Mani Rangarajan, Group COO, Elara Technologies (Housing.com, Proptiger, & Makaan.com)

One of the most globally recognised sectors, the growth of the real estate is well complemented by the increase in the corporate environment and the demand for office space as well as urban and semi-urban accommodations. Indian real estate sector has witnessed high growth in recent times with a rise in demand for office as well as residential spaces. Real estate attracted around Rs 43,780 crore (US$ 6.26 billion) in investment in 2019. The current Covid-19 pandemic is the most unprecedented Black Swan event in over a century.  Consequently, the global economy, including that of India, is expected to contract this year by over 4%. Most industries have been impacted across the world and some more than others. Let’s note that the Indian economy was in the midst of a slowdown at the onset of the current crisis with slowing consumption, investment and export demand.

The current virus has exacerbated the crisis in the real estate sector that was impacted by the slowdown.  Demand was expanding slowly, and developers were facing a liquidity crisis at the start of this pandemic. Unemployment has risen with job cuts, which has created a sense of economic uncertainty. Developers, especially those that do not have a firm brand name, will likely face several challenges.  First of all, the current crisis adds to the liquidity crunch in the market due to lower cash inflows from new sales and delayed customer payments from existing sales.  Secondly, the construction supply chain has been disrupted for some developers who also face challenges around labour availability.  Lastly, construction costs are rising, and wage bills may be higher due to limited labour for construction. Consequently, developers may not be able to complete projects on time that adds pressure in driving sales and augmenting cash flows. Besides, more than 40% of potential buyers are sensitive to price and expect lower prices and/or discounts to consummate a purchase.

However, on the positive side, over a third of the buyers have realised that real estate is the most stable asset to hold, followed by gold and stock. Also, about 50% of potential buyers have deferred their purchase by up to a few months, which shows a strong intent to buy. Further, a significant 33% of all potential buyers mentioned that they were looking to upgrade their home. Further, about 25% of buyers have affirmed their decision to purchase a home from a reputed developer. “Our Housing-Naredco sentiment survey showed that about 60% of buyers expect economic conditions to either remain stagnant or improve over the next few months.  Consequently, about 80% of potential buyers have pushed back their home purchase by periods up to a year. The market will offer opportunities for consolidation where brand-name developers can increase their market share and improve overall efficiency and transparency in the sector”, informs Mani Rangarajan, Group Chief Operating Officer, Elara Technologies (Housing.com, Proptiger, & Makaan.com).

A qualified Cost and Works Accountant with an MBA from IIM, Kolkata, Mani also studied in the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, where he was recognised as an Arjay Miller Scholar, which was only awarded to the top 10% of the class. “I have always been driven by perseverance, hard work, resilience and giving it my best in whatever I do. Early in my childhood, I overcame health challenges through sheer determination and self-conquest and excelled in academics, sports and music”, adds Mani.

While being ambitious and yearning to be successful, Mani wanted to achieve this within the ambit of certain values, i.e., be a good global citizen with a community-focus, be compassionate and treat others with respect, honesty, trust, high standards of ethics and integrity, conscientiousness, and helping others grow and realise their potential. He says, “My personal brand promise revolves around transformation.  Throughout my career, I have been known for exercising a hugely positive influence on individuals and businesses, being a catalyst for positive change, building innovation through organisations and empowering people to achieve their potential”.

As Vincent Van Gogh once said, “if you hear a voice that says you cannot paint, go ahead and paint and that voice will be silenced”. Mani retained his self-confidence and resilience, and never backed down from any professional challenges. He stayed strong mentally, which he feels is more important than other skills, as he thinks if one doesn’t believe in themselves, the world will not really do anything to raise it.

 

Developing the Real Estate Sector

Starting his journey with Elara Technologies in early 2017, when the Housing-Proptiger Merger happened, Mani joined Housing as the Chief Financial Officer in 2015 and took on the additional role of Chief Business Officer in January 2016. “I was named as Group Chief Operating Officer in April 2019 for Housing.com, Makaan.com and Proptiger.com where I am responsible for strategy, marketing, business development, sales, research and operations amongst other areas.  It’s been a great time as a COO where we have made a tremendous impact on the industry as an innovator that is focused on digitisation and changing the way real estate is being transacted across the country”, quips Mani.

Making rapid strides in innovating new products, monetisation, and achieving market leadership in audience within a short time, Mani inculcated tremendous adaptive skills – almost chameleon-like – to help the business succeed in evolving environments, as a part of his role as a COO, by being strategic, data-driven, diving into details and developing talent within the organisation. “I have quickly realised that I am only as effective as the people I lead. I have helped develop leadership through the organisation and developed the next set of leaders. While I have been operationally focused, I recognise that my role demands visionary insight, drive internal efficiency, translating strategic vision into action and positioning the organisation for the future through a higher focus on digitisation and technology.  I have encouraged people across the organisation to think through technology-solutions to problems rather than focus on adding incremental resources”, says Mani.

One of the few companies globally that offer both online and offline services in real estate and runs a full-stack model, Elara Technologies aggregates demand, supply, matches demand and supply, and helps fulfil demands by offering their end-to-end services. Running to marketplace platforms, Housing.com and Makaan.com, which provides marketing services for developers, channel partners and brokers. Along with this, they also run Proptiger, that is one of India’s renowned channel partners, where they help developers sell new homes to buyers and help buyers secure home loans as well.

Elara Technologies is one of India’s foremost research companies in real estate and provides granular market updates on launches and sales sector updates to several financial institutions and developers. “In fact, our quarterly Real Insight reports is recognised as one of the most authentic reports on sector dynamics. In addition, we are recognised as the industry pioneer in proptech and digitisation in the real estate segment and have launched several technology products such as online booking platforms, virtual tours, touchscreens, drone shoots, virtual reality and augmented reality that is used widely through the market.  Our group has the largest online audience market share in the real estate sector in India”, adds Mani.

“I have not taken decisions through intuition but have continually assessed the situation as it evolves, deliberated on the impact and then acted on how to move the business forward while balancing the well-being of the employees”

– Mani Rangarajan

 

A Leader who Inspires

There are two aspects of the current crisis that make it different from what we have seen before in crisis across the world – one is the global nature of the event and the second is the sheer unpredictability of how the crisis will take shape which implies that it will take a long time to restore a semblance of normalcy. From a leaders perspective, Mani feels a different form of response is required as all documented contingency plans may not work. Some responses can be temporary (such as ensuring employees work from home). Still, other responses may be to change the business is done (such as digitisation of business processes) which would benefit even when the crisis has passed.

Keep the important aspect of leadership, i.e., acknowledging that this is indeed a devastating crisis which is making an indelible on everyone’s lives, Mani says, “I do not want to lose sight of the human empathy factor and have dealt with the human tragedy as a first priority. I recognise the fact that these crises tend to have varying impact on individuals physical and well-being, and I strive to ensure that I can make a positive impact on people’s lives. During this crisis, my approach as a management team has not been to engineer a top-down response but to create a network of teams that believes in the organisational goals and works in close co-ordination to innovate and drive the business forward”.

The next step Mani took was to empower the next set of leaders within the company who could make quick decisions and drive responses to the crisis as it evolves. He adds, “I have not taken decisions through intuition but have continually assessed the situation as it evolves, deliberated on the impact and then acted on how to move business forward while balancing the well-being of the employees”.

Having worked alongside several prominent business leaders including the founders of Yahoo!, the Chief Executive Officers of Yahoo!, LinkedIn and Warner Brothers, several investors at leading venture capital firms and brilliant entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, Mani has been inspired by many, but the one person who made a mark was Susan Decker. He says, “I worked with Sue very closely for six years when she was the Chief Financial Officer and later President of Yahoo! Sue has featured on the list of most powerful women in business several times and was personally recruited by Steve Jobs for Pixar Films and by Warren Buffett for Berkshire Hathaway where she serves on the Board of Directors”. While Mani focused on Finance, Susan taught him how to link finance to business and business to strategy. Susan always believed that every number in business had some innate meaning for the business. “Sue led by hard work, had the most incredible work ethic amongst the leaders that I worked with and always believed in the greater good of the organisation ahead of anything else including personal ambitions”, adds Mani.

A Journey of Learning and Growing

Recognising that making mistakes is inevitable when leading a business, Main feels if one doesn’t make mistakes, it means that the person is not doing enough and taking advantage of potential opportunities in the business. “While I have never hesitated to take the road less travelled by during my professional endeavours, there are some mistakes that I made when trying to push the organisation on a rapid growth path”, says Mani.

Having realised that growth needs to be well-paced and be restrained to certain constraints to ensure that growth is sustainable, Mani feels there is the maximum capacity for growth which determines the length and breadth of growth and to ensure that the organisation and the system do not break down. Secondly, it is important to build the right capabilities to ensure that capacity is enhanced. “A leader needs to understand when to push the pace for growth and when to rein in the tendencies to overshoot growth.  In essence, the best-paced growth wins. I have derived one fundamental learning in that, the market should require technology and not the other way around”, quips Mani.

Deriving immense satisfaction from the fact that they have excelled much faster in revenue and audience when compared to their competitors, Elara Technologies has been recognised in the top 50 Great Places to Work in 2019. “During my professional life, I feel proud of the journey that I have been a part of, especially elated when Housing won the best real estate site in 2018. It is a memorable accomplishment because I led a team which played a significant role in turning around a company and making it become one of India’s top real estate portals”, opines Mani.

There are no limits to how successful one can become. You don’t necessarily need a college degree, a bunch of money in the bank or even business experience to start something that could become the next major success. However, you do need a strong plan and the drive to see it through. Advising young entrepreneurs out there, Mani concludes. “Spend hours understanding every aspect of the business, know every tree in the forest and ultimately the forest itself. Do not be afraid to ask for things that you feel you deserve, especially if the worst outcome for the asking is a no. Follow your own passion even though it may not pay as well now; it may ultimately lead to a successful long-term career”.

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