EXCLUSIVE | Nidhi Kumra and Karan Kaushish – Your-Space and the four pillars of student-housing spaces

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Your-Space is an IIM – Cambridge – Oxford alumni initiative dedicated to making the lives of young adults living away from home for their studies a safe, hassle-free, and memorable hostel experience. Nidhi Kumar, Shubha Lal, and Karan Kaushish started ‘Your-Space‘, to cultivate a student-first environment that promotes overall holistic well-being.

We caught up with the co-founders, Nidhi Kumra, CEO and Karan Kaushish, CMO to know more about the services they provide, the overall student-housing market in India, how they have been navigating through the pandemic, the communication strategies they have adopted, and much more. Read on.

What was the idea behind setting this up? What opportunity mapping did you do, when did you set up, and how have ‘Your-Space’ been received?

Ms._Nidhi_Kumra__Co-founder_and_CEO__Your-Space-removebg-preview.png Your-Space was born with a purpose: to change students’ world for the better and add value to the way they live when they study away from home. Its foundation is cemented together with four pillars of commitment to Safety, Comfort, Community, and Health.

Your-Space is dedicated to making the lives of young adults living away from home for their studies a safe and memorable hostel experience. We are an asset-light model and our expertise is in running efficient and standardized operations and replicating the same at scale.

Facilities provided include services like 24 x 7 warden on site, CCTV’s, biometric access that enhances safety and security, medical convenience, air conditioning, Wi-Fi, clean furniture, beddings, walk-in closets along with personal washrooms, well-appointed kitchens serving up a multi-cuisine menu of sumptuous meals, laundry, gym, common rooms, study rooms, and proximity to major markets, for students to have a hassle-free academic life.

The company has made every effort to stand out in the cluttered paying guest and hostel room market. It offers safe, comfortable, standardized, private student living, which redefines the hostel experience; it provides an ecosystem beyond accommodation and is trusted by students, parents, and Institutions across India. Your-Space aims to redefine students living with a unique product, the core idea being to cultivate a student-first environment that promotes overall holistic well-being.

Student housing is a well-recognized sector in the West. Back in 2014-2015, a large number of student housing transactions took place that caught our attention. Nidosudent housing of one of them. A large well managed private student housing facility in Liverpool street. Nice and clean rooms, well-managed facilities, Biometric entry/exits, a small in house café, terrace garden, a large common area for people to hang around. It was truly aspirational!

Your-Space was born with a purpose: to change students’ world for the better and add value to the way they live when they study away from home. Its foundation is cemented together with four pillars of commitment to Safety, Comfort, Community, and Health. 

Nidhi Kumra – Co-founder and CEO – Your-Space

Meanwhile, my cousin was struggling with her housing in Bangalore – The food, hygiene, the facilities, My uncle was quite upset with all this given he was paying almost INR 25,000 a month (which is not cheap) for this and yet was not satisfied with what was available.

At that point, Shubha, my co-founder, and I went around Delhi University, where we both once studied and realized nothing had changed at the local PGs since we had left DU almost a decade ago. These were still unorganized mom and pop run shops – 4-5 kids packed in small rooms, shared bathrooms, average food. Living in these places seemed like a struggle.

Shubha, Karan, and I then took it upon ourselves and took a leap of faith and set out to do our first hostel in Greater Noida in 2016. We wanted to redefine the student living experience – make it a fun and memorable experience and not a struggle!

We spent a lot of time understanding the market and what the product should look like. We picked up the top ten cities – by the largest number of education institutes – in the country to start with. We then delved deeper to understand the micro-markets in each city – Every micro-market is unique

Then we evaluated the split of private and national universities and then worked to understand their in campus accommodation that was currently available – both number of beds and quality. We studied the alternatives for students outside campus – Renting apartments with friends, PGs nearby, etc to understand the pricing prevalent in the market

After collating all this data, we were able to strategize which micro markets and what prices we would be offering our services. Our overall strategy was always clear – Be present in the top 10 cities but get as much market share in those cities – get economies of scale and continue to better the services.

What is the size of the market in India – pre-COVID? Where do you stand in the pecking order?

Ms._Nidhi_Kumra__Co-founder_and_CEO__Your-Space-removebg-preview.pngThere are currently 36MM students in India in higher education out of which roughly 50% are from outstation looking for a hostel/PG to stay. Today 95% of the market is unorganized.

The Organized players currently have less than 5% percent of the market share. The opportunity is huge and the industry is still very nascent. There is enough room for many organized players like us to grow and scale.

What is your India footprint? And plan for expansion into other parts of India.

Ms._Nidhi_Kumra__Co-founder_and_CEO__Your-Space-removebg-preview.pngWe are currently present in 8 cities namely Mumbai, Delhi – Noida, Pune, Indore, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Jalandhar, and Bangalore. In the next 2-3 years, we plan to add 2-3 more cities but grow deeper within the cities we are already present in.

Your Space aims to grow further, by expanding to have 75,000 beds across India in the next 5 years. We have focused a large part of our efforts on building B2B relationships with premier colleges across India. We believe these strong relationships supported by our delivery of quality services will be long-lasting. Additionally, as these colleges grow – overall intake and grow multi-city, we will be their partners of choice and can grow with them. This will enable us to achieve a large proportion of our planned growth.

We have focused a large part of our efforts on building B2B relationships with premier colleges across India. We believe these strong relationships supported by our delivery of quality services will be long-lasting. Additionally, as these colleges grow – overall intake and grow multi-city, we will be their partners of choice and can grow with them.

Nidhi Kumra – Co-founder and CEO – Your-Space

We have also spent a lot of effort building and understanding every micro-market in the country at a postcode level which gives us a bird eye view of our target markets for the future.

How has the pandemic affected your business?

Ms._Nidhi_Kumra__Co-founder_and_CEO__Your-Space-removebg-preview.pngThe coronavirus pandemic and resultant lockdowns have impacted small companies as well as big corporations that take up large conventional office spaces. With hygiene and wellness being the key concern for residents, the industry is revamping the operating framework in line with the demand of consumers The Co-living/ student housing product on offer will be forced to evolve – with more focus on creating a clean, hygienic, and equipped – work/ study from home kind of an environment.

This would necessitate speedy connectivity, re-designed study rooms, and other changes. Kitchens and food preparation areas will also require strict sanitization protocols. The operational SOP will have to change to accommodate these changes and will need to align with Government and WHO protocols.

All precautions and guidelines laid down by the authorities need to be adhered to; not only because that’s what the residents demand, but also in a larger sense it helps fight the pandemic on a national level. A comprehensive COVID protocol handbook has been prepared to describe protocols on building and room sanitization, staff/student entry protocols, installing social distancing measures across the building, and laying down guidelines in case a student falls ill.

Doctors and industry experts advise on the latest technology and train managers and staff on the necessary precautions. Additionally, tying up with medical facilities for home care and tie-ups with hospitals are the key steps required to ensure maximum safety and wellness of the residents.

The co-living operators catering to both working professionals and student housing will see an increased demand post the Covid-19. A safe and hygienic environment will be the critical outlook for the renting of shared accommodations that have been missing in the traditional paying guest format.

Though the pandemic has created huge uncertainties, the future of the organized student housing sector remains robust. It is a matter of ‘when’ colleges reopen to start physical classes rather than ‘if’. Demand for professionally managed operators is expected to increase as parents will endow an increasing value on personal space, safety, and hygiene. The good thing about difficult situations is that it pushes the envelope for reinvention. New ways of doing daily tasks will supersede the old habits. Overall, co-living & Student housing will emerge stronger than before.

What differentiates Your-Space from other students’ housing facilities, what are your USPs?

Ms._Nidhi_Kumra__Co-founder_and_CEO__Your-Space-removebg-preview.pngOne of our main USPs is our food. We take great pride in our food. Security and Food are the two critical services that are a priority for the parents to tend to be a key decision-maker for hostels, especially in the 1st year. We run all our kitchens in-house now so that quality can be maintained and we can be flexible with menus. Even though running our kitchen is a massive operational burden, we have chosen to do so as this drives a lot of goodwill for us.

On our website, we don’t ask students/parents to schedule a visit – Instead we ask them to come to try a free meal! Security is also very critical for us – Central CCTV monitoring, Biometrics, SOS button on the app, Facial recognition. We put a great deal of focus on this. Additionally, your-space is gearing up to prepare all its properties for the post-Covid world – we are taking all precautions and following all the guidelines laid down by the authorities.

A comprehensive COVID protocol handbook has been prepared to describe protocols on building and room sanitization, staff/student entry protocols, installing social distancing measures across the building, and laying down guidelines in case a student is unwell. We are speaking to industry experts to get the latest technology and at the same time train our managers and staff on the necessary precautions. Additionally, we are tying up with home care companies and hospitals as well.

We are typically 10-15% higher than the average mom and pop run PGs around us. Security and food are the two most important metrics for parents (who is the ultimate client who pays) and we have ensured that we make this our top priority.

We have taken food in-house – We have executive chefs who plan and curate menus across the country. The execution is supervised by well-experienced staff with multiple years of experience within hospitality. We take great pride in our food. In fact – On our website – We invite people to come and ‘try a free meal’ instead of ‘schedule a visit’!

What are some unique facilities provided by Your-Space that enrich the students’ experience?

Ms._Nidhi_Kumra__Co-founder_and_CEO__Your-Space-removebg-preview.pngWe aspire to be India’s most loved and trusted brand of student housing in the country. We have been conscious to make the atmosphere conducive to enable a fun, convenient, and holistic living All properties have common spaces where students can unwind.

 

  • Student Engagement – Events/ Parties / Movie nights / Games Nights/ Quiz nights
  • Partnerships – EGMAT, Career counselors, Help with CVs – Hiring
  • On-Demand Café – Al a carte menu- Available on our app
  • Concierge – Can order linen, bedsheets, laundry bags, and merchandise, etc online via the app
  • Helping with Opening Bank accounts for all students
  • Health Insurance coverage for all residents
  • Focus on mental well being
  • Dry cleaning – on-demand via our app

Which are your Target Groups for your marketing initiatives? What are your current marketing strategies? How have you been communicating about Your-Space? 

Mr._Karan_Kaushish__Co-founder_and_CMO__Your-Space-removebg-preview.pngAs we are a student housing brand, our target audience comprises primarily students (freshers/first-year applicants, vocational studies applicants, second, third, and final/fourth-year students & recently graduated working professionals.

We realize that students migrate across the urban landscape of our country to education hubs to seek quality education. A quality education comprises of 1. Academics and & 2. Student Life. Student life is greatly impacted by where they live and how conducive their environment is for learning. Other than social media, we also leverage the voice of our existing students i.e. word of mouth.

What role does social media play in your marketing strategy? 

Mr._Karan_Kaushish__Co-founder_and_CMO__Your-Space-removebg-preview.pngSocial media is a huge part of the lives of millennials today, right from consuming news, to shopping to community interactions – it’s everywhere and difficult to avoid. Given that over 90% of our clientele i.e. students migrate from different cities, this is the best platform to reach out to them.

Just like one accesses social media to consume information or interact with friends, they also use the same to search for accommodation or request recommendations for the same.

Social media is a huge part of the lives of millennials today, right from consuming news, to shopping to community interactions – it’s everywhere and difficult to avoid.

Karan Kaushish – Co-founder and CMO – Your-Space

When one thinks of hostels, the warden and mess ka Khana (Mess Food) has some negative connotations attached to it. How has Your-Space been breaking that misconception? 

Mr._Karan_Kaushish__Co-founder_and_CMO__Your-Space-removebg-preview.pngWe call this “Delight Factor,” What every student desires are delicious comfort food, a clean and hygienic environment, a community of like-minded people, and hassle-free living. And this is exactly what we give them! We continually endeavor towards raising the bar across all these fronts.

At the time of admission, we first try to match residents with other fellow residents who are pursuing the same course so that they can help each other with studies and prepare for exams together being roommates. In some cases, we match roommates based on the college they attend so that they can commute back-and-forth together. We look into every minute detail to create that experience.

We call this “Delight Factor,” What every student desires are delicious comfort food, a clean and hygienic environment, a community of like-minded people, and hassle-free living. And this is exactly what we give them! We continually endeavor towards raising the bar across all these fronts.

Karan Kaushish – Co-founder and CMO – Your-Space

Apart from organizing events, parties, seminars, talks, career counseling sessions, puppy days, treasure hunts, Zumba classes, dance lessons, jam sessions, and the like we also at some locations get beauty technicians for a day so that residents can avail this service. We tie-up with nearby hospitals and medical clinics to ensure that in time if needed, these amenities are available to residents. And all this can be accessed at their fingertips – all these features and many more are available on our Your-Space App.

A majority of your audience are young adults adapting to newer lives, in a different city – working, studying which could lead to stress and mental anxiety, how have you been helping the customers at that front?

Mr._Karan_Kaushish__Co-founder_and_CMO__Your-Space-removebg-preview.pngBrand associations in the co-living/ student housing space requisite careful study and consideration of student’s needs, especially as it is their home away from home. Student-focused companies endeavor not just to cater to the pain points of residents but to go beyond this to enhance the student living experience from a holistic perspective. The range of collaborations extends from utilities to entertainment companies.

Associations with nearby hospitals, insurance providers, mobile service providers, banks and other key institutions not excluding the food industry associations empower co-living brands to provide all-encompassing solutions to weary students.

At YS we empathize with our residents and also focus on mental health by giving them access to the guided meditation session carried out by a leading rand partner MINDHOUSE. Furthermore, we give our residents fabulous deals on online courses, extending even to GMAT preparation with our partner in Arizona, USA.

Your- Space goes a step further and offers an extensive range of collaborations with Santulan, Cure.fit, Hungama Play, Outhouse, MINDHOUSE, E-GMAT, Antidote’s Vitality Hour, Mobicy, PEESAFE, SugarBox, and K11, India’s leading fitness training academy.

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