April was the month when the world at large took note of Housing.com's founder-CEO Rahul Yadav. That is when his scathing email to Sequoia Capital’s managing director Shailendra Singh was leaked on Quora. Then came his public spat with investors, during which he first resigned and then retracted.
Subsequently he allotted all his shares in Housing, worth Rs 150-200 crore, to his employees. That move is yet to be cleared by the board of the company, that consists of the same investors — including Softbank that had led the last $90 million investment round — he had called “intellectually incapable” in his resignation email.
He then challenged Zomato and OlaCabs’ founders to also do the same, only to be called the Arvind Kejriwal of startups by the Zomato CEO. Their exchanges continue on social media.
In this interview with HuffPost India, Yadav says his move to resign was a well-thought, tactical move to make things happen his way, and that he thinks himself as an average person incapable of diplomatic statements.
Instead of your work at Housing, or the funding you have raised, people are talking about your arrogance and irresponsible statements.
For the last two years, I said nothing in public, not on Facebook posts, nor any comment to the media. Now Housing is doing well, growing rapidly and becoming way more popular than others in the sector. Now media is asking me questions, and then my responses are being needlessly tossed up and controversy shoved in my face.
I don’t know why such a big deal has been made about me being arrogant or a straight talker. I mean, everyone is different, have different personalities. I have a certain personality, you might have a different one. As I see it, I am an average guy who cannot be diplomatic. That’s it.
Why make fun of Zomato and Ola and their founders?
I talked about Zomato and Ola because people asked. I told you what I think of them just as I really do.
On the Reddit AMA, you said resigning was a tactical, well-calculated move. What did you mean?
That was an efficient way of saying that you either agree to do things my way or else I will leave. And if your work is good, your investors won’t want you to leave. I’m sure it’s the same in any company -– bosses won’t let a good performer leave. And I was sure this would turn out in the way it did. That the investors won’t let me leave. So I think that was an efficient way of making sure things are done my way.
What if they had accepted your resignation?
I knew they won’t. I do not take chances, this was a well-thought move and I was confident about it.
I was on Housing.com, and called up agents who had listed apartments for rent. Both said the properties were already rented and that they have other options for me. So old listings are up on your site. Why are you not doing something about that?
In an industry like e-commerce, it's easy. You order something, it is delivered to your doorstep. But here agents are not open, they aren’t always truthful. So what you mentioned is a very tough problem and it is so globally. We are absolutely committed to solving it, so that each listing is current. We are working in that direction. Are we there yet? No. There is still work to be done.
What is next for Housing.com?
We are creating an Android equivalent in the building business. Now just like Google created it, and players like Samsung and others rode on it, we are creating something that all builders would use, and that would make housing better for everyone. It will have a lot of data analysis and intelligence. I will have more details in the next two weeks.
What has been the response of Housing board about your offer to give up shares to employees?
Investors on the board have said that they would like to enlarge the pool of ESOPs for existing as well as new employees. They said they would also contribute and participate in it.
What is your next goal?
I want to take Housing.com to a clear monopoly in the sector, just like Google has done with search. Other competitors will be insignificant and irrelevant.
And then we improve the eco-system. Now we have introduced online rental agreements. Anyone in Mumbai will tell you what a hassle that is -– going to government offices and all of that. This move will help people a lot. In Delhi too, even though this registration of agreement is still optional I think. Add to that our plan for developers that I talked before and the whole industry will move forward. So we are doing a lot of things at once. We acquired half a dozen companies in the last six months alone, and they will help address specific problems that make real estate so complex. That includes due diligence, trust issue, and the data analytics side.
What about funding?
Funding is no issue at all. That is not something I’m thinking about. If we do great work, as we have, then funding will never be an issue. Capital will come.
You have said you want to expand globally. How is that plan going?
Our primary market, the biggest market and opportunity is India. We just want to solve the housing problem in this country. But same technology can be used anywhere else, across the globe. In the U.S. for example, the problem exists. Let me tell you, being in this business is not a cakewalk like building an e-commerce site.
We raised $90 million in the last round, and are in over 100 cities now. Our traffic is way ahead of our rivals. And the number of apartment listings in that time has shot up by 5 times. And they are all verified and good quality.
Are you hiring? What is the criteria you look for?
For sure we are. When we hire freshers we do look at where they are graduating from. Else we look at their work experience. I interview everyone who will be in a senior role, and most others who will be working with me. We are 2500+ employees now, and by the end of this year it might go up to 4,000.
Are you going to tone down your statements after all the negative buzz around them?
I have one rule –- to talk frank and straight. I find it saves time. In the last two years, I have gained a lot by being candid. And that’s how I am in the media too. And to be fair, not all has been criticism. People have said a lot of positive stuff about Housing as well.