Amit Agarwal barely noticed the crowd outside his office. It was 2015. Sitting on the first floor of a three-storeyed bungalow in HSR Layout in Bengaluru, he was peering into his laptop. The crowd got bigger, and their murmurs grew louder. Agarwal thought he heard his name being yelled out. He peered through the window and saw a crowd of 50 plus men gathered outside his makeshift office.
Agarwal didn’t understand Kannada. But he knew they were angry. He went out, followed by a few members of his team. The crowd asked him to leave. They said that he was destroying their livelihood. They attacked the building; rocks were thrown, a staffer was roughed up. Agarwal locked himself and his employees into the office and called the police. No one was arrested. A few customary warnings were issued.
The earth continued to spin.
Who were these men? Real estate brokers from across the city, who had come to ask Agarwal to back off. The 39-year-old man runs NoBroker, a real estate tech platform that connects flat-owners to potential customers without a middleman. He was, and continues to remain, their adversary. And Agarwal enjoys this adversarial role.
With the short-lived promise of several real estate companies (Housing and Grabhouse), NoBroker is one of the last new age companies left. What the three-year-old company is trying to pull off, in concept, is one part unique and one part hackneyed—eliminating the broker. Everyone has tried it. But they all went back to the same old routine. It was tough. But the market is much too large to let go. According to the 2011 census, there are 11 million vacant and unsold urban homes, and the market is valued at $20 billion.
“We tried, but collecting data and populating the website was difficult. It was time-consuming, and we had bigger fish to fry,” says a former Housing staffer who now works with one of NoBroker’s rivals. He did not want to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media. It was easier to let brokers list on the website. Brokers would take pictures, build the bridges, etc. After all, listing is an easy game, he said. “Brokers want to do these things. It is low-cost marketing for them.”
But Agarwal differs. He doesn’t believe that the internet needs an intermediary. He has a simple business model. Owners list their properties, customers visit the website, select the apartments, meet the owners and they are done. What broker?
Wait, how does NoBroker make money? Surely, not advertisements again. No, a subscription model.
Should I spin you a story?
Subscription, as a model, is not completely untested in India.