Interviews

Matching people basis their social profiles using AI is the next step for Zolo Stays

Founded in 2015 with the aim to redefine the living experience in India, Zolo provides fully managed and affordable stay options with a warm and homely environment. The founder duo, Nikhil Sikri and Akhil Sikri, recognised the gap in the managed affordable living space and the pain-points of people migrating to bigger cities for better opportunities. Zolo offers trusted and comfortable living solutions through ready-to-move-in rented rooms/beds that offer convenient amenities at affordable prices via an integrated app-based technology platform.

Armed with a degree in medicine from AIIMS and a management degree from ISB, Hyderabad, Dr. Nikhil Sikri is the driving force behind Zolo. Under his guidance, Zolo has grown to become India’s largest co-living brand within a short span of three years.

Team IncubateIND in an email interaction spoke with Nikhil on the concept of co-living and the role of technology in solving problems pertaining to this space.

Tell us something about yourself and what does Zolo do?

I am a Doctor-turned-entrepreneur. I completed my MBBS from AIIMS and practised medicine in India and Singapore for over five years before deciding to pursue my entrepreneurial ambitions. I completed my MBA from ISB, Hyderabad, and worked with some of the leading global organizations in India as a management consultant. After a few years, during my stint at Cerner where I was heading Sales in India, I was completely consumed by the entrepreneurial bug and decided to take the plunge.

I started Zolo in 2015 along with my brother, Akhil Sikri. When we shifted to Bangalore, we recognised the gap in the managed affordable living space (commonly referred to as Paying Guest accommodation). We didn’t want to take on the hassles of managing everything by ourselves but the options in managed living spaces were not very good, to say the least. Despite the sub-optimal living conditions provided by the local PG players, this industry is growing at a healthy 20% CAGR because of rising cost of living: PGs provide a far more economical and affordable solution. We wanted to redefine the living experience for these individuals and in this quest Zolo was born. Additionally, I have always been passionate about making a direct impact on people’s lives, an ethos that was ingrained in me during my time in medicine.

Zolo is a co-living brand that provides fully managed and affordable stay options with a warm and homely environment. It offers trusted and comfortable living solutions through ready-to-move-in rented rooms/beds that offer convenient amenities at affordable prices via an integrated app-based technology platform. With its two-pronged solution, Zolo Standard and Zolo Select, the platform provides an excellent alternative to the existing paying guest/student hostel accommodation and apartment rental facilities in India.

What made you come up with the idea and how has the entrepreneurial journey been so far?

Zolo’s journey started with us looking for a large fundamental problem to solve. We decided that housing, especially affordable housing, is a space where we would like to work. Thus, we started with understanding various pain points in the industry and spoke to a lot of different people and customers along the way. ​During our research, we stumbled upon the accommodation-related problem faced by young professionals. Many of them cannot afford to rent homes due to various reasons such as large security deposits and huge investments required for furnishing the house as most of these spaces come unfurnished. The biggest problem was that people were not able to manage the daily chores on their own due to operational issues. Thus, most people were opting for PGs over flats. The PG industry was very dis-organized and fragmented, with sub-par services and no large professional player. We heard so many horror stories involving customer experience that we decided to take it upon us to solve this problem. There are 15 Lakh people in Bangalore living in PGs, who face this problem every day. The scale really motivated us as we felt that we would be able to add tangible value to lives of so many people.

How is Zolo different from other players in the industry?

Zolo, unlike other players in the market, is a full stack player where it owns the entire customer experience. We manage our search and discovery via website and customer app. We manage all the services and amenities – we are completely accountable for everything a customer faces. Zolo’s offering is fun, flexible and functional, which ensures that it stands apart from other players in the market. Fun, because everyone deserves it – we promote the idea of community creation and add the co-living spirit into our services by conducting engaging activities like Zolo Premier League, chess & carom championship, surprise birthdays, festival celebrations etc. which involve the residents and help them connect with fellow residents. Flexible, because today’s generation needs it. We don’t have lock-ins, it is a fully furnished home – come and go at just one month’s notice. One can move hassle free between various Zolo properties – Zolo membership is your pass to rent a home across the country. Functional, because one should spend time on things they love to do and not have to do – and sometimes we don’t want to do anything! And that’s an option we provide. To that end, we provide standardized essential services like housekeeping, repairs & maintenance, food service, Wi-Fi and DTH. We have enviable scale right now: Zolo has around 10,000 beds across the country.

Is co-living desirable and is it a good living solution from a sustainability perspective? Is co-living really the wave of the future?

We see co-living as a growing phenomenon. If a product can save your time and money and provide you a better experience than the existing available option, it becomes a no-brainer. We save your time by taking care of services, we save money by doing them at scale and passing the benefits to the customer and we provide create experience via community.

Co-living definitely has a promising future. The number of individuals/millennials moving to metropolitan cities is steadily increasing. With housing rates shooting up and a growing space crunch in these cities, sharing of living spaces is feasible option. It appeals to both the residents and the owners/developers. Co-living is just not a trend; it has become a necessity in many ways. Individuals with a transient lifestyle are more open to adopting this concept as it is an affordable option to stay within the city centre in a comfortable and homely environment.

How will the technology enhance co-living?

Technology is what has made this possible as the business operations are complex and involve managing multiple moving parts at various places. Without technology, the scale is not possible in this business and without scale, it’s very tough to add value to customer’s life.

Can AI help you find the right partner for co-living?

We are working on that as our next step where we would match people basis their social profiles and likes/dislikes.

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