Dhruv Agarwala, Co-Founder of Proptiger.com grew up in Kolkata. He talks about “thought leadership” in one’s domain as a way to differentiate against competitors and build trust with one’s customers. He went to the US to do his BS in Materials Science & Engineering at Northwestern University and received a Stanford University Fellowship to do his PhD. Midway through the program he felt the entrepreneurial urge and decided to leave after obtaining his Masters degree to pursue business opportunities in India. He started businesses in the natural resources space and also in education. He then went to the US again to do his MBA from Harvard and thereafter he joined GE in the US. After several leadership roles at GE in the US he came to India as the CEO for GE’s infrastructure business in India. He also led institutional sales for GE in India and worked on enterprise sales. His entrepreneurial spirit once again got the better of him and he left GE for his next start-up. He co-founded iTrust along with Kartik Varma who was his classmate at Harvard Business School. The two of them ran iTrust for over four years before selling the business to Karvy. They then started Proptiger.com along with Prashan Agrawal, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur and ISB, Hyderabad.
Talking about iTrust, Dhruv says that the seed of the idea was planted when Kartik and he had less than pleasant experiences with financial services companies in India. They found several short comings in the way these companies were providing services especially with regard to mis-selling and founded iTrust with a focus to provide customer oriented service. iTrust specialized in financial planning and advisory services to customers and on selling financial products that were right for customers and which helped them to achieve their financial goals. The business scaled quickly to a position where it had over 75,000 paying customers who had experienced iTrust’s advisory services. After four years of running the company the founders felt that iTrust was best positioned to scale to the next level in an organization that was backward integrated into product manufacturing rather than as a standalone advisory and distribution business. They sold the business to Karvy, a diversified Indian financial services conglomerate and started planning their next move.
From their first hand experience of advising consumers on financial matters, they learned that buying a house was a major aspiration for most consumers and that consumers first saved money to buy a home before they considered other forms of investments. Buying a home had also become much easier and affordable because of macro-economic factors like lower interest rates as well as rising incomes. It was now possible for young people even in their mid twenties and early thirties to buy homes unlike their parents who were able to buy their first home only when they were close to retirement. In addition, phenomena such rapid urbanization and increased job mobility gave them a lot of conviction that residential real estate was a big opportunity – Proptiger.com was thus born.
On Marketing Outreach – For a new company, building trust and credibility in the minds of consumers is very important and the best way to achieve that is by driving Thought Leadership. As Dhruv says, “real estate is probably the most expensive purchase families will make in their lives so trust, transparency and expertise is something they will look for in any real estate advisor or intermediary.” Proptiger.com’s advisors are well trained and have deep knowledge of the local real estate market. The company made big investments upfront in building real estate knowledge and domain expertise. It produces a number of industry reports which are frequently referred to by various media publications whenever they write about the industry. The founders are invited on various television shows as industry experts and they also contribute regularly to various print media. All these have led to Proptiger.com being recognized as a thought leader in the industry.
On Television – The company has so far stayed away from television advertising.
On Digital Marketing – Dhruv says that Search Engine Marketing worked the best for them in the early days because the company specialized in marketing new homes and all their SEM efforts were geared towards people buying new homes. They focussed on a few keywords and got a great set of qualified prospects coming to their portal after which their advisors began engaging with them and helped them consummate the transaction.
One thing that works really well for them – Word of mouth and customer referrals. Proptiger.com provides end to end services and helps customers through the entire home buying journey starting from search and discovery, to site visits, to documentation, registration, home financing and post sales service. Customers who have experienced this service have been the biggest advocates for Proptiger.com and customer referrals have become one of the most important channels for new customers to come on board. Dhruv recollects his days at GE where he was introduced to the concept of Net Promoter Score which he implemented at iTrust and also at Proptiger.com. NPS is a good indicator of whether customers like your services or not and whether they will refer you to others. NPS is closely watched at Proptiger.com and advisors who have a high NPS are recognized and rewarded.
On things that did not work well for them – Dhruv recollects that SMS was the least effective channel. The reason was that SMS was the lowest common denominator for every real estate company/agent and the market was filled with everyone sending SMSs and thus Proptiger.com was getting lost in the crowd and not building trust for the brand.
Dhruv’s Advice to early stage entrepreneurs – Many entrepreneurs focus on building the perfect product, executing the perfect marketing campaign and building a Rolls Royce when in fact you can launch with a Maruti. Entrepreneurs wait far too long before they get their first customer in through the door. So his advice is – Focus on sales as that will solve a lot of your problems and will keep your investors and employees happy. The cash flow will also solve a lot of your other problems.
Proptiger.com currently has over 700 employees and has big expansion plans for this year. It recently joined forces with Makaan.com to create the only online “classifieds to transactions” real estate platform in India. More than 12,000 apartments with a value of close to USD 1.2 Billion have been transacted through the Proptiger.com platform. Proptiger.com’s parent counts News Corp, SAIF Partners and Accel partners among its key investors.