Welcome to issue #29 of our recently launched Q&A series, Startup Spotlight.
This series is all about diving into the world-class technological innovation conducted by exciting startups. Getting to grips with the technology, the mission, and even the stories behind them.
In each edition we sit down with a different startup founder, leader, or operator in an easily digestible conversational style Q&A format.
Today we interviewed Mayank Mathur, CEO of Avasa AI, to find out how they are empowering tenants by finding the absolute best rental agreements, all down to the specific requirements of the tenants themselves.
- 💡 Why Mayank founded Avasa
- 🏠 How there's a 'consumer' problem in PropTech
- 👔 Using 'sherpas' to get tenants the *exact* property they need
In the UK housing and rental prices have been rising, with no sign of changing.
Whilst efforts have been made to help out tenants via new laws that reduce the fees that once were needed when renting a new place, it’s still getting pretty expensive. Costs are only going up.
This has reduced personal choice in the market, leaving renters settling for properties that don’t quite match their own needs and wants. What if you wanted to be near a gym? Near a supermarket? Near a cultural district? Near a top school? Existing solutions are terrible at helping you find your *perfect* home.
This is where Avasa AI comes in. Rather than focus on being a property app that simply lets you search for properties in a certain area, Avasa factors in your lifestyle choices when you’re on the hunt.
Even better, they also have “Sherpas” at their disposal, to help every future tenant through every stage of the renting process. There’s nothing better than an expert in your corner, fighting for the best deal on your behalf.
This brings a level of service to the middle-class that was previously only available to the top 1% - what you could call a 'democratisation of house hunting'.
We spoke to Mayank to find out what motivated the founding team, how they made the app, and what lies in the future for them.
Here we go.👇
What is the mission of your company? Why did you start Avasa?
When my wife and I returned from India, where I had created my first startup, we ran into the age-old problem of "how do you search for a property?"
Between the two of us, in a space of about three or four weeks, it took us almost 100 hours of non-stop work, calling, emailing, checking messages, and running around for viewings.
We visited almost 35 properties before we found the one that we currently live in. This was *number 33*. This triggered the thought about Avasa. Basically, how can we do this better?
And this was not an isolated incident with us - for one of previous moves, we had to rush from work at lunch time or finish early, shuttling across the city trying to beat the home move and work deadlines!
We agreed for a property out of sheer desperation, knowing fully well that this was not the best option for us. Within 2 days, the same estate agent who helped us secure this property had *miraculously* found the perfect property for us - this was obviously higher priced than the previous one and we had to pay 2 extra weeks of rent to secure the property!
Before launching Avasa, I interviewed over 100 tenants, one to one, to really understand is this really a massive problem? I uncovered some interesting things - problems with properties not being available, interacting with estate agents, and viewings. The whole process. By the end of my questions, tears were rolling! It was really very painful for them.
At Avasa, our goal is to reduce the time spent to find a new home to less than 10 hours instead of the average 23 days it takes today. This will be significantly beneficial to the tenants looking for a place to rent as well as their employers who suffer from huge productivity loss while their employees are moving homes.
What's your unique selling point?
The only real option a person has when coming to this country is to stay in an Airbnb, a hotel, or a friend's couch. You then spend the next four to eight weeks running around like three, four or five different areas, talking to 10-20 estate agents and being messed around by the real estate industry.
The way the process is structured, it forces people to be there, in person, to be able to find something that's good for them. Which, effectively means that you have to either make an international trip, stay here for a week or two, find a temporary place to stay, and then spend several weeks to find a property.
So, the solution is very simple. We assign every tenant their personal concierge. We call them a Sherpa. They help tenants with all the heavy lifting with agencies. Sherpas are basically industry professionals, who have done this a multitude of times.
My co-founder, Octavian Pop, was actually the first estate agent we met when we were house hunting, and he built everything with us. Octavian has helped over 2,000 tenants find a property in the UK, in the last eight years that he has been in the industry. He now leads a team of Sherpas, who help our clients secure a property that is ready to move-in for their arrival date in the UK.
We understand the home search process. We have done it over and over again, and we understand where the pitfalls are, where the shortcuts exist, and how to keep moving the process along.
We enable our clients to look at the whole market, regardless of which neighbourhood the property is in, or which estate agent has listed it. With the rise in ‘work from anywhere’ culture, we also have clients who tell us that they can live anywhere across the country so long as the property matches their lifestyle criteria. This search is backed by our Artificial Intelligence engine that enables them to identify the best properties for their requirements in super quick time.
We now have access to a network of over 6,000 freelancers across the UK, who can go inside the property and show you a live telecast of the property. These people are working for the tenants. They communicate what is wrong with a property. It's not a marketing exercise done by an estate agent who glosses over the dark side and kind of shows you everything else.
One additional layer of tech we are designing is an algorithm that can analyse the lease document automatically and say what's good, bad, and ugly in the lease. We can quickly review that and give that information to the tenant.
Now our customers are saying it took them only 15 - 20 hours of their time to find a property. Without Avasa, we know on average it takes 23 days.
How do you go about delivering that experience?
We make it super simple and super efficient for the tenants.
We built everything from the ground up looking at it from the tenant side of things. But, what are those things? It's about lifestyle requirements.
For example, my commute time is super critical. We built a search engine that can handle complex requirements in this area.
For example: returning results for a tenant where their normal commute to the office is Canary Wharf and no more than 45 minutes in length. And, their partner works at Kings Cross and they don't want to commute for more than 30 minutes. And, factoring in that one will take the tube and the other will cycle. Plus, they have a kid - so a specific school in mind, which can't be more than 15 minutes walking distance away.
This is an example of the *real* people telling us how they finally select their property.
Today on almost all the big property platforms, the search is driven by "tell us which area you want to live in." It's up to the user to keep checking, by looking at each rental property ad, and then cross-referencing this with Google Maps to try to map all of these things out.
Basically, we flip that around. The goal here is that these folks should not be wasting time.
What is your ideal customer profile?
In the last six months, we reconfigured the business to focus only on expats - people coming into the UK. These are professionals starting a new job or moving with their current company, people moving on a talent visa with a plan to work on consulting projects or launch a startup, or international students coming for higher studies.
There are also people moving locally within the UK. But, we don't do any marketing towards them. They come to us only if they come through referrals.
What’s been your greatest challenges since you created Avasa?
It was understanding how to efficiently synchronize this mix of AI and human support in order to achieve amazing results for our clients. It’s not AI for AI’s sake, but an intelligent system that understands the nuances of each person’s needs.
It's been the most difficult thing to work on, even today, and it's still going to be challenging for us.
But it gave us a massive edge in the market because no one else can do what we do. We decided to get our hands super dirty and say let's not be afraid of human beings that can do everything. Let's embrace that idea and create an automated system with the appropriate support from human beings.
What's your overall experience of fundraising been like, and what kind of investors take interest in a product like this?
There’s a lot of interest around PropTech. There are so many problems to solve, especially now with sustainability, as a lot of the older infrastructure needs to be upgraded and changed.
People haven't yet wrapped their head around solving the consumer problem, which is tenant issues. As a consumer, my problem is, when I go into the market, I'm faced with a hugely fragmented marketplace. And just adding some new software tool doesn't solve any of my problems, basically.
It's only in recent months, I've finally started hearing some investors say "this is a problem that hasn't yet been solved". Even though they funded so many tools in the past, it hasn't really solved the consumer problem.
Just to give an example of how consumers react to what we do, about 55 to 60% of our business is through referrals.
A consumer problem cannot be solved by raising huge funding rounds. It has to be looked at and experienced from end to end. As the problem we are solving is perhaps the most complex one in the consumer space, we believe it also opens up significantly deeper markets for us as in the future.
In terms of milestones, what have you achieved and what's next?
We have over 75,000 users who have used our app to find their dream home. They’ve identified which areas and which properties to select, and all of that data, to some extent, is coaching our AI engine to ensure better quality results for our clients.
The next big milestone for us is rolling out a few new features this year, to further streamline the user journey, so that users can sign up for electricity, gas, water, all directly through our platform.
We’re also gearing up to roll out Avasa into some European markets as well. We’ve secured access to over 5 million additional listings across Western Europe, so we’re actively looking at how to roll this out.
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