Elroy Fernandes' Journey and Union Living's Rise in the Co-living Sector
In a candid interview with Entrepreneurs Today, Elroy Fernandes talks about the major milestones and challenges he had to overcome as an entrepreneur to reach where he is today.
Elroy Fernandes, born on November 13, 1995, in Mumbai, hails from a middle-class family and has been moulded by his parents, Mr. Eugene Fernandes, a retired banking and IT professional, and Mrs. Premila Fernandes, a seasoned LIC employee. Pursuing his interest in science, he secured admission to Don Bosco Institute of Technology, Mumbai, for a B.E. in Mechanical Engineering.
An alumnus of Don Bosco Institute of Technology, Mumbai, during his college years, Elroy was a proactive member of the college NSS team, organizing social events such as blood donation drives and contributing to the GIS mapping of the Mithi River.
He gained national recognition as a runner-up in the Go Kart Design Challenge 2015 and later secured the top spot in a project competition at Vel Tech Dr. RR & Dr. SR University. Elroy's innovative B.E. project, "The Wheeler Pro," aimed to address water transportation challenges in Palghar, Maharashtra.
His postgraduate project at Blue Star Ltd resulted in a 50% reduction in escalations, increased revenue, and decreased material consumption at his then organization, Blue Star Ltd.
The career trajectory
Post-engineering, Elroy Fernandes delved into the HVAC industry, accumulating experience in managing multinational corporations, overseeing blue-collar workforce, enhancing customer experience, upselling, and overall business operations. Concurrently, he pursued a hybrid PGDM in Operations Management from Prin. L.N. Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research, Mumbai.
During the peak of the pandemic, facing challenges in the technical industry, Elroy transitioned to the edtech sector, assuming a team manager role at White Hat Jr, Mumbai, overseeing a vast teacher workforce.
Subsequently, he embraced additional responsibilities at smaller companies before making a shift from EdTech to an Insuretech and Research startup, Beshak.org, where he served as the head of Operations and Business.
Throughout this journey, Elroy immersed himself in the startup ecosystem, developing a keen interest in entrepreneurship. Actively building his LinkedIn profile, he amassed a substantial network of close to 22,000 connections. His professional trajectory took a turn when he connected with influential individuals including his now co-founders, Parth and Rishabh.
At Union Living, Elroy Fernandes currently holds the position of Partner and Director, overseeing Accounts, HR, and Operations. In his role, he has implemented comprehensive systems, introduced reforms, and established efficient team structures across various verticals.
Elroy's responsibilities encompass shaping company culture, formulating policies, managing finances, accounting, overseeing operations, and enhancing customer experience. His overarching goal is to foster talent development and cultivate leaders from within the organization.
Union Living, established in 2021 by Mr. Parth Soni and Mr. Rishabh Soni, is a coliving company that has rapidly expanded its operations.
In response to a notable surge in demand, the coliving segment has witnessed exceptional occupancy levels over the past year. Union Living caters to both students and corporate employees, offering accommodations known for their convenience, high hygiene standards, and elevated living experiences. In terms of why he joined the company, he tells us,
“The potential in the accommodation space, seeing the current change in spending power of the average Indian household post-pandemic, and the possibility of building a scalable business model brought me here at Union Living. Both Parth and Rishabh have a great business ethic and are clear on their vision and success path. It is great to be able to work with such people.”
The company's approach is characterized by a focus on fostering a sense of community within its living spaces. Elroy reveals,
“We introduced Mumbai’s biggest student accommodation – Varsity by Union Living. Located in the coveted Santacruz-Juhu area, it is a luxurious student accommodation that seamlessly integrates opulence, convenience, and a vibrant sense of community.”
Varsity by Union Living is a rapidly growing student housing option, achieving a remarkable 90% occupancy shortly after launch. With 221 well-equipped beds, Varsity offers a premium yet affordable living experience, including modern amenities, security features like CCTV and gated communities, and a focus on fostering community through workshops and exclusive subscriptions.
Union stands out by digitally transforming the rental experience for millennials. Their focus on the resident's needs and concerns results in best-in-class occupancy rates. By creating and designing their own supply in the coliving sector, Union generates unprecedented rental yield.
Technology plays a crucial role, from property discovery to stay management, enhancing transparency and efficiency. Thoughtfully designed properties offer a unique sense of style and functionality.
The emphasis on community-building, workshops, and events fosters a sustainable revenue model with lower vacancy rates and automated Word of Mouth. As the first coliving initiative in Mumbai, Union has achieved exceptional growth through efficient property management.
Achievements so far
Union's achievements in the co-living industry include:
Achieving an ARR of INR 20 CR with profitability within three years of existence, all while being bootstrapped.
Demonstrating lean growth, expanding from 150 beds at inception to 1100 beds within a span of three years.
Pioneering short stays as a vertical in their existing portfolio properties, scaling with high profitability and maintaining an average revenue growth of 20% month-on-month.
High retention rates and customer satisfaction, outperforming many competitors in the industry.
Expanding aggressively, Varsity plans to add more beds in existing markets (Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad) and enter new markets like Gift City in Gujarat, aiming for an ARR of 100 Crores by 2024.
The company aims to extend its reach to new cities, including Gift City, and is set to launch a dedicated property for the short-term stays vertical in the coming months. These strategic initiatives align with Union's commitment to growth and innovation in the co-living sector.
Beyond his corporate responsibilities, Elroy is on a personal mission to destigmatize the concept of Financial Independence, a subject often frowned upon in middle-class households. He aims to bring more individuals, including himself, closer to achieving financial independence.
Looking ahead, Elroy aspires to deepen his understanding of the investment landscape, building on his experience in the retail stock market over the past few years. In the coming years, he envisions a more profound exploration of the world of investing as part of his ongoing journey towards financial empowerment.
Elroy has learned valuable lessons in his entrepreneurial journey. He emphasizes the importance of not fearing the road less traveled, encouraging self-belief and trusting one's judgment.
However, he also stresses the need to be prepared to take responsibility for the consequences in the event of failure. As he says,
“Entrepreneurship is a trait learned over a period of time. Keep reading, absorbing content and asking questions.”
Elroy’s message to budding entrepreneurs is:
“Don't be afraid to take the leap. Don’t chase numbers, titles or valuations. Keep your head down and continue the grind; success is just a byproduct of the hustle. Don't target that as a goal.”