Are you in India for a short-stay? But finding it difficult to zero in on a apartment that can be leased for a week or two? That’s exactly the problem that Ashish Agrawal, a former Google employee and current CEO of RoomLion had faced way back in 2010.
When Ashish visited India on a business trip, he found it next to impossible to book a serviced apartment in Pune. After looking for house after house by relying on Google search and then on a family member who visited properties for basic information, he realized that matters had to be simplified and decided to deal with India’s complex real estate market.
He and his team at RoomLion have developed a platform to help address the needs of both service apartment providers and those seeking short term rentals.
“The initial work on RoomLion.com began in October 2012 and we finally went live in March 2013 with a handful of listings in Pune. Currently we have close to 7,000 rooms across 9 cities available for online booking,” says Akhil Gupta, Head of Sales and Marketing at RoomLion.
Users can pick from a range of apartments that are either fully furnished or “mostly serviced” says the company. Listings submitted to the portal are accompanied by a virtual video tour of the apartment or residence.
So how does RoomLion do their part to ensure that listings aren’t bogus?
“We carefully evaluate each host, before approving it for listing. Once approved, our team inspects the property, takes virtual tours, collects data and makes the listing live. This helps us in ensuring the quality and authenticity of listings,” explains Akhil.
Portals for short-term rentals are not new. Other players in the space include US-based startup Airbnb, and NCR-based Indian startup Oravel that is modeled on Airbnb. Oravel is a popular destination for short and midterm rentals for bed and break fast joints, private rooms and serviced apartments. It’s founder had also been chosen for the Thiel Fellowship in 2013.
RoomLion claims to be different from both these portals. The company says that they list only private, fully-furnished short-term rentals with a kitchen that is usually located in apartments or other professionally managed properties.
“This is very different from peer-to-peer rental websites like AirBnb which showcase diverse listings including couch-space-on-rent which appeals primarily to tourists. Majority of RoomLion’s hosts rightfully think that a listing on AirBNB would dilute their image,” said Akhil. “We believe that RoomLion is in a vertical different from both AirBNB and Oravel,” he adds.
Moreover, RoomLion says they do not list home-stays and PGs which require guests to share bedrooms just to cater to the experience. While sites like Airbnb are run in a much more organised markets, RoomLion seeks to deal with unorganised, complicated Indian market with a difference.
Most short-term rental and housing classifieds make users fill in forms, submit data about the properties and have companies’ agents verify them remotely. RoomLion, however, curates data after collecting data on ground. “Our in-house operations team collects data by visiting each property rather than asking the host to fill a form. We collect over hundred data points that sometimes are unknown even to the property owners,” explains Akhil.
The company claims to have covered 80% of serviced apartments available across several of the 8 cities in which it is currently present.
The bootstrapped startup that claims to make 50 rooms live on a daily basis has listings in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Ghaziabad and Hyderabad. They plan to expand their market further. “First, we want to cover all urban markets in India. Next, we are very keen on expanding to the international market which is more organized yet untapped,” says Akhil.