Cityfurnish: An Indian Startup That Provides Online Furniture Rental – with Neerav Jain [Ep#20]

Cityfurnish is a startup from India that offers online furniture rental. It was founded in 2015 by Neerav Jain and Saurabh Gupta and today it has more than 10 thousand subscribers, $3MM in Anual Recurring Revenue.

In our 20th episode, Neerav tells us about the beginning of the journey, the idea validation process, the marketing channels that were successful and more.

Listen to the interview:


SHOW NOTES

The notes below are just part of the interview. Listen to the audio to get the whole episode!

FLEXIBLE AND AFFORDABLE

What is the problem that you’re solving for people in India?

I did my undergraduate in New Delhi—the capital of India. While I was studying there, we were three friends staying in an apartment. As we realized later on, more than 70% of the apartments in India are either unfurnished or semi-furnished. So, we also ended up in an unfurnished apartment.

That actually led us to a problem which we faced at that time: there was no alternative to buying expensive furniture for temporary needs. So that was kind of a problem statement: If you don’t want to buy new furniture or old furniture, there needs to be a solution for it or an alternative […]

[…] there was no alternative to buying expensive furniture for temporary needs

Then, when we were leaving college, the second problem occurred. While we’re moving out of that city, it’s not easy, and it’s very painful actually to either discard or resell the furniture. So, that was a kind of an awakening to us that the amount that we had spent to buy the furniture and the amount we got from selling the furniture was frankly disproportionate. […]

[…] the amount that we had spent to buy the furniture and the amount we got from selling the furniture was frankly disproportionate.

At the same time, an average Indian shifts between jobs every 18 to 24 months. That does not resonate with their lifestyle. Because if they’re looking for something flexible and affordable, buying does not solve that problem.

SUBSCRIBE, INSTEAD OF BUYING!

How are you solving the problem for them?

We wanted to provide flexibility and affordability to our users. The way we do that is that we provide them a rental subscription plan that you can pay a monthly affordable rate. You can select items by packages, or by combos, or you can select it individually as well.

So, an average two-bedroom apartment, including furniture, furnishings, and appliances, will cost you roughly around $80 a month if you’re taking furniture from us, in India. And that resonated very well with the users.

TWO HUNDRED INTERVIEWS

Okay, let’s go back to September, 2015…

The day zero scenario was actually very funny and very challenging. We follow this book, The Four Steps to Epiphany. There was this very good saying: “For every assumption, you need validation.”

The way we went about it was that first, we needed to validate: “Is there a need for rental furniture or is it something we just want to solve, but there is no market need for that?”

That was day zero for us. Just me going into metro cities and job hubs where majority of IT centers are located and doing interviews. So, I did around 200+ manual interviews, in which I asked two major questions.

Cityfurnish’s Offices: 2015 (left) and 2017 (right)

First was “If you’re living in a rental house and if that is unfurnished, how will you furnish it?” As I expected more than 95% said, either they will buy new furniture or old furniture.

My reason to ask that question was to understand: “Is there an awareness already about furniture rental available in the market or will we have to create that awareness and category as we go about that?”

That was day zero for us. Just me going into metro cities and job hubs where majority of IT centers are located and doing interviews.

The second question we asked them: “If we provide you two-bedroom furniture and appliances, rental solution, around $80 a month, does that excite you?” And an astounding 89% said “Yes”. And we got our first 20 subscribers through that interviews itself.

So that was a big resonance for us, though the category awareness was not there. But if the category awareness is available to the users, the conversion is there. And there is a market sizable need, which we need to solve.

LEAN START

Did you count on any money at that time?

That time it was on ourselves. First of all, to do the interviews and surveys, we didn’t need any money at that time to start with it. Even the website was something which I and Saurabh did in the house.

So it took very limited budget to start with. But, as soon as we started getting orders and to buy the inventory and to fulfil those orders, we started using our savings to fund that.

OLD PARTNERS

What are your backgrounds?

I come from a furniture industry background. I did my undergraduate in Commerce. Post that I was working with Pepperfry—a retailer of furniture in India.

Saurabh is graduated from IIT in Computer Science. He has done his MTech from there. He has worked in companies like Vodafone and HCL and Mdocs, for close to 10 to 15 years before we’ve both started in one more venture—prior to Cityfurnish, That did not work eventually.

Post that, we started Cityfurnish. We knew each other for I think like two and a half years before we started Cityfurnish.

GOOD ENOUGH TO LAUNCH

Was this first version much different from what we have today?

The first version was very limited. We just had five options in total for furniture, at that time. The homepage and the products page were kind of similar. You just placed an order, then everything was done manually at our end. We used to call the customer, send them the emails, collect their KYC over the email.

Now, most of it is automated. The customer can have multiple items, view, place the orders, do the payment and upload documents also on the website. […]

We have done a lot of iterations from 2015 to today. And in every iteration, the theme which is consistent is that our users should get more trust and confidence while coming on to the Cityfurnish website.

TRACTION AND CONFIDENCE

When did you start seeing traction coming?

To be very frank, when we were doing these 200 interviews is when we got the first 20 subscribers. That was a very happy moment for us, because we were just stopping random people coming out from metro stations and just asking them. Actually, those 20 guys did place an order.

So, it was a very good validation and that increased the confidence for the complete team a lot. Maybe towards the April of 2016 was when scale actually started coming up a little bit, because we were doing a very good number of orders—in Delhi at least.

Then, we became a little bit more confident that we could expand into one more city. And that’s how we scale to Bangalore. So, that was the confidence level we were waiting for and once we got it, we expanded to Bangalore.

THINGS THAT DON’T SCALE

From 50 subscriptions in 2015 to more than 10,000 subscriptions in 2019. What were the marketing channels you used to acquire so many users in that period?

As one YC was saying: “do things that are not scalable for marketing”. So, we did a lot of this kind of thing.

There are a lot of expats and communities for expats. So, we used to do a lot of marketing promotions on Facebook and inter-nations related groups to target the expat community. Because we had a very good start in the expat community in terms of the orders that were coming in.

And then we started tapping into those and started converting into referrals as well. Around 35% of our orders are towards organic and referrals. In the beginning, most of our orders were towards organic and reference—through word of mouth and to reference. So, that worked really well for us.

As we started scaling, we understood that, in India, most of the apartments that are available for rentals, are available through the broker’s channel community—real estate agents and brokers. We started onboarding real estate agents to work as a channel partner for us. Now, you will see that we have an Android app called Cityfurnish Partner, on which a real estate agent can come on board and become a channel partner.

We started onboarding real estate agents to work as a channel partner for us.

And whenever he is working with a tenant or a landlord, he can input those leads into the channel on the partner app and our team calls them and then converts those leads, to fulfill those orders. So that was a very interesting and a very different approach towards increasing the orders. And that worked really well for us.

YC GOT ME

You were part of Y Combinator Winter 2019 batch. What was the most valuable learning you got from this three-month program?

I think the biggest advantage or learning from YC is the YC community in itself. Wonderful founders and peers you are working with, amazing pedigree of founder partners who are working with YC who are helping and guiding you. So that experience is invaluable, to say the least. YC community has a very good factor to make everyone push harder to excel in their work. The weekly office hours that they have make everyone accountable in a way that everyone is motivating and pushing each other.

FINAL WORD

What would you say to startup entrepreneurs that want to build a successful startup?

One major key thing I would say is that you should not do a startup because you want to do a startup; You should do a startup if you’re looking or if you’re able to solve a problem. So like, that major difference between those two things, I think is a key enabler to take through all the pains and sorrows which are going to come. And if you are doing it for the right thing, and you’re trying to solve a problem, eventually you will be able to find a solution for it.

Hey, did you like this episode? Check other startup stories here.


MORE ABOUT CITYFURNISH

Cityfurnish logoCityfurnish (Website; Facebook; Pinterest; LinkedIn) is revolutionizing the furniture industry by providing quality furniture and home appliances on easy monthly rental. With the immense focus on product quality and customer service, we strive to become most preferred name in furniture industry by customer’s choice.

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BeOn: Connecting Community To Improve Security – with Gustavo Caleffi [Ep#19]

To feel safe is a basic need of human beings. Unfortunately, in today’s world security issues are present in everyone’s lives. But, how can we prevent something from threatening our security?

Gustavo Caleffi believes the answer relies on bonding community connections and making people aware of the dangers, so they can avoid being harmed. And this is the basis of BeOn.

In the 19th episode of The Traction Stage Podcast, Gustavo will tell us about BeOn story and what was important to start generating traction for the platform.

SHOW NOTES

BEING AWARE

What exactly the problem that you are solving is? And what is the solution that BeOn is offering to its users?

First of all, we need to integrate the community to exchange information about security in the same place. A big problem that we have when we talk about security is that nobody knows what’s happening around their houses and offices.

We want to integrate information on everything that’s happening about security, health, environment, traffic and fire problems, so people can see what is happening around their places and also to help public staffs.

With this integration, we provide a lot of good timing to all these staffs to work with security and this problem in any place.

BETTER THAN RADIO

How did the idea come to your mind?

We worked for a long time with security—almost 20 years. Here in Brazil, the security problems were growing and we had a lot of places that we wanted to work together to have more safety in their neighbourhoods.

First, we worked with radio communication—one condominium talked with another condominium by radio. But it has costs.

So, we started thinking about how we could make these people exchange information with no costs. We thought about an app, and this app is BeOn. We’ve been working in this solution since 2016.

BeOn screenshot 1.

GETTING AN EXPERT

What were the first steps you took after having the idea?

First of all, we made a big project with everything that we could develop in this platform—the best ways and the best platform we could have.

For sure, we didn’t have enough money to put everything working. So, we looked for someone that is an expert in technology, and we started working together with this expert. After that, we made a project to develop the MVP.

And how did you contact him and how did you make him to jump on board?

We looked around all Brazil to find somebody to develop with us this project. And we found that guy very near us. He lives in São Leopoldo—a city very near Porto Alegre. Actually, it’s a company called Mura. This company looked at our project and wanted to be inside the project with us. So, we paid them some money and they came to be our partners in the project.

BeOn screenshot 2.

MONEY TO START

Were these “friends and family” funds or did you have to raise the money from someone else?

No, only friends and family. And after two days we launched the platform in the market, a friend—CEO of a bank—wanted to put money in the business.

FIRST VERSION

You’ve mentioned about the beginning of the idea in 2016. How long did it take for you to release the MVP?

Well, we worked hard. We draw all the features that we needed in almost four months. We talked too much and we planned too much the features that we needed in BeOn in the first MVP. After that, we had almost six months developing the app until we could put it in the market.

How was this first version like? What features did it have?

The features were almost the same that we have today. We’ve just changed the way they appear. We are from the market and we know what people need. This is the difference to have one MVP that you’re really giving people need. Because of that, we didn’t make big changes.

BeOn screenshot 3.

SECURITY MATTERS

What were the best strategies or marketing strategies that you use to get users coming to your platform?

Well, everybody needs our app. We were talking with Google, two weeks ago, about Waze. People that use Waze are people that need to go in their own cars. BeOn is used by everyone—an old woman or a child. They need to have information about security. So, it is very important for people.

And when we put BeOn in the market, all the newspapers and TV programs, wanted to use BeOn to explain that people can use technology to have more security. So, we had 32 exposures in Brazilian newspapers and TV programs. It helped us a lot to show people what BeOn is.

We also had a lot of influencers that helped us—on the radio, on the newspapers and on social— to explain people about BeOn.

All these things together helped us to explain people what BeOn is and make them download it.

SECURING DATA

How do you deal with users’ data security?

This is a very good question for us, because we don’t have any data about the user. The only information that we have is the number of the telephone; Nothing else. You can put your name or not, but we don’t show the name—and we don’t know if the name is real or not. For us, it doesn’t make a difference.

However, if somebody starts to put information that is not true, we can show the phone number for justice or for the police, and they can start to make an investigation. But we don’t show this information on the platform.

BeOn screenshot 4.

ADVICE

A piece of advice you would give to startup entrepreneurs…

To start a project is not an adventure; It’s hard work. People really need to know very deeply what they are doing.

Sometimes, you have an idea and you think your idea is the best thing in the world; And you start working. But you really need to know about the market.

An idea can be good, but the difference is how you work on your idea, put that idea in a project and how you work to somebody see value in your idea.

For me, it’s important to have a lot of knowledge about what you are doing and about what people need, to have success in your project.

Hey, did you like this episode? Check other startup stories here.


MORE ABOUT THE FOUNDER

Gustavo CaleffiGustavo Caleffi (LinkedIn) – Fundador e Sócio diretor da Squadra Gestão de Riscos; Fundador e CEO APP Be On Segurança Colaborativa; Administrador de empresas, com MBA em Direccion de Seguridad en Empresas pela Universidade de Comillas (Espanha); Certificado pela Universidade Israelense ICT (International Institute for Counter Terrorism) em “Segurança Global e Certificado pela empresa israelense ISDS em “ Advanced VIP Protection Course; Especialista em Gestão de Riscos Estratégicos e Segurança; Autor do livro “Caos Social A Violenta Realidade Brasileira”; Atua no segmento de segurança há mais de 20 anos; Inúmeros artigos publicados em diversos veículos de comunicação; Instrutor de lutas há mais de 20 anos; Palestrante em eventos nacionais e internacionais sobre o tema Prevenção em Segurança, Gestão de Riscos Corporativos e Gestão de Segurança de Grandes Eventos; Responsável técnico por projetos em inúmeras empresas multinacionais e nacionais e também em grandes eventos como Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Lolapalooza, Paul McCartney, Rolling Stones, Planeta Atlântida, Circuito Banco do Brasil de Música; Reconhecido pela Brigada Militar do RS com as medalhas “Brigada Militar”, Serviços Distintos” e “Serviços Relevantes a Ordem Pública” e medalha “Tiradentes” pela Polícia Civil do RS.

MORE ABOUT BEON

BeOn logoBeOn (Website; Facebook; Instagram; Youtube) is the solution that have the purpouse to save the world, from a free Community Security APP that communicate and integrate community, public staff (police, fire department, transit department), public managers and private security staff. The APP treats security, fire, traffic, health and environment emergency communication.

Gains For security:  Prevent information about suspects acts and suspect people; Help to reduce the response time of state and county security mechanisms.

Gains For Fire Fighting:  Rapid community communication, promoting greater agility in a first fire fighting, minimizing the risk of major fire; Easy way and agility for fire Fighters identify the geolocation of emergency call.

Gains For Health: Enables professionals in the area (doctors, nurses, firefighters) to assist the victim until the ambulance arrives; Anticipation of situation reporting to emergency call centers, including photo, streamlining understanding of state agents’ need; Preservation of lives by the possibility of first aid care before the arrival of ambulance.

Gains For traffic: Roadblocking information for community rerouting in the region; 911 call location geolocation facility; Anticipation of the situation report for emergency call centers, including a photo, speeding up the understanding of the need by state agents, especially speeding up cases in which firefighters’ support is needed for cutting tools

Gains For Environment: Community information in case of lost child or animal, facilitating and speeding up the identification of those responsible; Natural Disaster Communication Agility in Micro Regions; Form of utility reports for the entire user base, such as road flood closure, landslide

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Anzu.io: A Startup That Brings Real-World Ads To In-Game Experience – with Itamar Benedy [Ep#18]

Do you think games and businesses are part of two separate worlds? Do you consider every ad boring and invasive? It’s time to update your brain with the story of Anzu.

In our 18th episode, you’ll know the story of Anzu.io, a startup that connects game studios to advertisers, by providing them a platform to include real-world ads in any game object.

But, how did Anzu’s founders go from an idea to the traction stage? What kind of challenges did they face in the way? How did they overcome it? Our guest, Itamar Benedy, co-founder of Anzu, answers these and other questions in the 18th episode.

Let’s go!

Continue reading “Anzu.io: A Startup That Brings Real-World Ads To In-Game Experience – with Itamar Benedy [Ep#18]”
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RoadBotics: The Early Days Of An American Startup That Provides Smart Road Assessments – with Mark DeSantis [Ep#17]

We all want our roads in good conditions. Don’t we? But, the definition of a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ road may vary a lot. This is the challenge that governments and companies run through in the process of road maintenance: assessment subjectivity.

RoadBotics was born to solve this and other problems regarding road inspections. Through the same technology used to make autonomous vehicles to “see” the road, the startup makes computers analyze road conditions.

In this interview, Mark DeSantis, cofounder of RoadBotics tells me about the early days of the startup, since the idea until it started gaining traction.

Continue reading “RoadBotics: The Early Days Of An American Startup That Provides Smart Road Assessments – with Mark DeSantis [Ep#17]”
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MPost: The Traction Story of a Kenyan Startup that is solving addressing problem – with Twahir Mohamed [Ep#16]

Receiving correspondences in Kenya might be a real challenge. That’s because addresses (street, number, etc) are not available for every one.

For many years, people have been counting on PO boxes—rented post office lockable boxes—many times shared with other people, in a centralized way.

The problems naturally arise, once your packages might be accessed by unwanted people and there is no warning system to communicate you got a mail.

That’s exactly the problem MPost is tackling with its solution.

Through a unique address code—derived from users’ phone numbers—MPost provides privacy and, at the same time, communication about new packages deliveries.

In the 16th episode of The Traction Stage Podcast, Twahir Mohamed told me how he and his partner developed MPost and how they are impacting the lives of more than 45,000 users.

Continue reading “MPost: The Traction Story of a Kenyan Startup that is solving addressing problem – with Twahir Mohamed [Ep#16]”
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Redox: A Platform For Healthcare Vendors And Providers To Integrate Their Data – with Niko Skievaski [Ep#15]

How exciting it is to think about all the solutions being developed for the healthcare industry! The use of technology for measuring patients’ health, setting appointments, setting medication and improving patient’s overall experience are just a few examples of that.

However, to make all these improvements come true, healthcare vendors (technology developers) and healthcare providers have to overcome one significant barrier: to integrate their systems so patient data may be securely accessed and processed by these new applications.

Redox is a startup from United States that is focusing exactly on facilitating this integration, through a platform that serves as an effective interface, providing accurate data transfer between different systems in an easier and faster way.

In this 15th episode, Niko Skievaski told me about the development of Redox and how it evolved from just an idea into a platform that connects more than 450 health systems

Continue reading “Redox: A Platform For Healthcare Vendors And Providers To Integrate Their Data – with Niko Skievaski [Ep#15]”
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Episode 14, Tulaa, Hillary Miller-Wise

Tulaa: A Platform That Helps Smallholder Farmers To Thrive In Kenya – with Hillary Miller-Wise [Ep#14]

Imagine yourself as a smallholder farmer in Kenya. To grow your crop, you need to buy some inputs. Once you don’t have much money to pay for them, you ask for a loan to a local bank.

Due to seasons timing, you have only 4 weeks to plant. However, the bank takes more than that only to approve your loan, which means you won’t be able to execute things in time this year.

To help smallholder farmers to overcome this and other challenges, Tulaa is providing them a solution that gathers several stakeholders in just one platform.

In our 14th episode, Hillary Miller-Wise tells us the challenges Tulaa faced to get traction as well as the elements that helped it to be part of the life of more than 15,000 farmers.

Continue reading “Tulaa: A Platform That Helps Smallholder Farmers To Thrive In Kenya – with Hillary Miller-Wise [Ep#14]”
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Bookme: A Pakistani E-ticketing Platform And Its Traction Story – with Faizan Aslam [Ep#13]

In 2013, Faizan took his wife to the movies in a distant city, once the city they lived in didn’t have a cinema. However, when they got there, there were no available seats left, which made them got back home frustrated.

With a background in technology, Faizan had an idea: to build a platform in which people could buy their tickets online, so things like what he and his wife went through didn’t happen again.

That’s the moment Faizan started developing Bookme, which today provides tickets for the Cinemas, buses and events.

Want to know how Faizan got from that idea to the traction stage? Don’t miss the 13th episode of The Traction Stage podcast!


Continue reading “Bookme: A Pakistani E-ticketing Platform And Its Traction Story – with Faizan Aslam [Ep#13]”
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Automio: A Platform For Lawyers to Automate and Market Their Services – with Claudia King [Ep#12]

Claudia King worked for many years as a lawyer, but she became really stressed out about the so called billable-hour model. As in any service that depends on the time of the people working in the company, the scalability of the business is restrained by the number of hour people are able to perform.

With a strong interest for automation, Claudia became determined to disrupt that kind of business model by not only automating the processes, but allowing lawyers to sell their automated services online.

In the 12th episode, Claudia tells us about the early days of her startup Automio and what were the challenges she faced to find the product-market fit and finally generate traction.

Continue reading “Automio: A Platform For Lawyers to Automate and Market Their Services – with Claudia King [Ep#12]”
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Goodwall: Generating Traction for a Platform that Connects Students, Universities and Employers – with Taha Bawa [Ep#11]

You’re a high school student, who wants to enter in some of the best universities. Or maybe you are already studying in the university, but wants to get an awesome job in a great company.

Goodwall is a platform with the purpose to connect high school students with universities and college students with companies they could work for.

And it does that by leveraging all the accomplishments, skills and knowledge of users so they can be seen by the “real” world.

In this episode, Taha Bawa, co-founder of Goodwall, tells us how was his startup’s journey from the idea to traction.

Continue reading “Goodwall: Generating Traction for a Platform that Connects Students, Universities and Employers – with Taha Bawa [Ep#11]”
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