Attacks on Uber drivers by taxi drivers don’t surprise us any more. From Mexico to Mumbai, some taxi drivers have resorted to violence to push back against the disruption of their business by ride-hailing apps.
But today in Bangalore, India, the wrath against internet age disruptors spilled into a new domain.
A mob of about 50 brokers this afternoon attacked the office of a startup called NoBroker in Bangalore, a usually cool, laidback city known as the Silicon Valley of India. The attackers tried to break into the office and turned violent when they were stopped at the door by employees, the startup tells Tech in Asia.
NoBroker is a marketplace connecting house owners and tenants. It cuts off the traditional real estate agents and their hefty fees, while also making the search for suitable accommodation and tenants more efficient with the use of technology.
The 18-month-old site has already made a big impact on the high stakes real estate business in urban India – and brokers are not pleased.
Police give brokers a lecture on tech
Police rushed to the spot to restrain the troublemakers, filed a non-cognizable report (NCR), and warned them against any future attempts to break into NoBroker premises. “Now there is Uber. Does that mean other taxi drivers are going to gang up and attack Uber cabs and drivers? Are the local store owners attacking Snapdeal because it’s growing? So, you have to leave the NoBroker guys alone. Let them do their business,” a police officer told the brokers.
Amit Kumar Agarwal and Akhil Gupta founded NoBroker when they felt frustrated in their attempts to find good houses through real estate agents. Apart from the hefty brokerage, the process was long and cumbersome. This is an experience familiar to many in India, including me. Agarwal and Gupta, being techies and MBAs from IIT and IIM, reacted differently from most people – they decided to shake up the real estate broking business.
They seem to have succeeded if the wrath of the brokers is anything to go by.
At around 11 am Tuesday, eight brokers landed at the doors of NoBroker. They were shouting, which alerted the staff at the startup – some of whom rushed to confront the trouble-makers. Amit and Akhil, the founders, came out to have a chat with the brokers.
“We never ever dreamt that the situation would escalate and we would be attacked physically,” a shaken Amit tells me. He, Akhil, and a few of their managers tried to reason with the angry brokers who wanted the startup to shut shop. Soon, more and more brokers joined in and things got out of hand.
A NoBroker employee called the police. The cops asked the founders and a few representatives of the brokers to accompany them to the police station for a discussion. “But after some of us left for the police station, more brokers arrived at our office, many of them drunk. By the end, there were close to 100 of them,” Amit says. The mob tried to break in but the NoBroker staff – also numbering about 100 – stopped them.
Then they started hitting our staff. They tried to break down the wooden door but a quick-thinking employee shut the iron-door outside. We have around 30 women employees. Many of them were crying.
Police were called in again. They finally got the situation under control and warned the crowd that they would be charged with attempted murder if they tried to break into NoBroker premises or assault the staff again. This dispersed the crowd.
Is this the Silicon Valley of India?
“The cops told us to install CCTV cameras at the door and inside the office. We are doing that now and we are also getting security guards,” Amit says, “I can’t believe this happened in Bangalore!”
According to Amit, the residential rental brokerage market is worth US$200 billion per year globally. In India, around US$4 billion is paid annually at brokerages across the top 20 cities. NoBroker is now registering over 1,500 properties every month and adding almost 1,000 properties onto its site each day. “We are currently helping our customers save more than INR 150 million (US$2.25 million) of brokerage every month across Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, and Chennai,” he says. “This growing scale of operations is what ticked off the broker community. This attack definitely seems well planned. Their intent was to break our computers and scare us off.”
This isn’t the first instance of NoBroker drawing the ire of vested interests in the real estate business. A few months ago, the company was served a legal notice by B M Pounacha, managing director of a real estate consultancy called Ziplify Realty, alleging that the name NoBroker demeans the brokerage profession.