Meet's Band Of Data Collectors Who've Knocked On A Million Doors

03/09/2015 8:01 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Gaurav Singh, 25, made around Rs 200,000 last year at his company, or 0.01% of what the company's incorrigible ex-CEO, Rahul Yadav signed away earlier this year, in a few minutes of whimsy.

While the stock options and obese paychecks are generally reserved for those with programming chops who constellate Housing, a cadre of workers -- 'data collectors, they are called -- like Singh provide the company with precious information. They are the core assets because of whom Housing is now valued at around Rs 1500 crore and has, in the space of three years, garnered $120 million (Rs 760 crore) of funding from some of the world's top investors and funds.

"Data is the new soil," Housing declares on its website and it is the wont of men -- and for now it is only men such as Singh who put in the hard toil of verifying apartments, put up for sale or rent, on Housing.

While the organisation's lissome website and app might effortlessly sort houses by price, security guards, dog friendliness and the proximity of grocers, Singh and 739 of his colleagues -- each of whom are assigned with localities spanning a 10-15 km radius -- are the ones who frequently liase with brokers and prospective landlords.

Typically, those wishing to sell or rent houses via Housing contact the company, which send data collectors to gather details about the house. This is fed into the company's database, sampled for errors and then finally put up on display. According to the company, so far, it has 625,183 listings in the rental category that translates to 600 million sq ft of inventory worth Rs 1,000 crore in monthly rentals. Additionally, its resale category lists 375,390 dwellings encompassing 400 million sq ft, worth Rs 230,000 crore.

Interim CEO Rishabh Gupta, said last month that the company clocked a "million verified property listings," in August since its inception in 2012, the equivalent of 13,000 full sized soccer fields of which over 50% has been collected in the last 6 months. That roughly works out to Singh and his colleagues sampling, on an average, 2-3 houses a day and over the next two years, the company hopes to multiply the number of listed properties to 10 million, ostensibly, by relying on several more data collectors.

Armed with customised Samsung smartphones and stripped of applications other than those strictly for work such as Housing's data-collection app, Whatsapp and Google Maps the data collectors bike it to houses, photograph every room, tag the house on GPS, ascertain if the locality is as secure as claimed and negotiate with landlords: the human, un-programmable elements of the real-estate-e-commerce marriage.

"Sometimes some (landlords) say that the house is 3 years old and I know from other enquiries that it is 5," said Singh, "A few may complain with our higher-ups. But what we see is what we input." Then there are instances where Singh would be hard-pressed to explain that he wasn't yet another broker out to fleece out a commission. "Sometimes people don't believe that we just need to take pictures for free," he added.

It is these 'free pictures' and over 90 attributes that the data collectors bung in into their phones that are relayed back to the coding cognoscenti, who then mull over computer-science niceties such as the 'greedy algorithm' or the 'Hungarian algorithm' to optimally construct the most efficient route for a data collector to visit houses.

When he visits a client, Singh -- who's never had a camera in his life -- uses his phone to take pictures like a punctilious priest officiating a religious ritual. "We move clockwise, angle the camera in a specific slant, shoot and then go up if there are additional floors...that's how someone who's inspecting a place would typically go," Singh reasons. Such procedure is however hardwired into the data collectors, who are then immediately expected to upload the pictures and specifics of the mapped house.

"I signed up for Housing because my children said this would be useful," said Urmila Kohli, who's renting out her double storey house in the outer recesses of Noida. This is the first time that Kohli is renting her house out via an online medium but says she has no opinion yet -either ways--of whether it will improve the prospects of a quick lease. "Let's see how this works. It's for free after all," she added.

Singh holds that he likes this job better than the previous one at a transport company. Like Rahul Yadav, Singh too dropped out of his final year in college--out of poverty--and not because he was a tech-geek with an idea. "I had to choose between completing BSc or severely denting my family's finances," said Singh. Being the eldest of four siblings, he chose to drop out, left home in UP and landed up in Delhi. Here he began what he described as "the dreariest job" he ever did. At Chauhan Transport Limited, SIngh had to track parcels from across the country, sometimes go deliver them and struggle hard to not doze off during night shifts.

Having spent a year-and-a-half at Housing, Singh says the job is competitive and the long bike rides in the recesses of Noida, in Uttar Pradesh, where embryonic buildings fast pixellate once-green farmland, are not without its physical demands. "I knew nothing about the company when I was hired but now I'm also pursuing my BA through correspondence." Claiming to have photographed and generated data for houses that rent out for between Rs 5,000 to Rs 4 lakhs, his aspirations, like the several entrepreneurs who hope to gain from the promise of e-commerce, are upwardly mobile.

TECH DE-GLAMMED is a series of profiles on non-tech workers in India's e-commerce companies

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