Whether it is a unique event space, a rooftop pool, a ride in a classic car or a weekend getaway, Bangladesh’s first space marketplace, Chaya has you covered. Chaya connects homeowners and businesses with people and their needs. Childhood friends, Farhia and Mehraab along with their high-school friend Armaan started Chaya in 2019. Dhaka Tribune’s Tasfia Huda sat down with Mehraab Anwar, the co-founder of Chaya to learn more about how they saw a market nobody was serving and their future plans.
What was your motivation to get Chaya off the ground?
At the very beginning, we would personally help with some of the events, like proposals and anniversaries. We remember meeting some of our early users and saw firsthand how happy and grateful they were, and that we helped them create beautiful memories. The opportunity to solve a problem and make a difference for so many people who are looking to create and celebrate with their friends and loved ones really motivated us to keep pursuing this idea.
What are some obstacles that you had to face in order to make Chaya a reality?
The pandemic hit soon after we launched, and that really hampered our growth and even had us shut down for the entirety of the first lockdown. At that point, we had a difficult time onboarding new spaces, and some of our existing ones were quick to either shut down or unlist from our platform.
At one point, our website went down and things were starting to look so grim, we genuinely thought that was the end of Chaya's journey. But along with the rest of the world, we and our users had to adapt to the new normal.
We quickly realized the long lockdown had businesses suffering losses and users were suffering from isolation and lack of human contact. During the following months after lockdown, we worked our backs off trying to gather all our existing spaces and getting new spaces that could provide our users safe, sanitized private spaces to meet with their loved ones. For us those months were crucial to Chaya's survival. It was those grueling months that brought Chaya where it is now.
What has been the most difficult aspect of getting this project off the ground, and how did you overcome that?
We faced a chicken and egg situation at the very beginning, where we had to choose whether to build a platform first or to go out and get spaces. Without a platform, how would we serve our users and where would we list our spaces. And without spaces, our platform would be empty and useless. We decided to prioritize getting spaces first, which was very difficult without a platform, as homeowners and businesses were skeptical about giving access to their spaces through a new company they knew next to nothing about.
We reached out to people in our networks who owned nice rooftops or restaurants. We would meet with the space owners several times, take photos of the space ourselves, and really build a relationship with them that was built around trust. Once we got our first couple of spaces, we built a very basic one page website that showed our available spaces, and took bookings on social media, via google forms.
What does Chaya offer?
Chaya offers homeowners and businesses a way to monetize their unused or underutilized spaces. Chaya offers users an easy way to find and book the perfect space that matches their budget, location, aesthetics and more. We provide access to some of the most unique and beautiful spaces in Dhaka and have created unique experiences for couples, families and friends to enjoy.
How’s the response like even amidst this pandemic?
So far, after Covid-19 restrictions have gone down there appears to have been a rubber band effect with users looking to book more spaces than before. This is probably a result of several months of being unable to do anything and the need for some level of normalcy and human interaction.
The option to book a safe, private space for close friends and relatives is always helpful. We've also been getting a lot more listings, as people with private spaces like rooftops, gardens, realize they can make easy money sitting at home and a second source of income is very much appreciated during these times.
So what's next for Chaya? Without revealing too many details, the Chaya team informs us that they are currently working on something that will change the way people find and rent homes in Bangladesh. Other than that, they are also accepting listings outside of Dhaka now. They already have some interesting locations in Chittagong in the pipeline, and are looking forward to finding more hidden gems around the country.