Zolo, India’s largest co-living brand, was founded in 2015 with the aim to redefine the living experience in India. The platform provides fully managed, long-term affordable stay options with a warm and homely environment. Zolo offers trusted and comfortable living solutions through ready-to-move-in rented rooms/beds that offer convenient amenities at affordable prices via an integrated app-based technology platform. With its two-pronged solution, Zolo Standard and Zolo Select, the platform provides an excellent alternative to the existing paying guest (PG) accommodation and apartments.
Akhil Sikri is the Chief Technology Officer & Co-Founder of Zolostays. In an interaction with The Tech Pod, Akhil speaks about the role of technology in shaping the future of co-living.
Tell us something about yourself and what Zolostays as a company does?
Zolostays is an ‘everything place’ with all the facilities that make a fully functional household with the added bonus of a vibrant & dynamic community, all under one roof. Zolo provides its residents with spotless rooms, home-cooked meals, caring staff, unlimited WiFi, DTH subscriptions, a laundromat and so much more in every property. It also promises a safe and happy community full of like-minded people, overcoming the very common obstacle of isolation. Zolostays’ core belief is that the most powerful products leave the choice of purchase in the hands of the consumer. Living is a nuanced and personal experience – Zolo customers know best how and where they want to live. Zolo enables them to make a decision through its huge selection not only in terms of cost/ bed, which ranges from 5k to 30k monthly, but also choice of locality, amenities, and food choices. Zolo-ites are empowered to modify their private space with a dash of their own personalities through several decor options such as photo frames, bean bags etc. Zolo-ites can further move between our properties across cities without any extra cost. Such levels of personalisation helps Zolo develop a much deeper relationship with its customers and is the cornerstone of Zolo’s drive to deliver stellar customer experience.
I am the Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Zolo. I studied in IIT Delhi and worked at NetApp and Kiwi before starting Zolo in 2015. At Zolostays, my role as the CTO involves overseeing and examining all the technological needs – short term and long term needs of the organization, research and development including utilizing capital to make investments designed to help our organization reach its objectives.
What does the future of co-living look like, post COVID-19?
Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding the economy, co-living is set to emerge as the long-term solution for urban India.
- With PGs kicking people out just before the lockdown, COVID-19 has also increased the value of co-living in the eyes of migrant professionals through their efficiency, convenience and transparency.
- This pandemic has also brought the co-living communities’ closer and brought forth their ability to self-help and triage operational challenges in delivering social distancing strategies.
- Subdued real estate prices in the near future may help co-living players achieve sustainable growth. Developers might become more interested in co-creating BTS spaces with co-living platforms.
- Hygiene conscious customers living in PGs will look to move in with co-living players and their solution might fit in perfectly with the changing nature of work – work from home, short term with perpetual transitions.
- Platforms have also used the lockdown to set straight internal processes and increase internal efficiencies. Many of them are outsourcing secondary functions and creating leaner systems, which will reap benefits in the near future.
- Consolidation may happen with smaller players either folding up or being acquired by the well capitalized established co-living platforms.
How is technology shaping the future of co-living?
Technology is the leading component to improve customers’ experience and drive operational efficiency in co-living. Companies are using cutting edge technology such as AI, IoT, AR to experiment in ways which will change the future of co-living. The use cases include:
- Personalization: Many players are using augmented reality initiatives aimed to deliver a personalized space for residents where they can experiment, add and modify amenities within their rooms to create a more homely experience.
- Improving Security: Deep learning mechanisms are being used to improve home security technology where security cameras powered by AI can instantly assess a possible break-in or other emergencies. By applying AI algorithms like facial and voice recognition, some systems can even call for emergency services autonomously, totally eliminating the need for a manual monitoring service.
- Property Entrance Management: AI based document verification can help reduce the manual intensive process of KYC and registration of every new tenant. Facial Recognition based Access Management to the main property will reduce security risks of unauthorized visitors from entering the property thereby reducing front desk personnel expenses.
- Voice Control: Customization is important within each member’s room so the ability for that member to be able to decide what to control is key. A simple command to Alexa or Google Home to change the light color or even wallpaper design would add fun to the mix but make the experience unique for each member.
Apart from the above-mentioned use cases, co-living players are using IoT and ML to drive sustainable living by reducing the carbon footprint of residents, enhancing security through smart locks and integration of amenities through voice control. Technology will continue to evolve the co-living space in India and coupled with human expertise, will be essential in creating a differentiated and personalized experience for tenants.
How are co-living communities designed to handle COVID-19?
For every co-living space, the safety and health of their residents has become the highest priority in a time when COVID-19 is running riot in our daily lives, The co-living players are adhering to guidelines from WHO, medical experts and the Indian government to ensure that the residents at their properties can remain safe. To fight the spread of this extremely communicable virus, many of the co-living startups have done the following:
- Special training sessions have been conducted for housekeeping staff at the properties so that they are aware of the best practices of cleaning and sanitizing spaces based on WHO guidelines.
- In case any co-living company runs their own kitchens or provides food through merchant partners, the staff has been trained on the best practices to be followed in their kitchens to maintain a healthy and safe environment. Proper cleaning of raw materials and sanitizing the utensils being given utmost importance.
- In most cases, repair and maintenance activities are being carried out with a skeletal staff, with all repair personnel having been trained in the dos and don’ts for containing coronavirus.
Use of PPE:
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves have been provided to the personnel at the properties. These PPE are being disposed of at regular intervals based on guidelines.
Use of WHO recommended chemicals:
- All the companies have started the use of hospital-grade disinfectants and cleaning agents approved by WHO for cleaning of the rooms, washrooms and common area in the properties.
- Special attention is being paid to cleaning of frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, taps, health faucets, flush handles and switches which carry the highest probability of having the virus reside on their surfaces.
- Hand sanitizers have been made available at the common area of their properties
Adopting Social Distancing
- Community activities which require coming together of people in a small space have been suspended to promote social distancing.
- Anyone experiencing symptoms of flu have been asked to self-quarantine (if possible) and reach out to a doctor as soon as possible.
- Some companies empowered the customers to apply for internal transfers from multiple persons sharing a room to a single sharing room or in some cases, a complete house.
How is co-living providing quality stay/accommodation by leveraging AI & ML?
Co-living spaces are using cutting edge technology such as AI, IoT, AR and ML to improve the minutest aspects of residents so that they feel truly at home, a part of the community.
Adding to Customer Delight:
- Finding the best roommate: Players are implementing AI based techniques to profile incoming residents to provide for the best roommate match for them based on occupation, education, interests, degrees of connection etc. This not only helps new residents settle in faster, but also opens up the path to greater engagement and in turn longer stay for them.
- Drive community engagement: Gamification techniques are being used to induce behavioral change and increase resident participation in community events, and interactions between residents and between residents and property staff
- Round the clock Customer Support: AI-based chatbots are being used to offer round-the-clock support to customers. Integration of chatbots with internal databases can help provide instant answers to potential and existing customers on any property-related queries instantly.
Reducing Environmental Footprint:
- Reducing food waste – ML based prediction algorithms are being used to figure out the food consumption in a specific property based on occupancy, resident availability/intent and past resident behavior to minimize food wastage on a given day.
- Saving water – Smart sensors have been installed to predict anomalous water usage by a specific unit within a property to identify leakages or inadvertent wastage.
- Reducing power consumption: Tenants are being empowered to reduce their carbon footprint by informing them about abnormal electricity usage, and rewarding residents who consistently keep it below a threshold value