‘We don’t Just Create Properties, We Create Home Away From Home’: Your-Space Co-Founder Nidhi Kumra

Nidhi Kumra, Founder and CEO, Your-Space
Nidhi Kumra, Founder and CEO, Your-Space

With ever rising population of students coming to tier-1 cities for higher education and subsequent employment, there was always a huge demand for quality accommodation for students and young professionals. Sadly, finding a student accommodation in even top Indian cities was not easy. One has to choose between nosy college-run hostels or poorly managed PGs. However, with the rise of co-living, the scenario is changing fast. And an imminent name in this segment has been Your-Space.

An IIM-Cambridge-Oxford alumni initiative, Your-Space, is a built-to-suit student housing facility that offers top-class accommodation.  It aims to foster holistic living through carefully chosen facilities and services by creating a jovial atmosphere.

Realty Buzz IN got the opportunity to know the brain behind Your-Space as Nidhi Kumra, the co-founder of Your-Space opened up about her entrepreneurial journey and what future holds for co-living segment and Your-space. Here are the excerpts of the interview:

1. Tell us in detail about yourself and your family background.

After graduating in Mathematics from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, I was the recipient of Bill Gates Scholarship to pursue further Mathematics at the Trinity College, University of Cambridge. 

Post my higher education, I worked as a derivatives trader at Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch in London for over a decade. After an enriching professional experience, I moved back to India in 2016 to give back a part of my collective learnings. This led to me embarking on the journey of entrepreneurship. As a result, Your-Space was conceptualised and set up, as a brand.

My sister too completed her master’s in mathematics at Trinity and is now an Investment banker in London.

My parents live in Delhi where I spent my formative years. I was brought up in a nuclear family with strong family ties. There was always great emphasis on education and the importance of financial independence for women.

2. Were you always motivated to start something of your own or is it something that just happened to you?

With 11 years of enriching corporate experience, which taught me many valuable lessons, especially the ingrained traits of professionalism and big picture vision, I wanted to create something of my own. Back in 2015, I was looking at various business opportunities when I chanced upon student housing, which is a massive concept in the west. The idea and concept resonated with me and I was lucky to find a great co-founder, Shubha Lal and together we decided to embark on an entrepreneurial journey

3. What gave birth to idea of venturing into co-living?

Student housing is a massively popular concept in the west. I spent two years at University of Cambridge and realized student living could be fun and not a struggle! Having researched the options available to students in 2015-2016, I realized nothing had changed since I had graduated from Delhi University, in 2005. Safety and comfort are of primary importance to parents when they are sending their kids away from home for the first time. This was a niche market that no one had catered to and we realized this was an exciting opportunity – To be a brand trusted by students, parents and colleges. To become India’s most loved brand of student housing.

4. What was the big moment with Your-Space when you and your team realized that you are on the right track?

We strongly built our model focused on B2B growth. We started with 100 kids for our first ever college tie up in 2017. The year after, we got 200 + new kids from the same college and strong recommendations from the colleges for our services. The positive references were a source of motivation and helped us further to close B2B relationships with four new colleges. That was when we knew that our product was working, and we were on the right path!

Post this we have grown organically, mainly by word of mouth advertising and good references from colleges. Today, we are working with 18 + colleges across the country and the number is consistently growing.

5. What do you think is more difficult- making your start up a success or continuing to keep it successful?

Building a good product is the easy bit – Maintaining quality standards at scale is what differentiates successful businesses!

One must understand the core principal that one always believes in and leave no stone unturned to achieve it.  In our case, we wanted to build India’s most loved and trusted brand of student housing. As we have slowly built out the business and a successful brand, what we have always been mindful of, is to understand why our product works and what makes the brand a huge success. The business success is largely based on how well the execution works. And, hence, keeping the execution on the topmost priority and not scaling too quickly at the cost of the quality of service, is critical.

6. What is the toughest moment you have witnessed in the journey of Your-Space?

Over the last 18 months there has been a lot of news in the market where student housing and co-living players were announcing their large fund raises and exponential scaling plans. Crazy valuations were being talked about, causing a slight panic. I clearly remember feeling that this would cause a large chunk of capital flooding in the market and skew the real estate rentals, affecting profitability of our business. However, our ultimate vision and goal plan was to be profitable and self-sustainable and most importantly be India’s most loved brand of student housing. Product and services were the key factors. We continued our unwavering focus on them, as that would finally be our key differentiator and a MOAT – Not capital!

7. How Your-Space is different from other co-living spaces?

We don’t just create properties with well-equipped facilities, at Your-Space, we create a home away from home for our students, providing an extraordinary living experience for them, with a contemporary, state-of-the-art accommodation facility in a holistic environment which is centred around comfort, safety, convenience and the happiness of each resident. We are constantly striving to create a network of beautiful shared homes that people enjoy living in.

8. How is the future going to be for Your-Space?

With the shared communities and services becoming the new approach towards living, we create an extraordinary living experience for our students which encompass all aspects of contemporary, state-of-the-art accommodations in a holistic environment, centred around comfort, safety, convenience.

Among many other services, our smart mobile app lets you connect and create, whether it’s a grievance addressal, a study group or gathering, or any safety or comfort-related issue, follow-up on rent payment etc, we are available 24×7 through our app. Welcome to shared housing 2.0.

Another significant aspiration is to create more environmental sustainability. Our vision is to try to use as few resources as we possibly can and limit our carbon footprint in every way possible, adding sustenance for future generations. 

Your-space aims to accomplish over 1,00,000 beds in the next 5 years across the country.

9. How do you think the present coronavirus pandemic will affect the co-living segment?

The Co-living space industry has been jolted to a precipitous hiatus following the aftermath of the COVID 19 outbreak, with the real estate market in general, being hit the hardest among many other industries. With a sudden rise of numerous cases, the immediate hit to demand has been quite evident in the retail and hospitality sectors causing widespread panic across the whole country ever since it was declared pandemic in nature.

The co-living spaces have seen a sharp decline in occupancy as residents have returned to their hometowns as colleges and offices have shut down.

Most employees are working remotely and we only have ground task force present in the spaces which still have some of the residents, wherein we are managing operations, F&B and other necessary functions with the help of a skeletal staff, while at the same time, taking all the precautionary measures adhering to the WHO guidelines. Many co-living spaces have been making innumerable efforts to create awareness and take precautionary measures for the safety and well-being of the residents. 

10. Do you foresee any opportunities emerging out of the corona virus pandemic for ‘Your Space’?

Yes, there would be a short blip (this will be across industries), however, as countries open up again in 3-6 months, the demand will return and continue its growth trajectory. A large chunk of the shared services address needs (vs. wants) and hence, we will rebound faster.

Co-living/ student housing is essential as people will need a place to stay as colleges and offices re-open. Your-Space, having emerged as one of the most profitable and largest co-living brands in India, operationally, will see a lot of productive opportunities soon.

11.  During this pandemic, what measures Your-Space are taking?

At Your-space, we have taken innumerable measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic. We have provided all our hostels with PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) essentials like sanitisers and masks which have been made available at the common areas of the premises, to be used by the students as well as the employees present there.

Additionally, we are maintaining an impeccable standard of cleanliness and hygiene in all the spaces, wherein we are strictly adhering to the WHO guidelines. We have minimised the staff present at all the locations, maintaining requisite skeletal staff to take care of the wellbeing of our residents.

Additionally, we are maintaining an impeccable standard of cleanliness and hygiene in all the spaces, wherein we are strictly adhering to the WHO guidelines. We have minimised the staff present at all the locations, maintaining requisite skeletal staff to take care of the wellbeing of our residents.

Apart from these measures, we are educating everyone and reiterating about maintaining general hygiene and sanitation practices, along with promoting healthy etiquettes. This is being done by putting up prints and posters (offline) and with the help of digital media (online) on social media channels with extensive marketing techniques.

We are constantly creating awareness about all the above practices along with adopting social distancing- which is the need of the hour. We have suspended all community activities that require gatherings of large number of people.

12. How was your experience with process of fund-raising? Any hack or tip for the newbies?

Growth Capital is very critical for any start-ups ability to grow and scale. What is, however, more critical is getting the right kind of capital to back you up. The capital needs to be aligned with the vision of the founders and the mettle to stand in support of the concept especially during tough and challenging times as today.

13. If you were to do this again (your entrepreneurial journey until here), is there anything that you would do differently?

The journey so far has been a roller-coaster ride with ups and lots of downs. But that is what being a true entrepreneur is. Good and bad times, prudent and regretful decisions have all been a part of this journey. The beauty is the wealth of personal and professional shaping, that has enhanced me in multi- dimensional ways.

I do not think I would change anything because that would change what and who I am, today

14. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with? Why?

Growing fast is not necessarily a reflection of ambition. There are multiple ways to create businesses and hyper growth has been popularized by VC funds. However, there are certain times where one needs to ensure sustainable growth vs. hyper growth.

15. Any piece of advice to your younger self?

As famously quoted by Les Brown – If you put yourself in the position where you must stretch outside your comfort zone, then you are forced to expand your consciousness.

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