Rhea Silva, 24, is a third generation social entrepreneur, and the founder of a global social impact business, Chototel. She tells Talk Business about her plans to roll out quality hotel-style accommodation to those priced out of urban rental markets around the world.
Where you are from?
I am from Mumbai, India.
When did you start your business and at what age?
I founded the company in late 2015, when I was 23 years old.
What exactly is your business and how does it help people?
Chototel provides dignified housing solutions for urban contract workers and other lower-income groups who have been priced out of major cities by high house prices and soaring private rents. Formed from the words “choto” – meaning little in Japanese – and “hotel,” we use ground-breaking technologies to build inexpensively. Our hotels use smart-robots to reduce running costs through unmanned operations, and all utilities are generated from renewable sources.
These efficiencies help us offer services at very low prices. Consequently, our target nightly rates in India start at $2. We are running feasibilities for a proposed UK project in Bristol and it looks like we could achieve a nightly price of less than £8 per night. Our target is to serve the bottom of the pyramid in the markets we operate in.
What was your inspiration and motivation to get started in business?
My family. My granduncle opened a bank for the poor of Mumbai’s slums in 1963. It’s still going 53 years later, and has nearly 3 million customers. My father pioneered affordable housing in India. As role models, they gave me the courage the think how important scale is when it comes to social business. As a result, I have been able to envisage Chototel as a solution to the global housing crisis, rather than as a local solution to a specific problem.
How did your friends and family react to you starting a business?
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, my friends and family were not very surprised when I started a business of my own. They understand my passion for the project and have been incredibly supportive. Lots of my relatives have come over to London to assist me with various things, from setting up home to developing marketing campaigns for the business.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?
London offers incredible infrastructure for a start up. It is expensive but efficient. As a start up in the hospitality industry, we have faced the typical challenges that all new hotel companies encounter, starting with land acquisition, permits, and contractors. Fortunately, our experience in the real estate sector means that we anticipated such issues and developed ways to overcome them.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start their own business?
Anything that can go wrong, will. Starting a business needs persistence and resilience of a different degree. You will inevitably face set backs along the way and you must remain relentless in pursuit of your mission. Despite the challenges, I have found entrepreneurship to be an incredibly exciting and rewarding way to live my life. I would encourage people thinking about starting their own business to dream big: do not let your background, gender or personal inhibitions affect what you think you can achieve.
How do you expect your business to develop in the future?
We believe Chototel will, to a great extent, solve the problem of housing poverty. Our mission is to grow to 5 million rooms in the next decade or two. That will make us the world’s largest hotel player. Our growth strategy is to have a presence in fast-growing urban centres where the demand for affordable accommodation is predicted to rise within the next decade. Consequently, we are looking at sites in Bristol & London in the United Kingdom, as well as sites in the UAE and Nigeria. It is an asset-heavy business and has limitation in scaling, but with the right capitalisation strategies that is an achievable goal.