Written by: Surbhi Dhawan.
Earlier last month, StayUncle, a Delhi-based startup, founded by Blaze Arizanov, Nand Kr. Singh and Sachit Sethi, set the internet ablaze, by being the ‘first of its kind’ online portal that allowed unmarried couples to book hotels for 12 hours, without being subjected to unnecessary scrutiny, and societal judgement.
In a country, where the common man’s everyday is riddled with stories of couples being ostracized by self-proclaimed moral-police, StayUncle grabbed quite the eyeballs for setting foot in a well-known, yet uncharted vertical, and were lauded for their ‘bold’ move.
How did they start?
Part 1: There was a Sanchit.
Rewind 20 months ago. Goa. Sanchit was working with Zuari Chemicals, after graduating from BITS Pilani in Mechanical Engineering. On a lazy weekend, he decided to bounce off ideas regarding a travel startup, and what better place to start researching more on the same, than Goa, am I right? So off he went to his co-workers, and asked them to list down the most common problems they have faced while traveling, in an Excel sheet. Prior to this, he had tried to work on creating ‘Holiday Packages’ with a friend, but lack of a proper ‘Technology guy’ in the team, the idea fell flat.
This time however, he appeared to have struck a chord. Most people who recorded their responses, ended up talking about how booking a hotel room for 24 hours, when you only needed to stay for a couple of hours, was unfair, and not an economical option at all.
Now if you could just stay for 12 hours, and just pay for the same, wouldn’t that be a huge relief? Just like that StayUncle came into being. For starters, Sanchit moved to Delhi, because that seemed like a better option. To top it off, his company offered him a position in Gurgaon, which made things easier. His story had just begun.
Part 2. Need for Blaze.
In February 2014, Sanchit quit his job, and decided to devote his entire time to StayUncle, however, things were grim for the first 5-6 months. Extremely grim. There were no bookings, and the money on hand was soon running out. A clueless Sanchit, decided to meet up with people across the city and pitch them his idea, that did not garner a lot of interest, until he met Blaze.
Blaze Arizanov, had come to India for a year, but had ended up sticking around for longer. He was an avid traveler, photographer, and totally on-board with Sanchit’s idea, since day 1. They met at Epicuria at Nehru Place Metro Station, and once they were done, Blaze had already made plans to move from GK-1 to Gurgaon, to work on StayUncle.
Part 3. And then, there were three.
With an idea they believed in, Sanchit and Blaze, set out to get some cash to sustain themselves, and StayUncle – the former was taken care of by Sanchit’s father, and for the latter, they spent days dropped mails after mails to investors on LinkedIn for a possible investment.
This is when they Ajay Naqvi came into picture. A former General Manager at Coca Cola, Naqvi had quit his job, and was living with his family in Romania, while being on a look-out for an exciting investment opportunity in India.
Ajay flew to India, and had a 3-hour long discussion with Blaze and Sanchit about StayUncle.
An investment was agreed upon, and finally StayUncle seemed to have gathered some sort of direction now.
Part 4: Mission Frat Boy(Uncle?) Party = Complete.
With the recent investment, StayUnlce decided to expand, and recruit a Front End Developer – a search that ended with the BITS Pilani student – Arkesh Jaiswal.
The coup was completed by Sanchit’s cildhood friend Nand Kr. Singh, who quit his job at GE Health Care, rejected two other lucrative offers, and moved based from Bangalore to Delhi to join as the Product Developer for StayUncle.
Part 5: Hello, world.
April changed everything for StayUncle. They were everywhere, and everyone was talking about them. Their website crashed three times, and as Blaze recalls, “It seems that India finally opened its eyes and ears to the revolution StayUncle is trying to stir.”
“We are overwhelmed. Embarrassed as well,” he wrote. We are a 3 people team, and we are about to fail.”
At this point of time, what StayUncle did not have was – an inventory of hotels in cities beyond Mumbai and Delhi. So, they asked for help, and took the crowd-sourcing way.
“You want hotels in more cities? Help us get them,” they appealed. “Help us get couple friendly hotels in your local city. You know your crib better than we’ll ever do. Go and check them if they are okay with couples. Present yourself as a mystery shopper. Give us a call we’ll tell you how to pitch better. Two hours of adventure can do amazing things for you and extraordinary things for us.”
This led to the formation of #StayUncleArmy, where people could sign up and report about couple-friendly hotels in their city.
They didn’t stop here, obviously.
“We are struggling with Rs 100 per day. We can’t say when can we expand to the city you desire. We have no idea when will we be able to pay for a mobile app. If you wish you can help us get you there. If chosen, your mobile app or mockup or prototype will become StayUncle’s official mobile app, you will become our Product manager for Mobile, obtain equity or I don’t know what exactly, we are going to work it out somehow,” Blaze wrote.
“If you connect us with 2-3 couple friendly hotels in your native city we will be in position to make you our regional manager, managing all our vendor relationship within a particular zone.”
Part 6: That’s all, folks.
“Today is a happy day,” Blaze wrote on May 1. “Sanchit called me this morning to tell me that we have hit 5 Lakhs of monthly revenues this April.”
Few nights ago we met a fan in MG Road metro station in Gurgaon.
“You guys are from StayUncle?”
Yes we are.
“Dammit. You are doing amazing job. So cool that you started this. Where is your office btw?”
We have none. Laptop, charger and data card and our office is all across Delhi NCR.
He looked at us bluntly in disbelief but kept his posture.
“How many employees so far in the team?”
We have no employees. We three the founders and an army that works alongside us. They are not our employees. They are self driven, they work on their own accord, whenever they want.
“No way. All this boost in media, your popularity, you guys are expanding like hell and you don’t even have an office?”
He was left deep in silence, His face was telling. He wasn’t sure how to classify us.
That’s okay. We don’t know how to classify us either.
Others don’t know how to classify us either.
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