Student housing in India has always been a nightmare. Think back to your student days — that 10x12ft room which you shared with your noisy (or nosy) roomie, where you had to stash all your belongings in half a cupboard split horizontally (or vertically, for that matter), could open the bathroom door only wide enough to sidle in because the study table got in the way, had water for only a few hours, harrowing power cuts, rickety beds, and, not to forget, food that would put jail meals to shame.
If you’ve been a student (and most of us have, at some point in our lives), and had studied away from the comfort of your home, you can probably relate to the scene above. And, no, it’s not an exaggeration. It’s the kind of paying guest or shared room accommodation most middle-class students could afford back in the day. This is probably true now as well.
Here comes Stanza Living, a tech-enabled student accommodation platform, which wants to take the pain out of student living in India and redefine the space with its scalable, professionally managed offerings. The startup was started by Anindya Dutta and Sandeep Dalmia, who realised the huge gap in and the massive potential of the student housing market in India and decided to offer students something beyond cramped and makeshift cubby holes with unreliable infrastructure, poor maintenance, and non-palatable food.
The startup is based on a unique community living concept created for students moving to a new place. The startup has been working towards organising the industry through a process-driven service model and simultaneously transforming Stanza Living into a scalable business.
“We are re-imagining co-living in India with our student-first approach and providing the best living experiences to them. Our focus is on creating a strong technology-enabled student accommodation platform and we are continuously investing in new technologies such as AI and ML to design, structure, and execute student-friendly offerings and solutions in a scalable manner across all large educational hubs across the country,” said Anindya.
The Stanza Living Concept
Anindya and Sandeep met while doing their MBA at IIM-Ahmedabad and, in nine years since then, their bond has grown from being friends to co-property owners concurred that the Indian student housing ecosystem needed disruption.
Stanza Living’s underlying philosophy is to always put students first. The founders feel that students need an environment that stimulates learning and growth, along with international living standards, to build the foundation for the most important chapter in their life — college.
With an aim to provide such an environment and such living standards, Stanza Living decided to aggregate, remodel, redesign, and operate student housing assets and offer them to students, along with essential services, at a reasonable cost.
Stanza Living partners with property owners and developers on a fixed lease, revenue-sharing, or management contract basis, for a period of 5-12 years. It remodels and redesigns the properties according to students’ needs, factoring in services such as food, WiFi, laundry, security, etc. The startup then makes such student accommodation and services available on a single tech-enabled platform.
The student accommodation platform claims to have grown exponentially— 20x since its inception — with the numbers of beds it’s managing rising from 100 to 2,000 in the last 12 months across educational hubs in the Delhi-NCR Region. At present, both their facilities in North Campus, New Delhi, are running at full capacity, with over 100 students staying in them, and are currently preparing to launch in Pune, Jaipur, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Indore.
Stanza Living was originally seed-funded by the co-founders and later received a $2 Mn boost from Matrix Partners and Accel.
Stanza Living: A Tech-Enabled Student Accommodation Platform
Stanza Living residences offer students the option to choose from different service packages for students, which includes basic components like the internet, and meals three times a day to laundry services, concierge services, doctor on call and others.
The student accommodation platform is also laced with multilayer security solutions at entry and exit, with a trained security guard, CCTV cameras and biometric access cards, along with incidence based alerts and a rapid response team. There is no pricing range which Stanza Living abides by. All the facilities are competitively priced in line with market pricing.
The real backbone of Stanza Living, however, is technology — the startup analyses the market potential in different educational hubs and seeks to deliver high-quality, scalable service offerings to students. It also plays a key role in designing, planning, and optimising rooms and building the interiors.
“Our focus is on creating a strong technology-enabled student accommodation platform and we are continuously investing in creating a strong suite of tech solutions that use new age technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning etc, to help expand our business and design, structure, and execute student-friendly offerings and solutions in a scalable manner across all large educational hubs”, said Anindya.
The startup’s business strategies are based on developing a strong, deep, and solid understanding of the student consumer and her/his needs, wants, and aspirations. The team enters into partnership or tie-ups with colleges and simultaneously employs a range of ambassador and influencer marketing campaigns which conducts events throughout the year within their target segment in colleges and universities.
Additionally, Stanza Living also runs a variety of engagement campaigns on social media platforms to continuously create greater brand awareness and satisfy their needs with the products and offerings.
Changing The Game Of The Unorganised Student Housing Market
The founders shared that the biggest challenges they faced initially were educating landowners about organising and standardising the highly competitive student housing industry, which for years has been dominated by unorganized and fragmented mom-and-pop operators.
“But, on the positive side, we’ve received and still continue to receive an overwhelming response from students and parents. We have seen a recent surge in interest levels from landowners, developers, and property investors as well, who are excited about our student housing product,” said Anindya.
When asked about competition in the market, the founders said that they believe a student housing platform is a new category in itself that needs a lot of time to grow and shape up. However, they do realise that there is a large pool of unorganised players and limited set of organised rental/PG service providers in the same space.
“Startups like Placio and Homigo also focus on student housing space. Stanza Living is here to offer a professionally managed, process-driven, tech-enabled community living experience to students, designed exclusively to their needs. And that differentiates Stanza living from the rest,” added Anindya.
Student Housing: A Sector Ripe For Disruption
For the longest time, there was no innovation or disruption in the student housing industry. Leave alone that, there weren’t even any organised players in the space. It was just a way for house-owners to make some money on the side by renting out the worst portions of their homes or converting a garage or a room on the rooftop into a barely furnished, barely liveable student’s PG.
However, it is a mammoth space, with huge potential. A recent report by JLL (Jones Lang LaSalle Inc) stated that the supply in the student housing market currently stands at 6 Mn beds, and there’s a massive shortage of 5 Mn beds. This is the market that Stanza Living is targeting.
Tech startups have disrupted the traditional real estate market and changed the way real estate business carried on. The Indian property market might be going through a slowdown, but tech-enabled real estate companies are growing rapidly, making India one of the fastest-emerging realty tech destinations in the world.
Opportunities for innovation using technology abound across the real estate industry. Some of the biggest near-term opportunities for innovation are:
● Data and analytics: The real estate industry is focused on developing tools designed to identify, collate, and analyse relevant data to enhance operational efficiency, inform decision-making, and improve the experience of participants across the residential, commercial, and industrial real estate sectors.
● Mobile applications: Mobile applications are starting to change the way real estate transactions work. Customers can pay their monthly mortgage through their smartphones or make an earnest money deposit instantly and securely using a mobile app.
Stanza Living: Not Just Another Brick In The Wall
Budget hotel room aggregators like OYO and Treebo have been operating for a few years in India now, raking in billions of dollars. In fact, OYO recently announced its foray into the hospitality industry of China with 11,000 rooms in 26 cities. But the tech-based aggregation concept is new to student housing.
The market is dominated by privately owned hostels and PG accommodation, and it’s a difficult task to convince landowners to organise and standardise their properties and services according to students’ needs.
The startup, thus, has been working towards organising the industry through its process-driven, technology-enabled service model, while simultaneously transforming the startup into a scalable business.
Stanza Living aims at offering a long-term value-based solution to house-owners and developers at the same time improving upon its technology. Also, in the next 12-18 months, the company is looking at expanding its portfolio to over 10,000 beds across all major educational hubs in India. With respect to revenue, it expects to clock $293K – $440K (INR 2-3 Cr) in 2017-18.
India has been among one the most active markets outside the US for real estate technology investments. The real estate needs of the country are vast and startups have only just begun to scratch the surface of the opportunity for technology-enabled innovation. As Anindya aptly concluded, “Given the dollars at risk and the proportion of the broader economy that real estate represents, there is every reason to believe the category will produce multiple ‘unicorns’ worth billions in enterprise value.”
Meanwhile, at least students look beyond cubby holes and substandard PG accommodation at living decently in the formative years of their life.
This story was updated at 10.50pm on June 25, 2o18 to change the headline and the copy where Stanza Living was directly compared with Oyo Rooms. The comparison is not in line with the positioning of Stanza Living. Inc42 regrets the error.