We are putting the house back in order: Housing.com’s new CEO

Jason Kothari spoke about his strategy for the company in a weak real estate market


Jason Kothari replaces interim CEO Rishabh Gupta, who has exited the start-up. Photo:
Jason Kothari replaces interim CEO Rishabh Gupta, who has exited the start-up. Photo:

New Delhi: In an attempt to turn around Housing.com’s struggling business, investors at the online real estate website named Jason Kothari as the new chief executive on Thursday.

Kothari, was serving as chief business officer at Housing.com since August, was named CEO after a day-long board meeting at the company’s headquarters in Mumbai.

Interim CEO Rishabh Gupta has resigned and will be leaving the company effective immediately, the company confirmed.

According to people familiar with the matter, Gupta was asked to leave by the board of directors. Mint could not independently verify this.

After the ouster of co-founder Rahul Yadav, Housing’s board has been closely involved in the firm’s day-to-day operations and is trying to cut costs, restructure the business and boost revenue. In May, SoftBank’s Jonathan Bullock joined the firm’s board.

The company is fast building a senior management team and recently hired chief financial officer Mani Rangarajan, general counsel NandiniMehta and chief marketing officer Nikhil Rungta.

Prior to joining Housing.com, Kothari was the co-founder and CEO of Valiant Entertainment, a US-based firm that publishes comic books. He holds a degree from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Founded in 2012, Housing currently has 2,500 employees in 50 cities. Run by Locon Solutions Pvt. Ltd, it is backed by Japan’s SoftBank Corp., Nexus Venture Partners, DST Global Lp, Falcon Edge Capital Lp, Digital Nirvana Fund Co. Ltd, Qualcomm Ventures and Helion Venture Partners. In December 2014, it raised about $90 million from investors.

Housing.com,which competes with CommonFloor, 99Acres, PropTiger and MagicBricks, has been restructuring its business and has closed down categories such as commercial properties, short stays and land business.

In a phone interview shortly after he took over, Kothari spoke about his plans for the company. Edited excerpts from the interview.

Jason Kothari, 34Jason Kothari is the co-founder of Valiant Entertainment, a US-based company that produces comic books. He was serving as Housing.com’s chief financial officer since August and was named the chief executive, in place of interim CEO Rishabh Gupta, after a day-long meeting of the board on Thursday. He holds a degree from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

What are your plans for Housing, going forward? What processes are you putting in place?

We are putting the house back in order… There are broadly four steps to start with. One, we will be driving scalable revenues. We already have a world-class product, significant traction, traffic and listings; we just need to fill all this with revenues. Secondly, efficient use of resources. Cost-cutting was a part of this but it is more than that. It is about getting more value for the same amount of resources, which includes money, but also time and effort of the people working at Housing.

Thirdly, building a world-class management team… We started with a young and innovative management team that was suited to the earlier product technology focus of the company’s lifecycle.

While we maintain the focus on technology and product, we are entering a stage where we need to focus on monetization and growth as well.

And we need to have better communication…there is significant growth in the business that people are not even aware of and this should not be the case.

We are going to be more open in our communication and not just internally but externally.

What about focus on profits?

I think, right now, we are focused on building scalable revenues and capabilities; profitability is a long-term goal.

What are the challenges you foresee?

The real estate market in the country is in a downcycle, but the investors and management are focused towards building the company for the long term. We see these as short-term challenges. Also, there are many online real-estate players, and from outside, the market looks crowded. We need to have a clear differentiation.

Companies in the real estate space are struggling to scale. Do you see an opportunity for a vertical (real estate-focused) company to exist in the long term?

If you look at markets globally, there are only two markets—Dubai and Brazil—where horizontal players have become leaders in the real estate space.

In others, verticals have taken the market leadership position. So, we are very confident about our position as an independent company.

How difficult will it be for you to do an image makeover for Housing after Rahul Yadav’s departure?

The goal is to execute and grow the business successfully and the by-product of doing that and communicating that effectively will improve and create a very positive image of Housing.

There have been rumours about layoffs and restructuring of the firm. Can we expect more departures?

Actually, no decision has been made on any future restructuring.

What will be the role of existing founders in the company? Do they remain associated with the company?

A number of the co-founders will continue to be involved in the company and they are a valuable part of our team.

What role will the interim CEO, Rishabh Gupta, take on?

He will be leaving the company. We wish him nothing but the best in all his future endeavours.

The company has seen a major dip in valuation in the last six to 10 months. How are investors perceiving it?

There have been rumours about Housing’s valuation that are extraordinarily high and extraordinarily low, and neither of those are true.

At the end of the day it is the investors that determine the valuation and it’s our job as management to execute the business plan successfully and grow the business. The investors and the market determine the valuation.

Are you looking for fresh funds?

We are not really looking for third-party funding. We have the support of our existing investors and we are excited about what the future holds for the company.

While we’ve been approached by new third-party investors, we are not actively seeking them out because we don’t need to.

Priyanka Sahay contributed to this story.