From KBC on DOS To Creating Flat.to : An Entrepreneur’s JourneyOctober 20, 2014 2014-10-20 15:19
From KBC on DOS To Creating Flat.to : An Entrepreneur’s Journey
From KBC on DOS To Creating Flat.to : An Entrepreneur’s Journey
Flat.to is a service which helps students find accommodation and roommates. Gaurav Munjal, a software engineer from Mumbai, is the Co-Founder & CEO of the company. Flat.to was acquired by real estate portal Commonfloor in April 2014 but works as an independent company. Flat.to now serves in Pune, Bangalore, Kota, Jaipur, Delhi, Chennai and Gurgaon.
The team have several innovative features like the Facebook Flatmate Finder and the Flatchat mobile app to their credit. Here is an interview with Gaurav Munjal on his journey from his schooling days to being the Founder and CEO of Flat.to.
Tell us something about yourself before flat.to – schooling, college and the entrepreneur in you.
I was born in Bikaner in Rajasthan. Shortly later, my parents moved to Jaipur where I was brought up. I come from a family of doctors but studying science was never my cup of tea. I was more into doing things of my own. I used to build websites because I learnt coding at a very young age.
The first program I created was a simple Kaun Banega Crorepati game on DOS. I was in my 7th grade then. I was more interested in learning C, C++ etc and I never believed that Physics, Chemistry or Mathematics was something that I could learn.
My schooling was at St. Xavier’s Senior Secondary School, Jaipur. We used to have a school magazine called eXRays which had two editions coming out every year with a new version being updated every six months. Back in 2007, I felt that the magazine needs to online. I approached the principal with this idea.
He said I could go ahead with it and that I would be the responsible for the online version of the magazine. The magazine has since been officially available online. It is constantly updated. Now even the school’s annual results are published online on the website.
I joined NMIMS in Mumbai later for my B.Tech in Computer Engineering. It was in the third year of my college that I began with Flat.to
How did the idea of flat.to happen? What were the initial few ideas you had before starting Flat.to?
Before Flat.to, I had developed an online education channel when I was in college. It’s called the Unacademy. It is currently one of India’s largest online education channels. Today the site is about to touch 2 million views and get around 15000 views in a day. For UPSC training, Unacademy is the largest website in the country. Overall it is among the top 5 education channels in India.
While I was in the third year of college, I used to find that most students did not have a proper accommodation in the city. I used to stay at Juhu in Mumbai. There used to be a family who would provide accommodation for students. For any student who went through me, I used to get 10% commission out of it. It was then that I began to think – what if I could make everyone in the college go through me? This could earn me a lot of money.
Being the hardcore techie that I was, in the third year of my college, I started developing the first ever map based search engine for finding accommodation. It served only three areas in Mumbai and was limited to our college accommodation use. Pratik Tandel, who is now a senior coder at Twitter, was also along with me on this. We built the website together and I tried to promote it. We even tried raising some money for it. It was then that I got an offer to work at Directi.
After around 3 months of working at Directi I saw that a new startup had started with a similar map based search website. That’s when I approached Aakrit Vaish. Aakrit has earlier agreed to fund me to start a product while I was in college and I had declined.
When I approached him the second time, he was still eager to develop a product with me on the only condition that I should quit my job and work on it full time. I asked Aakrit to be my Co-founder more than being an investor. We used to meet up almost daily at Costa Coffee and work together on the website.
How long did it take you to get flat.to up and running – from idea to inception? Did you have a team with you to work on it?
It took us only about a week to start the website. It was built very quickly. I had not taken it ahead earlier when I had started it from college, since I was offered to work at Directi. Later on it was started again in October 2012 and we launched the website in April 2013. Our current lead developer Hemesh Singh has just completed his graduation from Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology Allahabad. One of my friends had referred him to me and we immediately decided to call him to work with us on Flat.to.
Tell us about the Commonfloor acquisition – How did it happen? Who initiated the conversation? How has it helped flat.to to grow?
Sumit Jain, CEO of Commonfloor, has been more like a mentor to me since the day I started and Sameer Guglani was our common mentor. Both Sumit and Sameer have been very humble in their ways. In December 2013, we were planning to raise some funds for Flat.to and we were talking to many individual investors for this.
I had mentioned about this to Sumit who later said that Commonfloor could probably acquire us. We had good PR and promotional activities which Commonfloor liked about us. The only condition was that we were to run as a separate independent company. By then Aakrit has to work on Haptik. He had remained the co-founder with me for so long.
We do not work along with Commonfloor, but as a separate company. After being acquired by Commonfloor we have expanded our coverage to more cities.
Flatchat app – What was the idea and How is it working out?
Flatchat is the future for us. Flat sharing us something that needed to get noticed in the market and Flatchat can do that very well. Shared flats were completely listing based earlier. What Flatchat does is to match people of similar needs and interests so that you can chat with people and understand them better before sharing a flat with them.
Flatchat also has a Flatchat assistant feature in it. What the assistant does is that once you make a query, Flatchat assistant will look for places and notify you about it. The assistant will call people to check for available flats and only then does it notify you. All this happens in the backend and the user has hardly anything to do. Flatchat is free to download and is currently available for android and will be made available for iOS in the next 2/3 weeks. [Download here]
Has the journey been as you had expected it to be?
The most important thing in my life was to not do what others were doing. You need to feel happy about what you do and that is very crucial. Commonfloor made me happy. They could do what we could not and they have been a huge support for us.
A mentor like Sumit was someone that I had really needed to make it to where I am. Without Sumit I would not have been able to do all that I did. I am right now working independently. Our product Flatchat is the first real time messaging app in the market for real estate and we are really hopeful about making more innovations in days to come.
Any advice to upcoming entrepreneurs?
Build fast, make mistakes, fail fast, learn more from them and get back and build more. In our case, we had an option to take our time and build the best app or built it fast and then improve as we go. We took to the latter. We used to push everything every single day.
Even when Flatchat was launched, we never waited to make the perfect app. We designed it with whatever we had and pushed the app in to the market. There were many bugs in the app initially, but we made changes as we went about it and now the app is the best in the market. The point is not to think too much once you have decided what to do. You need to make mistakes, fail and learn more to make better the next time.