space, named their company Your-Space and had identified their first hostel site, which launched in July 2016 in Noida. This all-girls hostel was also their training ground. “It was a fabulous learning experience, right from setting up the building, marketing, to hiring the staff and training the wardens. There were a lot of hits and misses and this really helped us to define our SOPs in the long run. Shubha and I used to spend nights at the hostel to check if the warden was waking up on time, was the breakfast being served on time, if the ACs were being switched off on time. It sounds paranoid but for us to know that the processes were working, we lived it for six months with the students. From that point we were confident that we know how to do this, we know the SOPs, how many grams a student eats, to how big the roti must be, etc. Those were the kind of details we documented.” Student security is also an area that they focus on and have stringent checks in place—strict cut off time for students, RF Ids for staff, the housekeeping staff is physically checked while entering and exiting, police verification and background checks of every single staff member including admin staff.

Scaling new heights

Systems in place, it was onwards and upwards for Your-Space and with the help of Angel funding, they grew from one building to four and from there to 12 buildings last year to today’s figure of 21 hostels in seven cities. The company is also managing in-campus hostels. “The idea is to become a pan India brand and to create the most loved brand for students.” But as Nidhi confesses, the biggest learning curve was setting up apartment hostels in Mumbai—to get a minimum of 50 flats in the same building, to maintain decorum, not antagonize the society and still be a cohesive unit was initially an operational challenge. By comparison, cities like Indore and Ahmedabad were far easy to setup and more structured. The other learning curve was on how to deal with hyper parents, and in the process, they learnt a fundamental truth about their operationally intensive business—each client comes with two parents, who ultimately take the decision. “A lot of our competitors talk about tech and how cool their spaces are, but ultimately this comes down to comfortable living, good food and good Wi-Fi. Parents care about security and good food and kids care about Wi-Fi, that’s it.” Your-Space encourages parents to visit the kitchen and stay for a meal to give them a sense of comfort.

As Nidhi puts it “We are building a brand which may not be the biggest in the space, but we want to be a trusted and loved brand. For us, being the most loved and trusted brand by parents is what we are aiming for.”

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