This is the first part of a 3-part series
Deciding on the Asset Ownership Model was a strategic and important choice for us at IndeCampus Student Accommodations.
When we started navigating the Student Housing sector in India in 2017, we realized the need to take this “Right” choice after discussions with Students, Parents and Educational Institutes.
However, the investor side was reluctant on this upfront Capex model and veered us to look at asset light models. Institutional investors and VC’s alike enumerated many benefits of going Asset Light including going to market faster, scaling up faster & focusing on operations and services rather than infrastructure.
Nevertheless, we decided after much soul searching and analytical discussions that we needed to focus on the requirements of the Student Residents and chose to opt for the Asset Ownership model. This was the start of our journey to make India’s first PBSA (Purpose Built Student Accommodation) company.
Three factors which unequivocally led us to choose the Asset Ownership model are Design, Compliance & Scalability of our venture. Let me elaborate on the first aspect:
We started our journey by interacting extensively with Students who would be the actual users of our Products & Services and came to know of their first-hand experiences and their trials and tribulations.
One of the first right decision we made was to appoint a Student Led Panel to Survey the market. The Survey Findings indicated that while on one hand there was excess and wasteful allocation to Living spaces, on the other hand, there was simply not enough spaces for Social Interaction, Learning and Recreation.
This was primarily as most Students were staying in poorly designed buildings which were retrofitted hastily for Student Housing. This led us to have our first insight – It’s the Infrastructure that was broken and needed to be fixed!
We have therefore focused on developing International Standards Infrastructure & Amenities with optimal allocation of Personal Spaces, Social Spaces, Learning Spaces & Recreational Spaces.
As we engaged many Experts and Advisors who helped us in designing the perfect and balanced Space Allocation, we also focused on how various people – Residents, Staff and Vendors would move within the building and we mapped and scrutinized people flow scenarios at peak & non-peak time slots in order to understand how we can decongest and smoothen the movement of people inside our premises.
An important outcome of this design intervention is that we have now made mandatory 2 entrances, one exclusively for Students and a separate entrance for various vendors & staff. Serendipitously this will now help us to Covid-19 proof our premises!
Parents expressed their concerns regarding Safety & Security of their children & we have translated this to a Triple Layered Security Protocol with Security Guards, CCTV Cameras, Access Control at an infrastructure level. We have also integrated Well Being at our premises for outdoor sports, indoor recreation and a Youth Centric gymnasium.
Our interactions with senior staff at many Universities and Colleges helped us incorporate a Library and add areas for Group Study to our premises. This has helped satisfy an ever-increasing need of Students to soak up knowledge in silence when required and in focused groups when interactive learning is required.
From a Design perspective to ensure Security our teams brainstormed on as to how to reduce the need to go out of the facility for our Student Residents. The result: our Over Night Café (Operational: 8pm to 8 am) and Vending Machines for Dry Snacks help in reducing and hopefully eliminating the need to venture out of the premises for our Student Residents.
Many such design interventions have helped us create IndeCampus Doon as India’s Best Student Accommodation premises where our Student Residents will experience not only a safe, secure but also a vibrant and immersive environment which will be pleasantly a few steps ahead of their expectations!
I close the first part of this 3 Part series with a piece of important information to our incoming Student Resident– we have 36 power sockets to charge multiple devices for our 150 Student Residents in various Common Areas at IndeCampus Doon!
To be continued in 2 more parts …
From the very beginning we wanted to create a long-term sustainable business and thus compliance was amongst our top priorities. Many promoters in their need for speed throw caution to the wind and set about making a working prototype which have challenges on legal and taxation aspects. This is romanticized and eulogized by many startup gurus and also perhaps ingrained in our very Indian mindset of “jugaad”. It was indeed the priceless collective experience of our promoters in Real Estate Financing and Development which led us to stay clear of any such red flags. It is my advice to upcoming entrepreneurs as well as investors that Legal and Tax creativity almost always leads project failure.
Obtaining timely Municipal Approvals and Permissions are the most important part of a Real Estate project and while we were not spared the pain and the proverbial delay, we were well guided by Engineers, Members of Approval Committee and various Government Departments once we were able to convey to them as to what and why we were building at IndeCampus Doon. We received many insights which helped improve project efficiency. It is my belief that we have very competent and intelligent personnel in the Municipality and other Departments and their knowledge and expertise is of great value. As promoters we are only to gain if can get them to contribute their wisdom at the project level.
We have incorporated many elements from UK and US markets to make IndeCampus at par with global standards. One such feature is a lack of balconies in Student Accommodation in Europe and US. We wanted to understand this better and we only fully appreciated it when we realized that lack of balconies not only leads to a space and energy efficient structure but also most importantly it prevents any untoward incidents like students accidentally falling off of attempting to jump off. To this end, all our windows too are bracketed and won’t open more than 30 degrees.
I would like to also share many a pleasant experience that I had when we wanted to understand many operational aspects of the Student Housing industry. We contacted many US and UK based Student Housing organizations and spoke to their design, operations and compliance teams to understand the intricacies of the business in greater depth. I strongly encourage my peers in the competition to simply reach out and ask for help. I found much to my surprise that even large organizations were open on knowledge sharing and we obtained many insights from experienced teams.
One very practical insight that we received was to design the spaces at the backside of the buildings properly. The normal tendency in India as well as abroad is to neglect the backside of the buildings and this leads to the backside of the buildings being used as a garbage dump or for surreptitious smoking and other unseemly activities. We were instead advised to ensure that the backside is well lit in the nighttime too and to landscape and even put garden furniture in the space. This ensures that firstly no unseemly activities happen and secondly the space is well maintained and actually utilized for meetings or quiet contemplation by our students.
Setback spaces from the boundary walls seem wasteful on first glance to a layman, however one appreciates this statutory requirement when one realizes that in case of fire the Setback space is required for the Fire Truck to access the building from all sides. Fire Compliances are of utmost importance to ensure safety of residents and staff in the building and need to be complied in full in all our projects.
For Investors, Financial compliances and discipline provide an insight to the financial health of the organization. We were helped in great measure by the de-monetization done by government and our cash payments has now dropped as we are paying our local nursery by online payments for seeds too! We file all IT and ROC compliances on time and while we do grumble and feel frustrated that cost and effort of compliance is too high, we are hopeful that we will get a far greater benefit of being compliant in the days to come.
It is my belief that to build a resilient and modern India we need to make businesses that are responsible corporate entities. We need to be cognizant of the need and logic for the rules and engage constructively with the government departments to deliver projects which are consistent with the local, state and national regulations and policies. If we can synergize our strengths and vision of the Private sector with the repository of knowledge in our government machinery, we will be truly delivering great projects.