I officially became a landlord this month, it was a bitter-sweet moment with a sigh of relief. I really do understand that this is coming from a MASSIVE point of privilege but owning property in Colombo is a pain in the ass.
3 years ago, right after TheGamersCottage was wrapping up and Surge was picking up, I’ve always wanted to move all of the businesses we had into a central space. I (being 20 years old at the time) didn’t really see a bigger picture, but having a central space to operate made sense to me.
How hard is it to build something anyway?
There was this plot of land that was available in Rajagiriya (roughly 3,500 sqft) that was selling under market price because and I went ahead and took a stab at it.
I, an ego-fueled hormonal teen that just got something off the ground thought “Oh, If I can do this, then I really don’t see why I can’t do x, y & z”. Started off a series of other ventures as well as started the construction process to what is the current Surge office.
The logic seemed quite simple, I’d fully mortgage the land get enough debt to build the office space (at the time $150,000) and pay it in installments through the cashflow of the business.
I was the only shareholder at that time, so I could make a mess of the whole situation if I really wanted to.
Project planning doesn’t account for the mental trauma.
Here’s where things went wrong.
- I hired a contractor who was my friends’ brother who was just getting involved in the space.
- Did not anticipate the time it takes to get building permits and approvals and how bizarre the process of all of that was.
- We were conscious of the cost, didn’t do enough pre-planning with proper process to get the right things in place with due time.
- Didn’t build with the basics (we wanted high ceilings, mezzanine floors and all that jazz. It was basically built for Social Media).
- Labor is (I cannot stress this enough) unreliable.
And as a result, we were off timelines by about 16 months, which had tax and import law changes which increased the prices of raw-materials and as a result, we were off budget by a staggering 200%.
During all of this, the fundamental logic started to fall apart, Surge had an amazing opportunity for a majority shareholder to step in, which meant that the payments could no longer be made by the business and had to fall on the individual, yours truly.
It was a very expensive life lesson on ruthless prioritization and opportunity cost. I guess you have to go through these once in a while. All-in-all though, on paper today it still makes sense (real-estate appreciated ridiculously) with the overall project being an asset that delivers 15% year on year (mix of rent/appreciation).
I probably should’ve hired professionals sooner.
Towards the end of the project, we actually hired a qualified design firm to help us with the interior and the general look and feel. They did a great job conceptualizing what we had initially thought of. Full disclosure, me and my friend built the project on Minecraft for fun back in the day (I kid you not), so kudos to them. Unfortunately, there were still issues that needed to be sorted out, I slowly came to the realization that this isn’t going to be the first or last time that there’s going to be water seeping through one of the boardroom glasses because it wasn’t installed properly or that the AC is dripping because the testing wasn’t carried out on schedule.
We no longer have a local plumber-uncle we can call
My parents grew up in very rural areas, we weren’t born and raised in the capital city. They made their way through public school, went to public university and came out as Doctors. The thing about the medical profession is that you’re pretty broke for a considerable amount of time (till your 40s) till you stabilize. We lived in Australia for a few years from 99’-01’ while my dad completed his PHD. This was the time that he actually saved up some cash to start building a house he could call his own (it’s something that we wanted to do for the longest time, the American dream if you will).
The thing is though, he always had the local plumber, carpenter and the guy that has been coming to our house for the last 20 years to do the electrical work. I (and most of my millennial techie friends I know) aren’t really capable of fixing things. I hear the old grandparents chanting *this is why everything is on fire* in the background, but it’s a real problem that is becoming more and more evident with each passing day.
We’re used to a convenience driven lifestyle, Uber to work, uber eats your food, payments come into your phone and honestly life is getting better. Businesses like “The We Company” that is set to go public is trying to gel all of these things together to build their weird eutopia. But coming back home to Colombo, it’s a bit different because our infrastructure is shitty. We still have power failures (LECO is taking a month to set up a transformer near our area so that we don’t have to rely on a generator for energy), our roads aren’t great, the grid can’t support solar production properly, zoning laws are weird, people are moving away from blue-collar work because pay isn’t great.
A few months ago, I met Shahid-Admani. He reached out to me through instagram and really wanted to meet to talk about his startup. Wasn’t necessarily looking for funding, but wanted to advise around how he can grow his early stage venture. He had started a company called “QuickHelp” a service that is designed to help with basic home-repairs and cleaning.
Shahid wasn’t pitching an idea, it was a business he has been operating for little over 2-years now and showed signs of profitable growth. Personally, this was a product that the market needed and something I personally needed quite badly. As a landlord, I ended up using the team to be able to finish off the remaining issues, stress test everything we needed and it cost us significantly less than having larger engineering houses/design firms finish off the rest.
It’s not really a tech-startup and that’s okay.
QuickHelp is still young and slowly finding their feet. The thing that interested me the most was the fact that the founder, unlike most of the people in this space is relatively level headed.
The business currently does services in the space of electrical, plumbing, repair work, cleaning and a whole bunch of other services as mentioned on their website. We’re quite confident that where all the platforms seem to miss the point is that it’s not about the platform. Reliability of the workforce eventually come down to compensation for the labour, if you can tackle that problem you’re in the clear.
If you can leverage technology to grow a model that is functional without it, you can achieve scale that’s sustainable, and that’s important. The reason, like all the blog-posts on my rant-ish site is that by today, SeedingAlpha is taking a significant interest in the startup. There’s a lot of work that’s in the pipeline around digitization, but for now it’s not a platform. QuickHelp is a technology enabled services company that is looking at solving a real world problem.