It was his love for technology that got Sumit Jain, 31, CEO and co-founder, Commonfloor.com to go beyond what he was expected to do as an intern and as an employee. However, that zeal also helped him throw in the towel on the spur of the moment without any concrete plans of what he would do next. Jain talks to Firstpost about what CommonFloor has been able to achieve in the real estate ecosystem and his plans for the future.
What was your earliest exposure to business?
My father had a shop where he sold building products. As a child, sometimes my father would leave the store under my care for days with strict instructions that I should not call him up for any reason. If I did something wrong,I was to tell him about it later. I knew everything about the business as I spent most of my time in the store. It was at my father’s store that the seeds of running my own business were nurtured. My father would tell me, ‘Enjoy what you are doing and whatever way it works for you, I’m fine’.
My childhood was a lesson in self-reliance. That was because of a simple philosophy my parents practiced – which is make mistakes.
Were you a model student in school and college?
As a student, academic excellence was not my top priority. However, that view changed when I was in Class 11 and entered a mathematics competition arranged by the local district magistrate at Khatauli, a small town in Uttar Pradesh where I grew up. Almost 100 top-scoring students from various schools participated. I attempted questions carrying 84 marks and skipped a question of 16 marks. When we came out of the exam hall, a lot of students said they had attempted all the questions. Desolate, I was about to leave when I heard my name being announced on the loud speaker. I was the topper in the district! I could not believe it and more so in a subject like mathematics.
I became a celebrity overnight. The local newspapers covered the news of the competition and in the process my school became famous. My parents were invited for the award giving ceremony in school.. As soon as we entered, everyone started clapping. My mother received the award. That day I realized the joy such an event can bring to one’s parents and the school, too. This realization to do my best has stayed with me since then.
What did you want to do after IIT Roorkee?
My confidence was reinforced when I cleared IIT for I realized that I could achieve whatever I put my mind to and that meant not holding a job but starting out on my own.
In the first year at IIT, I went to work in a start-up for my internship. During my third year, I received an email from one of my seniors who was looking for an intern for his startup in Bengaluru. I told him I was keen but did not have the funds to take care of my expenses. He agreed to pay and gave me Rs 4,000. I stayed in a dormitory at Rs 1,500 per month. Sometimes I used to sleep in the office so that I did not have to pay for the commute and those days idlis used to cost Rs 6. I survived on that.
I thrived in that environment. If I had to do one project, I ended up doing four. It was a very good experience. After IIT, I joined Oracle. I learnt a lot over there, though I never wanted to take up a corporate job. I left the job after a year and started my entrepreneurial journey.
What led to CommonFloor?
Before CommonFloor, Lalit (Mangal– one of the co-founders of CommonFloor) and I were colleagues in Oracle. We started a product called ‘Ban Karo’ for banning telemarketing calls. People we spoke to told us that one of their major problems was unwanted calls from telemarketers. So we built this service — a social spam filter. We got featured in the top 10 mobile companies. We talked to Vodafone and others but they wanted 90 percent of the revenues. We were a young start-up and it was impossible to break through the mobile cartel. But we were determined to build something for the Internet. We knew mobile would be the future (a fact validated today). And this belief was further strengthened when Vikas Malpani, our other co-founder joined us.
CommonFloor started out of an issue that Mangal, Malpani and I faced when we came to Bengaluru in 2007. One of the biggest problems then was that the apartment complex we were living in had a major sewage blockage. The issue wasn’t being resolved as very few residents knew each other. So, the three of us decided to find a way to bring people on a single platform. That was how Commonfloor.com was created.
When people saw real value in the product, appreciated our efforts and began partnering with us in improving the platform, we realised that Commonfloor.com would work. All three of us managed to work on a bootstrapped model for more than a year.
Why do you think CommonFloor was able to make a difference?
While everyone in the online real estate sector looked at it from a classifieds perspective, we look at it from a community perspective. On our portal we engage with users right from the time they are looking for a house to when they move into their homes, and even when they want to sell it. We are the only real estate platform that offers to cater to all property information needs across the property cycle – search, research, property management, sale and rent. Currently, we have over five lakh active property listings from over 200 cities and one lakh residential projects listed with us.
What are the revenue streams for CommonFloor?
We are akin to the Google model, in which the platform is free for the end-user (property owners), while the business customer pays for the services. The property developers or individual owners who are looking to sell their property have an option of listing their property for free and we charge cost per lead. It’s a cost per lead model.
What are your future plans for CommonFloor?
We want to be do something like what Google has done by indexing every web page on the internet, and making it easy to search for end users. Our vision is to map every property in India and help consumers find what they want on our platform, , and take an informed decision before buying or renting.
Which category of your business is doing well?
Recently, we have seen a great surge in mobile usage and our mobile user base has increased exponentially. Our platform has changed completely in the last six months, and the average time that users spend on the website has also increased. Our conversion rates have improved by up to 50 percent on both desktop and mobile.
How do you unwind? Are you able to indulge in sports on a daily basis?
I enjoy travelling, exploring new destinations and meeting people from different cultural backgrounds, besides budding entrepreneurs and sharing our experiences. I am a sports enthusiast and I like table tennis, billiards, cricket and basketball. When not working, I like to play the game of billiards. It’s a great game to network with varied people.
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