Opportunity amidst difficulty: MeroHostel.com story

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Opportunity amidst difficulty: MeroHostel.com story

 

 Some startups are born by solving one’s own problems. Same is the case with a local startup, merohostel.com, which was born out of Bidish Acharya’s own problems he had faced as a newbie in town looking for hostels.

 

Finding opportunity in suffering

Life did not start easy for Bidish when he left Biratnagar after completing SLC in 2010 to pursue better opportunities and hopes of a better future in Kathmandu. He lived with his relatives at first while searching for a hostel to stay in. It was difficult because he did not know where he could find information about hostels. He kept browsing around town for a while before finding a good hostel to stay in at Shantinagar on the basis of a relative’s recommendation.

Few years later, he came up with an idea for a website while he was studying Computer Science in first semester at Deerwalk Institute of Technology. “I was in first semester, had just learnt to edit HTML/CSS templates using Adobe Dreamweaver and build websites. I was obsessed with that. I’d spent a great amount of time just playing around with it. And then, a new idea popped in my head,” recalls Bidish.

Bidish’s idea was to bring hostels and hostel seekers together through his website. More than 10,000 students enter Kathmandu to pursue their higher studies every year whose initial problem is to find a place to live. On the other side, more than 500 hostels run in Nepal, as per the Hotel Association, and they are in desperate need for students. The website was going to act as a platform to bridge the gap between the two.

 

Initiating the plan

Enthused by the thought of solving people’s problems for a living, Bidish did not take long to turn his idea to reality. “I was really excited back then. I just had to prepare a website and I could just download the template and edit it,” mentions Bidish.

All he needed was a small funding. His hostel owner agreed to pay him Rs.2000 in exchange for adding his hostel in the website. With that money, he bought a domain name (www.secondhomenepal.com) and hosting space from Weblink Nepal for Rs.1500. The website was launched with one hostel registered.

But he didn’t like the domain name, and to change it, he had to struggle again. “I tried asking my father, but he was not interested at all,” says Bidish, “I couldn’t charge the hostel owner again. So I asked him for a loan of Rs.2000 and bought another domain name (www.merohostel.com) and uploaded the website there.”

I tried asking my father, but he was not interested at all,” says Bidish, “I couldn’t charge the hostel owner again. So I asked him for a loan of Rs.2000 and bought another domain name (www.merohostel.com) and uploaded the website there.

It didn’t go as planned. Again. The website was getting popular in his college, and the word was spreading around; but, there was only one hostel registered. To include more hostels in the website, Bidish visited other nearby hostels in the hope of getting some business. But it was all in vain. “They threw me question I had no answers for: What is your daily number of visitors? How can you convince us that students will come to our hostels from your site? By giving this payment, we want student; how can you guarantee that?,” says Bidish, “I felt dumb. I could not say anything.” There were also queries from students on Facebook asking why there is only one hostel in the website.

He then understood he could not operate on his own.

 

Forming the team at Ideate

He needed a team. Few of Bidsh’s classmates related to the problem he was addressing and liked his idea. He also pitched the idea in his college event ‘Ideate’ (an annual DWIT event where students present their ‘out of the world’ ideas and winning ideas are provided with mentorship), and that was where he formed the team and his spirit to continue his ventured heightened. The initial team comprised of nine members from his batch: Ashim Regmi, Abhisekh Gupta, Pratik Budhathoki, Sachin Aryal, Sushant Gurung, Sumit Shrestha, Sunil Shrestha, Anish Thakuri and himself. 

Each member contributed an initial investment of Rs. 500 each.

Making changes

The new team worked daily to set up the new website in next eight days. “However, we did not like the look of the website. It had a simple layout,” mentions Abhisekh Gupta, “We had made it using Grails at first, but the cost was high. So we thought of making a new one in PHP. We learned PHP within a month by ourselves, and used it to build a new website. The new version was uploaded on 5th January, 2015, with many featured ads.” They also received help from Mr. Manoj Bhattarai at TechRoadians to buy a hosting space for free.

They started looking out at the content and revenue of the website too. “We only had data provided by the Hostel Association then. So we started going to hostels to include details in exchange of certain amount of money.” While running on bootstrapping initially, they were also exploring ways to earn revenue. They introduced ‘premium partnership package’ for hostels where hostels were offered featured ads and feature in top results for a charge of Rs. 3000 for six months. But this package was not popular among hostels; they only have three premium partners so far. Even so, this package was able to bring them to breakeven.

 

Challenges of working full time as studentpreneurs

Balancing work and study was hard for the team. “As full time students operating a business, time management has been tough. We are mostly occupied with our classes and college projects. It becomes difficult for us to set aside the time for hostel visits. Getting information from the hostels is a whole different story,” states Bidish. 

“As full time students operating a business, time management has been tough. We are mostly occupied with our classes and college projects. It becomes difficult for us to set aside the time for hostel visits. Getting information from the hostels is a whole different story,” states Bidish. “

Some team members left under mutual understanding, as they could not dedicate their time to work on this venture. Currently, there are five members: Bidish (Founder and Product, Business development and Marketing Head), Ashim (Website and App Developer), Abhisekh and Sumit (Website and Graphic Designers), and Sachin (Website and App Developer).

Hesitation from hostels to advertise has got the marketing team on their toes. The team frequently visits hostels when they are not occupied with classes. But most of these hostels question their validity since they have nothing but the website to show. “Some hostels gave their business cards, but some even won’t let us in. I think they suspect our intentions,” says Bidish, “We would get positive feedbacks from one or two hostels after about five hours of roaming around town. It is fun at times, and boring at other. But we got to keep going.”

Some hostels gave their business cards, but some even won’t let us in. I think they suspect our intentions,” says Bidish, “We would get positive feedbacks from one or two hostels after about five hours of roaming around town. It is fun at times, and boring at other. But we got to keep going.

By optimally utilizing all accessible resources, the Merohostel.com team has been evolving as studentpreneurs. They work from a space provided to them at their college, and are constantly in touch with mentors and advisors from their college to improve their operations. The $500 worth ad credit they received from Facebook under their strategy to promote startups has been a major aid at marketing for them. At present, the website has 273 hostels registered with their name and address that they received from the Hostel Association and through hostel visits, among which three are premium partners. They receive about 200 monthly inquiries from students online and about 500 daily website visits during peak season. They also introduced their mobile app on 29 March, 2016 which has over 100 downloads so far.

Planning beyond

The team has come a long way since its inception, and are planning to take it further to create an established venture. Their future plans include partnership with Hostel Association for mutual benefits and adding a separate section in their website for tourists.

 

Final words

“It has been an amazing journey with this idea. The thrill I get in my job as an entrepreneur is amazing. Startup life seems difficult and challenging, and have no confusion it is that way. But, if you are always ready to struggle and if you feel like you can live your life trying to build something and have fun doing it – then, you’ll definitely love the journey. The fact that the idea I had in my head is there for people to see gives me the greatest of satisfaction. I think that is what will give the confidence of pursuing an idea, without worrying about what people might say. The tremendous support from friends, mentors and students at Deerwalk has been very motivating. This will help me personally to give a go to every idea that I have in my head. As an entrepreneur, patience is a must. Also, we are young minds, so having mentors is important. It is good to learn from your own mistakes but better to learn from others’ and avoid repeating those mistakes.”

 

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Guest Tuesday, 16 January 2018