Biju Ashokan's MetroPlots offers complete end-to-end services for those looking to invest in real estate
Twenty-seven-year-old CEO, Biju Ashokan regrets his lack of a suitably dramatic catalyst. Discussing his Chennai-based start-up MetroPlots, he sighs, “There's no inspiring story”.
The website, he says, was a logical response to the needs of young customers in a disorganised, but booming, property market. “The idea was to give information about projects. I wanted to add videos, 360 degree photos, the ability to contact a builder in five minutes. That's how we began.” That's also how he realised, “People here just don't want that.”
Straight out of Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh (where he studied Information Systems and Management, "which is not IT, like most people think, but more on how to process data,”) Biju took six months to realise the property market in India worked very differently from the U.S. “Before I went to Pittsburgh I found an apartment online, signed the lease from Chennai, landed, picked up the keys and moved in.” Indian buyers, however, prefer people over pixels when it comes to big investments.
“We realised the people who visited our websites wanted us to take them on site visits, give them advice.” The company rebranded itself. “For the last 15 months we've been doing end-to-end service — starting from home loans. We've investment advisors, with a team of ten people for real estate home loans.” The average age of this team of mostly MBAs is 24, ideal for their young clientele.
Working with new constructions by national companies from DLF to Olympia, the website offers information on projects, backed by videos, Google map images and help lines. Live on Facebook and Twitter, MetroPlots uses social networking to connect clients and offer services such as construction updates. “People get photographs, building updates and can interact with future neighbours as their project is being constructed.” They've also introduced bulk booking so they can group customers and lean on builders for discounts.
Biju says they have close to 10,000 clients so far. Website hits are currently at 600 to 700 a day — mostly from Chennai. “Our target audience is actually very small; people using computers everyday, which immediately removes most of the above-50 crowd.”
As it turns out, Non-Resident Indians aren't big investors. “I thought they'd be the major chunk. But anyone who's lived for more than six years abroad wants to invest over there.” Indians living abroad for a shorter time, however, are different. “They either buy for their parents, or for themselves, because they want to eventually move back here.”
Most of Biju's customers are aged between 28 and 35. “Now, as soon as they start earning, people start investing.” Biju says this is a result of easy home loans. “Now people start with a salary of Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 40,000. In two years they'll hit Rs. 50,000 which means they're eligible for a loan of Rs. 25 lakh.” Besides, paying back a loan for 20 years is not as intimidating as it used to be. “Their salaries are only going to climb. So they finish a 20-year-loan in 15 years and will probably end up buying another property in another year.”
While the average budget in Chennai is currently about Rs. 30 lakh, Biju expects investments in the city to only increase. “This is an awesome place to invest — They're calling it the Detroit of India.”
His youngest investor? A month back a 19-year-old boy walked in. He was in college, and said his parents had passed away leaving him some money, which he wanted to invest in property.” Biju says it's indicative of how responsible youngsters are about investments. “When I was in college, if I was given Rs. 30 lakh, the last thing I would have thought about was property!”