Interview with Mia Melle, Founder, Roorah.com

We bring to you a brand new start up in Bangalore called Roorah.com.  Roorah.com is a peer to peer social platform where renters and landlords can meet and lease homes without an agent. We caught up with their founder Mia Melle over her plans for the future of her company.

Q1. Firstly, a very warm welcome from Ideasmakemarket.com team. Tell us something about your background.

Thank you!  I’m excited to be a part of Ideasmakermarket.com and wish the venture much success!

 I am a native Californian and live close to Los Angeles.  I have been an entrepreneur for almost 20 years now which basically means I’m completely unemployable J  I didn’t attend college and dropped out of High School in 10th grade.  I ended up graduating via Independent Studies when I was 16.  My father was an immigrant from Korea and my mother was American.  I am the youngest of 7 children.  Although I was never a fan of formal education, I consider myself a life long learner and one of my strengths is that I use every experience, person I meet, place I go as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Q2. Our readers would love to know about the journey of your various ventures. How and when did you decide to take the path of entrepreneurship?

I’ve always worked and I got my first job at age 14 in a restaurant.  Making my own money and being independent was always part of my DNA.  I landed my first professional job at age 20 at a mortgage company in Irvine, Ca.  I worked there for about 4 years and learned a lot about real estate and it is also where I met my husband.  But one day, I looked around at the people who were senior to me and decided that I wasn’t interested in being like any of them.  I didn’t want to work in a cubicle or an office building all my life and climb up some corporate ladder.  I wanted to have freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted.  I didn’t know it then but I wanted to be an entrepreneur!

 Once I discovered that corporate life is not where I wanted to be, my now husband and I both quit our jobs and have never worked for anyone since.  I was 24 and my husband was 21 and 17 years later we are still moving forward and have never looked back!

Q3. Tell us something about the business model of Roorah.com and who your target clients are.

Roorah.com is a peer to peer online social platform for renters and DIY landlords.  I think universally everyone can agree that finding a place to rent a home can use some improvement.  It’s time consuming, frustrating, risky, and it’s not an event that anyone looks forward to.  In the U.S., about 50% of the population rents and most people move about every 2 years or so.  I know India has a thriving rental market as well and from what I have learned, there is also a lack of standards and processes to streamline how homes are rented to individuals here.

The goal with Roorah.com is to create transparency between renters and landlords through social profiles, bios, ratings and reviews.  People want to know who they are dealing with and read about other peoples experiences instead of leanring the hard way.

We also want to create tools to make communicating between the renter and the landlord easier and put everything into one convenient and comprehensive platform where you can search, connect, list, pay rent and anything else relating to a rental property all on one platform.

I think the younger millennial generation might be our earliest adopters because they prefer to do everything on-line but really our product is for anyone who rents or owns a rental property and self-manages.

Q4. How do you see the Indian real estate market shaping up? What are your expectations from this budget?

It’s too early for me to try and make a comment on the Indian real estate market.  It seems there is building and construction going on everywhere I look which usually means growth and price appreciation.  I’ve had a few opportunities to view some new home developments since I’ve been here and prices are suprisingly on par with the U.S. which was suprising because the salaries are about a 10th of what we would make in the U.S.  I’m guessing there still is a very large discrepency between the middle to upper class and the lower classes.  I look forwad to understanding the Indian real estate market better as I become more familiar and spend more time here.

I honestly don’t have any expectations whatsoever in regards to how we will do or if we will be accepted in the Indian market just as I have no expectations about the U.S. either.  Entrepreneurs I think move forward without necessarily worrying about the outcome….we believe in what we are doing and we don’t let external information effect our plans one way or the other.

Q5. How do you see the US real estate market shaping in future and the impact of reducing the economic stimulus by FED?

The US real estate market seems to be recovering.  We are over the foreclosure crisis and most homes have regained their value so they are no longer under water.  Prices have stayed relatively flat for the last 5 years or so in most areas but that is an improvement over the dramatic drops we were experiencing in 2007-2009.  The rental market is strong and as I mentioned, about 50% of all Americans are renters.  We don’t need any economic stimulus…that’s what got us into trouble in the first place!  What we need is the governemnt to be more favorable to businesses and cut corporate taxes so we can grow and hire more people and create jobs.   More jobs and lower unemployment equals a better economy for everyone.

Q6. What are the challenges that you have faced while setting up your business in India? Any mistakes you have made in this journey?

I have only been in India for about 2 weeks and already we have faced several challenges.  Starting something new in a foreign land can be scary and does make you feel vulnerable.  Just being able to just communicate on a daily basis is challenging!  Everyone speaks English but the accents can be difficult to understand and I know people have a hard time understanding me as well so it can be frustrating when trying to talk to prospective team members or vendors or just getting an auto on the street!   I’ve been actively interviewing software developers and sometimes I’m only catching about 20% of what they are saying so it can make you wonder how is this going to work out?  Also, trying to understand the customs, thought processes, and social norms of a very different culture is extremely interesting but also challenging.  And we haven’t even begun to navigate the actual real estate laws, employment laws, corporate laws and all of that….figuring all of that out is a job in itself!   

I’m not sure yet if I’ve made any mistakes….this will remain to be seen.  I did hire someone over Google Chat before I came to India…waited a week for her to start working and then she quit after the first day!  So, I suppose choosing her was one of my first mistakes so far J  I’m confident there will be many more!  

But, the fact that we said we we’re starting a company in India and then jumped on a plane and are actually doing it despite all of these obstacles is what makes me an entrepreneur in the first place.  I don’t know how it’s going to work out but I’m doing it anyway….

Q7.  How have you funded your business? 

I have bootstrapped every business I have ever started!  Not necessarily by choice and it hasn’t always worked but it’s not easy at all to get loans for small businesses in the U.S. so it’s the only option most times.  

I have a property management company in California called Renttoday.us.  It’s a brick and mortar real estate company and we manage rental homes.  I started that company out of a little shed in my backyard and it’s grown to be one of the largest property management firms in Southern California.  The property management industry is very “mom and pop” so that’s not necessarily saying a lot BUT it has allowed me to use the profits from that company to start Roorah.    Basically, Roorah is my own competition.  I’m creating a tool that allows my clients to fire me!  If that’s not entrepreneurial I don’t know what is 🙂

Still, funding the company is always a concern and we don’t have unlimited funds so many times our growth is limited based on how much we are able to contribute each month.  Currently we have 3 full-time developers and I just hired 2 more here in Bangalre to make a total of 5.  If I had more money, I would increase my development team to 10 or 15 so we can roll out features much quicker and have money for marketing, etc.  but this will all come in time.

Q8. How do you manage the team dynamics in your company?

I’m not a developer so that is another challenge in leading a technology company!  Fortunately, I’ve found that developers are very self-motivated people with a natural inclination to want to learn and grow which I greatly admire.  Because of this, there is not a lot of babysitting that needs to happen.  They have a passion for their work and that drives them to work hard and produce good product.  And because their jobs are very task oriented, it’s easier to see what they are doing.  If there’s no product, that’s an issue.  In my other company, Renttoday.us it’s more customer service based and it’s harder to tell who is doing what because there is no product to release.  Of course we have sales but the majority of the company are servicing clients and it’s not so easily measured.  Little by little I’m becoming more adept at managing developers and understanding how they work which helps me be a better leader.

Q9. If you are to list down three things that an entrepreneur should keep in mind, what would that be?

  1. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it! ( I tell this to myself all the time!)
  2. It’s about the journey, not the destination so don’t be tied to an outcome!
  3. If you make your goal to learn and grow, then there is no such thing as failure

Entrepreneurship is not about building a company that will last forever or go IPO or make you a million dollars (or crores) , it’s about always craving growth, change, knowledge, and experiences.  Most of these things only come from struggles and failures so that is all part of the entrepreneurial journey.  It’s not whether your idea is sucessful or validated, it’s about what you learned along the way and how you will pass that knowledge onto others and how you will bounce back stronger, smarter, and more determined.

Q10. Work-life balance is an important aspect of any professional’s life. Being a startup, must be putting additional pressure on you to maintain this balance. How do you manage it?

Entrepreneurship is definitely a lifestyle!  In order for your personal life to fit into your entrepreneurial life, everyone in your family has to be on board!  If not, one or the other will suffer.  Luckily for me, I work with my husband and always have.  He is the CEO of all our companies and I am the President.  And although we have 2 offices, one in L.A. and one here in Bangalore, we prefer to work from home where we can focus and give our team independence.  We can also take a walk whenever we like, take a break and head to the mall for lunch and work whenever we want.

I have a 10 year old son and he is homeschooled so I don’t have to be concerned with school schedules, homework, science projects, etc. and I don’t have to wait until he has vacation to travel, etc.  We are free to do what we want, when we need to.  

He doesn’t even adhere to any cirriculum, he learns purely through life experiences…it’s called “unschool” or “free-school”.  This also means that I don’t put him in soccer or karate or any of those things many parents to do because we can’t be tied down to those schedules either.  

This might be seen to some people as a sacrifice or maybe unfair to the kid but it’s all he knows and he’s happy.  He doesn’t go to school and he’s one of the smartest kids I know!  

Entrepreneurs don’t like schedules !

Q11. What would be your advice to young MBAs and entrepreneurs in the making?

My advice is simple, JUST DO SOMETHING.  People spend a lot of time in school learning or going to seminars and then Meet Ups and then networking, reading books and blogs and never do anything!  That’s a mistake.  

You don’t need to be perfect, know everything, or be the smartest person in the room…you just need to have the courage to put your ideas out into the world again and again.  Some people refer to it as “shipping”.  You need to ship.  A bad idea that you put out into the world is 1000 times better than a good idea no one has ever heard of.  And how many people do you know who are famous from what you would think are really dumb ideas?  Lots!!  The only difference between you and them is that they actually took the steps to do something.

And you don’t need an investor or a lot of money to get started.  Start small, use whatever resources you have, commit time to it and stay focused and be patient but dilligent and don’t give up.

Choose something you enjoy doing and the outcome won’t matter.

Q12.  Any suggestions for IdeasMakeMarket.com

I like what the website is doing and there are a lot of interesting articles and resources for entrepreneurs.  Anytime you can provide a place where people can come and learn and grow and gain knowledge that will help them become someone who creates and leads is a good thing.  We need more sites where the content is relevant, productive, positive, inspring, motivatin and helpful for entrepreneurs and I think you guys are providing that!

Q13. One last question, where do you see Roorah.com in the near future in India?

I would love to make an impact in India with Roorah.com.  The country itself seems to be on the verge of a boom, there is a huge emerging middle class, IT is going crazy and I think it would be beyond exciting to be a part of that in some way.  I know that I’ll face many challenges here just as I do in the U.S. but I welcome those challenges and look forward to the ride!

You will love reading: Japanese Management Style.  Must read article JBIMS MSc. Finance Placements 2015

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Interview with Mia Melle, Founder, Roorah.com

by Abhirup Bhattacharya time to read: 13 min
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