Amit Kumar Agarwal was an associate director at ANZ Bank when he quit in 2014 to launch NoBroker, a platform built to eliminate agents in real estate transactions, and use technology to bring down costs for homeowners and seekers. His early years as an entrepreneur were riddled with struggles, including an attack by a gang of real estate brokers who vandalized the company’s office. In 2021, NoBroker became India’s first realty tech unicorn backed by investors including General Atlantic and Tiger Global Management.
What challenges about being a real estate tech startup in India did you underestimate?
The backlash from brokers was something we definitely underestimated. We knew we would be competitive with them, and that they would not be happy about that. But we never thought it could be so extreme that a violent mob of around 60 people would attack our office. Other than that, real estate was not a very new industry, so I had considered most aspects, and learnt from players who had erred before me. For instance, we knew we wanted to stay away from mindless expansion into many cities all at once. There was the realization that a consumer-to-consumer business — we engage with owners and tenants — takes much more time to crack than any other segment. This is because it takes a while for any new player to win the trust of homeowners. You cannot “cashback” your way into getting more owners on your platform.
How hard can the first few months as an entrepreneur be?
It’s pretty scary, because it’s filled with uncertainty, insecurity, and fear. Initially, you get lots of phone calls. Your friends congratulate you and say they wish they could be so brave. But then they all get busy with their own lives, and after a while, no one calls you. You are sitting alone in your bed with your legs folded with your computer in front of you, and seeing some five customers on your website. At that time, you wonder how much money you would be making if you had gone to a regular job that day.
A mental trick that I developed for myself to get over these thoughts was to calculate: I was 35 years old at that time, and I felt I had 25 more years to work. So, even if I lost two years pursuing entrepreneurship, there would still be a long time to catch up.
Which opportunities in the realty tech market are you most excited about?
The core opportunity of growing the number of online transactions — rental and sale — really excites me. We have 16 million cumulative customers and add more than 500,000 new customers each month, but if you look at overall real estate in India, we have a very small market share. Many times people think that we are very large, but actually we are only large online where we have an 80% market share. If you look at the overall real estate market, our share is only 8%, because many transactions continue to stay offline.
What are the top three things you would tell an aspiring entrepreneur before they quit their job?
The first thing is money. You should basically be sure about how long it will be before you start earning money. For example, you must know that if it’s a fundable business, then how many years can you wait till it gets funded? And then you put money aside for all your existing expenses according to that estimate.
The second is the support from your spouse or partner. Even if your parents don’t support you, it’s fine. But if you are married and your spouse is not in agreement with this decision, it’s going to be very difficult.
The third thing is that you should ideally have seen some traction in your business idea. The worst thing would be that you leave your job and within three months, you then get disillusioned. If you’re leaving your job, you have to give it your best try and put in at least a year. There will be days when tens of people will say it’s a good idea, but there will be days when tens of people will say it’s a bad idea, and that should not make you doubt yourself. You need to have the mental strength and be prepared to hear both sides, without doubting yourself – not for one year at least.
You went to the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, does pedigree help with taking risks as an entrepreneur?
Pedigree definitely helps, but in recent years a lot has changed. Five years back, if you were doing something of your own, it was not looked upon as experience in the resume. Today, that has changed. Now, when we look at somebody launching a startup, we look at it as an experience. In fact, it is often considered a more valuable experience.
*This 3 Minutes With interview first appeared in the Rest of World weekly newsletter. Sign up here.