Mumbai: First, there was the email.

Jonathan Bullock, SoftBank Group’s representative on the board of Housing.com, made it amply clear. This was important. He wanted to talk about it. It was really, really important. Then Navroz D. Udwadia, chief executive of Falcon Edge Capital LP, reached out. Let’s talk.

Rahul Yadav, founder of real estate search site Housing.com, was in no mood to listen. As far he was concerned, he was done talking. No more talking. What could be so urgent? Whatever it was, could it not wait till the board meeting? Not wait just another 14 hours? No. No more talking.

Bullock was insistent. Let’s get on a call. Discuss this. If it is too late now, then let’s get on a call first thing tomorrow morning, an hour before the board meeting.

No.

At 11.29pm on 30 June, Yadav changed his status on Facebook. He put up a picture of Robert Downey Jr. (reference to Tony Stark, a fictional billionaire, playboy superhero) with arms akimbo. The caption read: Tomorrow is Board Meeting.

Next morning, 1 July, sharp at 9.30, the board meeting began at Housing.com’s headquarters in Mumbai.

In attendance were quite a few people: Yadav and his colleague Rishabh Gupta. Ritesh Banglani, partner at Helion Ventures Partners LLC. Bullock. A couple of lawyers. Suvir Sujan, co-founder and managing director of Nexus Venture Partners, had logged in on a call.

Bullock went first. He chided Yadav for his antics with the media. It had gone too far. It was no way to behave. Certainly not for the chief executive of a company.

After giving it much thought, the board arrived at a collective decision. It’s over. It is in the best interest of Housing that Rahul Yadav resigns from the chief executive’s position and quit the company altogether.

Starting right now.

For a moment, Yadav was taken aback. He wasn’t expecting any of this. It was he who had asked for the board meeting, but not for his own firing. He wanted the board to know that he did not want to be the chief executive anymore. That he wanted to become the chief product officer. If the board wanted, it could hire another CEO. From within Housing or outside. Rumours had been doing the rounds that Yadav had quit again but as far as Yadav was concerned, he wanted to be the chief product officer and not the CEO. To quell all rumours, he wanted to formalize things. Hence the meeting.

A SoftBank spokesperson said, “We will not comment on past developments. We are confident that Housing is now on the right track and building for sustained success."

The meeting didn’t pan out the way Yadav thought it would. He had been fired. And asked to leave right away. The meeting lasted all of 10 minutes.

While the investors were expecting trouble, Yadav walked out calmly.

He got back home. Got into bed. And went off to sleep.

Enfant terrible

Rahul Yadav’s fall from grace —the fight with investors, the bad-mouthing of others, the spat with the media—is a pretty well documented story.

Yadav started out well; coming across as a shy, maverick entrepreneur, who built Housing.com along with 11 co-founders. He was put under media scrutiny only after a tragic car accident, involving four employees of the start-up, on the night of 20 February, in which two people lost their lives.

Once under spotlight, Yadav hurtled down fast, from a purported genius to the enfant terrible of the start-up world, turning out every bit an Internet meme.

Worse character descriptors have been used: fake, attention seeker, loser… that list is long.

But this is not the story of the past.

It is the story of Yadav’s learnings—from everything that transpired at the company.

It’s been five months since the day Rahul Yadav was fired from Housing. In that time, a lot has happened: more than a thousand employees have been fired from the company; the rental and commercial business divisions have been shut down; the company will only focus on users looking to buy a property.

Rishabh Gupta, the CEO who replaced Yadav, has also quit.

Mint reached out to a few people working at the company and the nervousness about the future of the start-up is palpable.

“It is okay," said an executive, who requested not to be named. “Where do you think it is headed?"

Reflections

As far as Yadav is concerned, he’s used the time to reflect, travel and meet various entrepreneurs across the country, pitching them the idea of his next start-up.

It is about six in the evening. Yadav and I have been chatting for a while now. Of his experiences over the last few months and everything else under the sun.

So, did you introspect?

“Yes. I never used to connect with emotional people. So, I never understood girls. Then there are people who are emotional or going through some sort of tough time, I would not be able to connect with them. So, I was rude to them. Very hard on them, not soft. Then diplomacy. I realized that you have to be soft; you don’t necessarily have to say the first thing that comes to your mind. So, yes now I can understand people’s feelings and emotions. I think the word is empathy, and trust me, I am still learning all this."

I’m curious. How did you come to this realization?

“See, life was very easy and simple before. When you don’t have any financial pain, because in college I didn’t face that. After Housing, I did. I didn’t do very badly with money, but I got an experience. Second, I had a lot of free time so I connected with my parents. Started talking to them more often. Earlier we wouldn’t talk for months. Now, we speak almost every other week. So, I went home and realized that they have grown old. Third, I found a girlfriend. That helped. A lot actually on the emotional side. I also travelled a little, which was great.

“See, I also realized that sometimes you cannot change things, even if you want to. I had never felt that way. Because in Housing I would do whatever I liked. If I believed in something, I would get into it and not listen to anybody. So, over the last few months, I realized that Housing was not in my control. It was going down, down, down. See, on my last day at Housing, I wanted to stay. I wanted to be the chief product officer and not the CEO but I was fired. Can you believe it? Within moments I became irrelevant. There was stuff I had, ideas and plans and I wanted to share that but no. They didn’t want me around. No transition."

Do you think you made mistakes and could have handled things better?

“Yes I did. I should have handled the people part of it better. But frankly, I didn’t know better. I mean, looking at the outcome today, I could have avoided some things. It would have been worth it. I mean, I feel sad for the employees. The firings.

“Back then, I hadn’t seen any of this coming. It is a disaster. It is a mess. So they’ve shut down an office, but the food still gets delivered there. People are disheartened. But as I hear, for the investors, where Jonathan said this at a meeting that ‘Housing is a rounding error of a rounding error for SoftBank’…Housing was a dream of 12 people. It could have been played better.

“See, when I was fired, nobody said anything. Nobody at the top and mid-level. Everyone just accepted it as their fate. And all I am saying is that as people, you need to have a say. I keep bumping into some of the employees and some stories are really unbelievable. Like a new office had been leased at a rent of 1.5 crore per month, but nobody moved there and the rent is still being paid because there was a commitment given to the builder. You have to meet the builder and resolve it. How can you let this happen? Who is going to take the ownership? You have to meet the top-level guy at Hiranandani and close it. Help to rent out the place. I mean, Housing is a real estate website, right? Lower the rental, get buyers, do something. But I don’t want to talk more about this.

“You know when it’s your own money, then the behaviour is different. Like the one we saw from Housing’s angels and Haresh Chawla (partner at India Value Fund Advisors Pvt. Ltd). They behaved completely differently. They were always there to help. So, our company was like most other start-ups in India.

“But we diluted more to investors because there were so many founders. While stake doesn’t determine the outcome, my say became lesser. In India, it is difficult for the founder to keep 30% of his company. It is very difficult. Founders in US can. That’s why (Amazon.com Inc. founder) Jeff Bezos can say, I won’t make a profit. And people listen. Otherwise, Wall Street can be really merciless. Imagine Facebook as a democratic company trying to buy WhatsApp for $19 billion. You think VCs (venture capitalists) in India will allow this? Founders live their companies— day in, day out. They understand the game, the next steps. VCs don’t. VCs should get involved if they can give the time.

“I would now say dilute less. Be wary of your VCs. Not because they are bad. Just that, sometimes they don’t know what they are doing. So much so that they can even hurt themselves. Imagine, at Housing, the full product tech team has been working on rent for the last three months. And they have shut down that division."

Irrational behaviour

Do you regret fighting with the investors and generally behaving badly?

“I do. But I had not seen this coming."

Nobody advised you?

“What advice? There are hardly any people. From the last generation of tech entrepreneurs, there is may be (Naukri founder) Sanjeev Bikhchandani, who is in Delhi, and Ajit Balakrishnan of Rediff, a company that’s not doing well anymore. Other entrepreneurs are okay. And then there are those who are five years or more elder to me, who are building their own companies and are so busy. There were hardly any people in Mumbai. In Bangalore, you can still talk and discuss. In Mumbai, Housing was the large start-up. So, whatever little mentorship I have had, I got from Haresh Chawla."

There was a lot of irrational behaviour at the time.

“I was doing too many things. Managing investors and the media and doing your work… I was handling too many things so I tried to cut corners at certain places. And it showed.

“For instance, I should have let the whole media be. I took it personally and very seriously. At the time I was like, how can they write something like this? Let me fight it. Let me correct it. Later, I was told and now I realize it’s the media’s job to write stuff and I shouldn’t have taken it seriously. I should have just let it be and instead focused on my work."

But you seemed to be enjoying the attention?

“No. I just wanted to give it back to some people. And I started having fun there. You are asking me this question… so here, take this answer. That started happening."

Do you think it was immature?

“What do you mean? What’s your reference point for immature? Yeah. Sure. According to India, I was immature. Sure. Not talking softly. Not saying what I have in mind. Not ignoring a medium that writes half truths about you. So I was in a reactive mode. So if you find that their behaviour is normal, then yes, I was wrong. But it is okay now. I’ve patched up with everyone. I’ve made my peace. I don’t have any ill will against anyone. And I want to move on to my next venture. And I just want to thank God that this happened to me. It if didn’t, I mean I was going on a completely different tangent. Duniya dhikhayi... (It made me see the world)."

Sure. Do you think Housing ever had a business model?

“Yes. But over a seven- to ten- year time period. Not before that. See, Housing is an entirely rental company. I mean everybody there understood the problem of finding rental accommodation. We first wanted to solve that and even for buying I had a plan. It was that the product team would buy and sell, repeatedly, an apartment and understand the pain points of that experience. Not one person in the company has ever bought a house. At least, not until I was around. Now, Housing has to do that. And that requires a completely different DNA. See, again I don’t want to talk about this. Let’s talk something else yaar."

Okay. Sure.

(Some of the quotes have been translated from Hindi to English)

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