Exclusive: The Inside Story Of How Mobile Social Networking App For College Campuses Bakfy Was Acquired By CommonFloor

Interview with Ashutosh Garg and Sumit Jain to understand the story behind hyper local college app Bakfy getting acquired by Commonfloor

The Indian real estate market size is expected to touch US$ 180 billion by 2020. The housing sector alone contributes 5-6 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). With India climbing the stairs of a digital economy, slowly being dominated by mobile, startups like Housing, CommonFloor need to think beyond vanilla mobile apps.

“Commonfloor is quite bullish on mobile, and the Bakfy team brings a proven capability of scaling up a mobile-only social network in India which is quite unique. Bakfy is one of the best designed and developed Indian mobile apps in the early stage segment,” said Sumit Jain, Co- founder & CEO of Commonfloor after it acquired Bakfy.

Reviewed earlier at LI, Bakfy joined the craze of anonymous apps but with a twist. The app focused on college networks allowed users to chat within their college network and share with other college networks on the globe. One could create own profile or choose to be anonymous after being authorized with their college email id. Besides the app killed the boring way of adding friends and building a network, it just allowed you to rant.

Founded by NIT Tiruchirappalli alumni Niranjan Bala and Rajesh Eswarlal and Delhi College of Engineering graduate Ashutosh Garg, the team will join CommonFloor as entrepreneurs-in-residence and will work directly with the founders to build social and mobile products.

However there isn’t any news about the deal size but it has been confirmed that the acquisition which is more of acqui-hire or talent acquisition is a mix of cash and equity.

Inception of Bakfy

Ashutosh and Niranjan have been friends and have been jostling over ideas that could benefit India. The initial idea that surfaced over continuous discussions was to do something for the college community as it was a growing market withlimited products dedicated to the community. “Our experience and initial findings clearly showed that there was a lack of communication despite Facebook and WhatsApp,”  Ashutosh told Lighthouse Insights post acquisition.

Ashutosh Garg

To start with both the co-founders zeroed in on the idea of going mobile first while building a Twitter-like application for students. The idea was to build a platform that would allow college students to converse with others based on certain interests. At this point of time Rajesh, a college junior of Niranjan, known for his mobile app development skills, was roped in as the third founder.

Over the next few weeks, the team developed the first version of Bakfy and walked in to RVCE to understand what college students think about it.”Within 2-3 weeks we had more than a thousand downloads. The idea that clicked among the students was the ability to be anonymous allowing them to talk freely without being judged.”

The initial success encouraged the team to get more features on board, change the UI a bit and take it further to other colleges in Bangalore. Based on the initial success in colleges, a pan India launch was decided in April 2013.

Post the India launch Bakfy started gaining eyeballs with IIT’s and other known colleges joining the platform. The startup got more than 50 colleges on-board and Yogender Chhibber, a senior consultant at advisory firm Zinnov along with another person as the initial investors and mentors.

About the Co-Founders

Before Ashutosh could talk about the Bakfy interaction with CommonFloor, I interrupted him to talk about his founding team.

Born in Punjab and later migrating to Delhi, Ashutosh comes from a very humble background. A pass out of Delhi College of Engineering, he never had the big US dream, instead he always wanted to work in India for an Indian company. “I am an impact driven person rather than money driven which comes with the way I grew up. During the eighties Punjab was burning with terrorism and my family also witnessed a lot of turmoil . All this has shaped me into who I am today,” Ashutosh said on his strong belief in the “Make In India” drive.

Before Bakfy, he has been associated with quite a few initiatives as he wanted more from his life after a 9-6 job. A quick look at his LinkedIn profile gives a snapshot of his initiatives like Ecofreaks, a registered not-for-profit organization focused on waste management and Alumnize, a platform to create engaging community of alumni of colleges and corporate, focused at jobs/internships.

All three of us were the right fit for Bakfy as we brought in different perspectives that eventually helped in building a good product

Of the two other co-founders, Ashutosh informed that both have a varied and humble background. “Niranjan came with 10 years of tech experience whom I knew for a while and had a frequency match with. Rajesh was our app brain and I looked into the marketing and hustling around. All three of us were the right fit for Bakfy as we brought in different perspectives that eventually helped in building a good product.”

“The varied perspectives that all three of us brought in helped us to build a really enriching product. I also take the pride to say that the last design update Bakfy did was one of the best in the industries considering the bandwidth that we had,” he added .

In fact the Bakfy team has been known for the strength they bring on board specially Ashutosh is the type of good hustler that any team will want on their side, said Ravi Gururaj, chairman of Nasscom Product Council that mentored and incubated the fledgling venture through its 10,000 startups initiative and startup warehouse facility.

Failure in raising second round of funds

With the initial rounds of angel funding, the startup started hiring college interns, freelance designers and content creators. The idea back then was to march ahead and acquisition was nowhere in the minds; Bakfy was only a year old startup!

Meanwhile the startup also started working on raising the second round of funds nearing to 100-200K but pretty soon the co-founders realised that raising money for social networks in India isn’t easy. “After talking to a couple of VCs we realized that it won’t be easy to raise second round of funds since at that point of time we had no monetization plans,” Ashutosh recollected.

The startup now had two choices either they had to increase the traction or survive without funds for the next few months. During this phase Bakfy founders met the founders of CommonFloor at a hackathon which changed their future.

Meeting and saying yes to CommonFloor

The first meeting between Bakfy and CommonFloor guys happened last year at the YourStory hackathon at TechSparks. The initial round of conversation was more focused on the Bakfy product and the team was asked to send in a standard pitch deck. “They liked the team, they asked us about our profiles and the pitch deck. We thought initially that these guys might be looking at putting some money.”

“In the same meeting CommonFloor guys also asked us what ideas do we have for their startup in the mobile and social space.”

(L-R) Vikas, Ashutosh, Niranjan, Rajesh, Lalit, Sumit

Later to the first round of meeting which happened in the month of October, the second round of discussions focused on the ideas that Bakfy guys had for CommonFloor. “We gave a very blunt opinion about their current set of work on the mobile and social space. At this point they asked us to join CommonFloor.”

After considering present challenges and the vision provided by CommonFloor, the co-founders at Bakfy jointly decided to go ahead and accept the offer. “We had three reasons why we said yes - one was our inability to raise funds. With a similar experience of hyper-local apps, Commonfloor founders advised us that getting a million plus downloads isn’t going to be possible in the Indian market. So we needed to be ready for a pivot.

The second reason was the vision of CommonFloor and the humongous market opportunities the sector provides. So there are immense opportunities and we knew CommonFloor was the leading player to take the opportunity. The impact really got us excited.

And finally we liked the idea of joining a company that is focused towards the Indian community. These three things really got us excited to say yes to the deal,” Ashutosh shared.

One of the reasons that attracted CommonFloor, apart from the mobile product that they had built, was the core-strength of the Bakfy founding team. ” We really like the team and what they have done in the mobile space. Besides they were also focused on solving real estate problems like we are committed to do so,” shared Sumit.

After some rounds of discussions among the co-founders, Bakfy agreed to shake hands with CommonFloor by the end of October. “CommonFloor guys are quick in making a decision. In less than five meetings the deal was sealed. We looked at all the opportunities and after a few negotiations we signed the deal.”

Road ahead as resident entrepreneurs

Sumit Jain Commonfloor
Sumit Jain

With the co-founders being part of CommonFloor now, this also means a slow natural death to Bakfy. The co-founders have decided not to put any money ino the app or update any new changes but any critical bugs will be resolved. However it is destined to die its natural death, leaving a long pending debate on why India can’t have its own social network.

Life is quite hectic after joining CommonFloor. “We are working again in a startup as entrepreneurs from building a team and executing a lot of ideas in the mobile space. But the common fears of a growing startup are not there so that’s good since we are focusing on building some great products in CommonFloor.”

The focus will be on building innovations in the mobile and social space, Sumit informed. Apps like Flatchat, a CommonFloor app which enables networking within a community of people looking for common accommodation might scale new heights with the young minds of Bakfy joining in.

At present Ashutosh is enjoying the work environment and responsibilities but he is pretty confident that he will be back to the entrepreneur world in one form or the other. “I have a long way to go, this is just the beginning. This was a very small exit which was sweet and going ahead I wish to back few startups with funds so that I give back to the system and encourage more entrepreneurs in the country.”

“Only time will tell how good/bad was the decision. We could have waited some more time and tried hard in raising funds but you never know. Right now I am happy where we are and keeping doing what we are good at,” he added.

An individual’s value system is made up of his childhood and upbringing, like it has been for Ashutosh - a young Indian moved by creating value rather than the tangible happiness of life. One of them is being present at hackathons just as he was at a science hackathon while chatting with me for this story. “I keep going to such places to meet new entrepreneurs, encourage new ideas and learn from them.”

Image credit: Commonfloor