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“The new-age student is a digital-first audience”: co-founders, Stanza Living
The Times of India  |  September 16, 2019

John Sarkar

As one of LinkedIn’s Top Startups of 2019, Stanza Living started as a unique co-housing concept for students (only) that operates a full-stack business model transforming properties into student-friendly residences, providing a wide array of amenities for a hassle-free living experience, ensuring end-to-end service delivery management. Through its proprietary tech platform it offers seamless connect in delivering associated services like food, laundry, WiFi, security and maintaining a responsive feedback mechanism. In around two years of existence, the company has raised funds from investors such as Sequoia Capital, Matrix and Accel Partners. Anindya Dutta and Sandeep Dalmia, MD and co-founders of Stanza Living talks to TOI about the company's plans.

 

Excerpts:

 

1. How do you plan to reach an inventory of 1 lakh beds? What's your strategy?

 

We believe that there is a significant &ndash and growing &ndash pan-India demand from the millions of students who migrate every year to larger cities and established educational hubs to pursue better academic opportunities. These students are looking for professionally-managed student housing spaces and don’t want to be worrying about infrastructure and service gaps.

 

Against this back, we have grown nearly 200x since our launch of operations in 2017. Today, we manage an inventory of 20,000+ beds across the country. In the last quarter, we raised an undisclosed Series C round led by Falcon Edge Capital. The growth round has brought our total capital investment close to $70 million &ndash strengthening our position as a key player in the Indian student housing sector.

 

All of this has provided further impetus to our expansion plans which are driven by a three-pronged approach focused on network, technology and people. Some aspects of the approach are:

 

&bull Partnership with real estate developers: We are exploring various partnership models with landlords, developers etc. to continue building inventory in diverse micro-markets and are seeing a lot of in-bound interest for these partnerships

 

&bull Partnerships with educational institutes: We have also entered partnerships with several educational institutes across the country, catering to their students’ needs

 

&bull Building technology solutions for better consumer outreach and driving business growth: Technology has always been the bedrock of our operations and we continue to invest in and build solutions. Some of the interventions include:

 

o Stanza Resident App &ndash a one-stop communication and feedback management platform that aligns our residents and operations team to manage workflows and address student requests across a wide array of services like food, laundry, Wi-Fi, security and more.

 

o Stanza Developer Lab &ndash A range of IoT enabled-applications which are being developed in-house for data-driven insights and predictive analysis of consumer behaviour patterns, building usage trends and preferences. The consumer learnings allow personalized service delivery and can further aid efficient supply and logistics decisions, guide vendor management and drive overall cost benefits.

 

&bull Building an agile corporate and city-level team with diverse sectoral capabilities:

 

We are a 750-strong team today across 9 cities and plan to reach a 1000+ by the end of the year. Our leadership team has a combined industry experience of 150 years, as well as multi-domain expertise with key traditional and new-age brands like Future Retail, L&T, Ford Motors, Zomato, Lenskart, Snapdeal, Grofers and more.

 

We believe all these will help us maintain our growth momentum, while continuing to build a world-class student housing brand.

 

2. In your opinion, what do students look for in accommodation?

 

For the Indian parent and student, housing is not just a real-estate product (as in the West) but a service-led proposition, too. Hence, when they seek accommodation, they are looking for an organized, high-quality setup that promises a great service experience. This expectation cuts across demographics and geographies. We have seen this in the context of our residences, where over 55% population comes from Tier-3/4 cities.

 

At Stanza Living, students are assured of thoughtfully designed residences that we manage end-to-end through a professionally trained staff.

 

&bull Our in-house transformation team is responsible for repurposing existing properties into student residences, based on our smart and adaptive design solutions.

 

&bull We also offer a wide array of amenities under one roof, which include food, housekeeping, laundry, Wi-Fi, among others, for a hassle-free living experience.

 

&bull Further, we have two uniquely designed, first-of-their-kind community engagement programs for our residents &ndash Stanza Social and Stanza Springboard

 

o Stanza Social is a social and personal well-being program which provides residents access to a range of exclusive events and curated offers with several local, regional and national brands.

 

o Stanza Springboard is a professional and skills development programme which allows residents to participate in and access an exclusive collection of personality enhancement programs, corporate internship opportunities, skilling classes and the like.

 

3. On an average, how much does an outstation student spend on accommodation in a month?

 

Average spends per student range from Rs 5000 to over Rs 20,000, depending on the real-estate dynamics of specific micro-markets. These may vary across cities and regions.

 

4. India being a vast and diverse country, have you witnessed any difference in the needs and wants of students from different cultures?

 

By virtue of our presence in leading educational hubs across 9 cities, we are home to an eclectic mix of students from across the country. We find that the new-age student community, from across geographies, seeks a high-quality, service-led residential experience that is tailored to their lifestyles.

 

Additionally, community living lends itself best to the student audience their receptivity to interactive spaces, shared living environments, and common social and learning experiences is uniformly high. We have seen this interest replicated for our Stanza Social and Springboard programmes.

 

The new-age student is also a digital-first audience and we see a lot of rich interactions through our Stanza Resident App and our extended technology ecosystem. From seamless e-onboarding, information updates on our services, sharing feedback on their daily living experiences, grievance redressal, availing our partner brand deals, rent payment etc. &ndash there is a whole array of engagements that most residents prefer undertaking digitally.

 

While these consumer behaviours are fairly uniform across geographies, there are some subtle nuances like dietary habits which vary from region to region. Being a hospitality-led concept, we have a dedicated F&B team which works on mapping student preferences, researching regional cuisines and designing menus to suit diverse tastes. We also extensively leverage student feedback shared on the Stanza Resident App and factor this in meal planning.

 

5. In five years, where do you see Stanza Living?

 

We are on an aggressive growth path and have an ambition to build capacity of over one lakh beds by 2021. Our intent is to create a pan-India student housing brand so that the millions of migrating students in the country can be assured of world-class, tech-enabled, professionally-managed student residences, catering to their needs and aspirations.

 

6. Most hotel aggregators face the problem of unoccupied inventory. How do you plan to address that?

 

Unlike other real-estate asset classes, student housing in India is in a unique position. There is high demand from over 10 million students migrating within the country for professionally-managed, high-quality accommodations. Yet, a significant infrastructure and service gap exists in the space.

 

Hence, world-class, tech-enabled and service-focused residential experiences like ours witness a certain predictability of demand. We do long-term stays which are linked to the academic season. During this period, we have seen student referrals play a vital role in driving interest for our proposition. We operate on an average occupancy rate of 85% throughout the year.

 

7. Which are the most promising education hubs across the country according to you?

 

In our opinion, the most promising education hubs in India are: Delhi/NCR, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai apart from a few other promising tier-2 and tier-3 cities.

 

8. Choppy real estate prices are bound to affect the student housing market. How do you plan to factor that in?

 

Student housing is quite different from other real estate propositions, as it is guided by strong structural demand. This means that there is a wide gap between the requirement for high-quality student housing in the country and the existing infrastructure. There is also a great potential for organizing the current market supply which exists as fragmented real estate, to address this unmet demand.

 

Another differentiator for student housing is the counter-cyclical behaviour of this asset class. Unlike other consumer and commercial real estate assets which are affected by factors like consumer incomes, inflation etc, student housing is also recession-proof and continues to see demand from people investing in their education and upskilling. Hence, there is a certain predictability which cushions this asset class from choppy real estate prices.

 

9. Any plans for luxury accommodation for students?

 

Our immediate plans are focused on market expansion into key educational hubs and to continue building Stanza Living as a much-revered student housing brand. We currently offer a comprehensive student living experience comprising of tastefully designed residences, with a bouquet of amenities and robust community-building activities. We believe in the potential of our model that can lend itself well to various formats of student-centric accommodations.

 

10. What are the challenges you are facing or may face in this sector?

 

The biggest challenge is at a sectoral level, since there are no existing templates or precedents for the business proposition we are building. Hence, the task before us is to develop proofs of concept, establish industry models and benchmarks, while continuing to grow at a rapid scale.

 

At the same time, consumer experience will be the key differentiator for various companies. We are very particular about maintaining the quality of product and service experience as we expand to a pan-India presence. We would also need to continue strengthening our technology backbone as we adapt our proposition for new markets and consumers.