India’s real estate tech unicorn NoBroker talks entrepreneurship

Amit Kumar Agarwal was a Associate Director at ANZ Bank when he quit in 2014 to launch NoBroker, a platform designed to eliminate agents in real estate transactions and use technology to reduce costs for homeowners and searchers. His early years as an entrepreneur were riddled with struggles, including an attack by a gang of real estate agents who destroyed the company’s office. In 2021, NoBroker became India’s first Real Estate Tech Unicorn backed by investors such as General Atlantic and Tiger Global Management.

What challenges as a real estate tech startup in India have you underestimated?

We definitely underestimated the backlash from brokers. We knew we were going to compete with them and they wouldn’t be happy about it. But we never imagined that it could be so extreme that a violent mob of about 60 people would attack our office. That being said, real estate wasn’t a very new industry, so I had covered most aspects and learned from players who had gone wrong before me. For example, we knew we wanted to stay away from pointless expansion into many cities at once. There was a realization that a consumer-to-consumer deal – we work with owners and tenants – takes a lot more time to crack than any other segment. That’s because it takes a while for a new player to gain the trust of homeowners. You cannot afford “cashback” to attract more owners on your platform.

How difficult can the first few months as an entrepreneur be?

It’s quite scary because it’s full of uncertainty, insecurity and fear. In the beginning you get a lot of calls. Your friends congratulate you and say they wish they could be so brave. But then they’re all busy with their own lives, and after a while nobody calls you. You’re sitting alone in your bed with your legs drawn up, your computer in front of you, and you see about five customers on your website. At this point you are wondering how much money you would make if you had a regular job that day.

A mental trick I developed for myself to overcome these thoughts was to do math: I was 35 years old at the time, and I felt like I had 25 years to go. So even if I lost two years pursuing entrepreneurship, there would still be plenty of time to catch up.

What opportunities in the real estate technology market are you most looking forward to?

I’m really excited about the core opportunity to increase the number of online transactions – rentals and sales. We have 16 million clients in total and more than 500,000 new clients are added every month, but if you look at the whole property market in India we have a very small market share. A lot of people think we’re very big, but actually we’re only big online where we have an 80% market share. Looking at the real estate market as a whole, our share is only 8%, as many transactions remain offline.

What are the top three things you would say to an aspiring entrepreneur before they quit their job?

The first is money. Basically, you should be sure how long it will take you to start making money. For example, you need to know that if it’s a fundable business, how many years can you wait for it to get funded? And then, according to that estimate, set money aside for all your existing expenses.

The second is support from your spouse or partner. Even if your parents don’t support you, it’s okay. But when you are married and your spouse does not agree with this decision, it becomes very difficult.

The third thing is that ideally you should have seen traction in your business idea. The worst thing would be that you quit your job and then within three months you are disillusioned. When you quit your job, you have to do your best and invest at least a year. There will be days when tens of people will say it’s a good idea, but there will be days when tens of people will say it’s a bad idea, and that shouldn’t make you second-guess yourself. You have to have the mental toughness and be willing to hear both sides without doubting yourself – at least not for a year.

They attended the prestigious Indian Institute of Management. Does family tree help you take risks as an entrepreneur?

Pedigree definitely helps, but a lot has changed in recent years. If you did something of your own five years ago, it was not counted as an experience on the CV. Today that has changed. Now when we look at someone starting a startup, we look at it as an experience. In fact, it’s often seen as a more valuable experience.

*This 3 Minutes With interview first appeared in the weekly Rest of World newsletter. Login here.

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