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How DB Corp’s Homeonline transitioned into a Techno-Human company

Dainik Bhaskar Group has been able to successfully fill the need gap of home buyers in Tier 2 and 3 cities with its online real estate marketplace, Homeonline.com. Today, Homeonline claims to be the No. 1 player in Bhopal, Raipur, Indore markets. The portal plans to expand its footprint across 60 cities in India by September 2019. 

At the helm of the business is Vijay Garg, Business Head, Homeonline.com, who was CFO of DB Corp’s FM venture My FM for 12 long years before this assignment. 

With the proposition of ‘Aapka Homesafar’, Homeonline uses the right mix of Innovation in Technology, Artificial Intelligence and Human Touch to provide home seekers exactly what they are looking for. 

In conversation with Adgully, Vijay Garg, Business Head, Homeonline.com, speaks about filling the need gap in the real estate business, the growth prospects in Tier 2 and 3 markets, growth strategy and more. Excerpts: 

What exactly is Homeonline all about?
It is a real estate portal in the lines of Magicbricks and 99acres, which lists the properties for builders, brokers, and owners. It is a platform where home seekers come to buy and home owners come to sell. 

How did a media conglomerate like DB Corp decide to get into the real estate business?
As you know, Dainik Bhaskar is extensively read across the non-metro markets, so we already have a strong base there. Before we ventured into this project, we researched our markets such as Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Indore, Chandigarh etc. We found out that the primary focus of the existing portals for real estate was on metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, etc. We could easily see an untapped market potential available. The real estate business has been growing at a faster pace in these cities than in the metros. That is evident from the growth of My FM and Dainik Bhaskar. You can see that My FM has had a higher growth in these smaller markets than the metro centric players. 

Could you share some details of the research undertaken before you started this venture in August 2016?
Initially, the research was on the product side. We wanted to create a world class product. We spent one-and-a-half to two years to create the best product from the user point of view. We created a group of 100 users in each potential market. We shared a demo link with them to understand how Homeonline fared in comparison to the existing real estate websites, which application was easier to use. They provided the ground feedback and on the basis of that feedback we created the product. It took us about two years to make a full-fledged world class product. 

In November 2018, we carried out another research to find out the pain areas that the consumers were facing when they were searching for a house. What we gathered was that the people in these markets were not that digitally savvy. 

When we asked whether they needed human help, 99 per cent of the people said ‘Yes’. Despite this being an era of artificial intelligence, they wanted a human expert. 

We also approached the builders and developers to understand their pain areas as well. Their concern was about drawing in the serious buyers; they did not want people to just come on their websites and check properties with no intention to buy immediately. They wanted relevant and serious buyers. 

After understanding the pain areas of both home seekers and home owners, we created a product called ‘Home Search Officer’. We decided on the concept where anybody registering was asked to deposit Rs 500 as a refundable security deposit. This was the filter used to weed out the non-serious buyers. The Home Search Officer understood the requirement of the buyer, provided them guidance and consultancy and then searched for a home as per their needs. 

By offering quality leads to our builders, in the last 6 months our renewal ratio has been 92 per cent, which is much higher than the industry trends. This has been possible just because of the better quality of buyers that we have been able to attract. 

Has the gap between the metros and Tier 2, 3 towns lessened after your initiative?
We became a market leader within a period of 6 months in markets like Bhopal, Indore and Raipur. We have the maximum content, response, traffic and we command the maximum price. We charge 30 per cent more than our nearest competitor. Since we are a local player with the know-how, the builder is happy to give me more money for the response they have been getting. 

We have established ourselves as a Techno-Human company rather than just a technology platform. 

What has been your communication strategy?
As of now, we are only pushing our Home Search Officer communication, where we say we are a handholding guide and expert and bring the builders relevant and serious buyers. 

What is the media mix for Homeonline?
We do print and radio; digital is also a huge part. Radio and print help us in our branding initiatives. We do digital in terms of Google ads, Facebook and ground activations as well. We do events such as Property Expo and Flash Sales. We have not done much of outdoor advertising. So, print, radio and digital are the three major activations. 

When you look back, what have been the key milestones?
As I said earlier, we are the No. 1 in Bhopal, Indore, Raipur. Our content is much better, and so is the response received. In the next 3 months, we are looking to become a leader in Jaipur, Indore and Chandigarh as well.

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