Sramana Mitra: What property management function was the most important to automate?
San Banerjee: We learned very early on that the accounting was a very important aspect. Neighbors were not comfortable telling each other to pay their maintenance fees. They would rather have a system that automatically reminds everyone to pay and informs them of the penalties as necessary. All of the money management features were important to our early adopters. Even today that is one of our most sticky features.
Sramana Mitra: Over the course of the past four years, what have you built into the product?
San Banerjee: The idea behind an apartment complex is that each family owns their own flat but the common areas have maintenance which is done by independent vendors who are paid by all of the owners. The associations cover the cost for housekeeping, grounds keeping, and security.
There are three main aspects of running an apartment complex. The first is communication. There is a need for private communications to allow neighbors to discuss their issues. There are also communications from the managing committee to the residents.
The second aspect is management and upkeep of the property. This involves servicing of the transformer or generator and handling the complaints of residents. There are also taxes to be paid and all of those decisions.
The third aspect is the billing and accounting. Each owner needs to pay their share of the expenses. All of the associations need to have their statements audited at the end of the year and filed with the registrar. It is very much like a small and medium sized enterprise.
We identified these three aspects as key areas to develop technology to fix. We built various applications for each area. For example, we have an online forum to assist with communications. We have a vendor directory to help people find companies to fix problems such as a broken sink. For the management aspect, we built an online help desk with a calendar and a meeting tracker. We also developed automated bill generation which emails every resident with an integrated payment gateway to allow online payments. We were the first ones in India to do that.
We spent a lot of time building a complete accounting system. That was very important to our customers. It was a lot of work because our only developer was Venkat. He had to develop that while sustaining the overall software. It took us close to two years to build out the accounting software.
Sramana Mitra: What happened in 2009 on the customer front? How many customers were you able to get?
San Banerjee: In 2009 we had a lot of free customers. We operated on a freemium model. We ended the year with eight paying customers.
Sramana Mitra: How much were you making off your paying customers?
San Banerjee: They were paying us anywhere between 100 and 350 rupees per flat, per year.
Sramana Mitra: How much revenue did that generate in 2009?
San Banerjee: Our third customer was one of the most well-known communities in Bangalore. When we went there and did our demo, one of the people who heard it turned out to be a former entrepreneur. After we were done, he approached us and told us that our pricing was too low. They went ahead and bought a three-year subscription and paid for the full three years up front. That gave us 1.5 lakh right there. We also signed on a complex that had 3,000 units. In 2009 all of our customers were marquee customers.