Once upon a time people sought to eliminate cars as they would scare the horses. Today’s equivalents of cars and horses are start-ups that offer goods and services directly via the internet and which are hurting their corporeal counterpart.
Directly threatened by goods and services offered in the virtual marketplace, owners of brick and mortar businesses are actively and passively are protesting as they are finding it difficult to catch up with the wildfire growth of the latter.
On Tuesday, a mob of 50 local real estate agents vandalized online real estate rental firm NoBroker Technologies Solutions Pvt. Ltd, and some employees were injured the fracas. Started by Akhil Gupta and Amit Agarwal two years ago, the Bengaluru-based company had been threatened many times, but neither of them thought their office would actually be vandalized.
"Apart from getting threatening calls regularly, we also got a legal notice from a broker once. It disrupts daily functioning, " says Amit Agarwal.
Gupta says that at around 11 am on Tuesday, initially 10 people who claimed to be real estate agents gathered near the office premises. Soon, more joined in and even outnumbered the firm’s employees.
Real estate agents protest near the entry of NoBroker office. They were sloganeering and later resorted to physical violence.
“When asked about their purpose, they told that they came to close our business. They wanted us to empty the premises and shut shop!” Agarwal says.
"The protesters on Tuesday initially used verbal abuses to which none of the 40 odd employees retaliated. They then resorted to punching and slapping, a few employees, who tried to stop them, were hurt in the process," says Agarwal.
Even after the Madiwala police intervened and took representatives from both parties to the station, the protestors, who had remained, resumed their attack on the employees, said Mahesh (name changed on request).
Many of the businesses or services that feel threatened are ones that required the services of a middleman. In contrast, newer companies use technology to connect with customers directly, thereby eliminating the need for an agent.
"The brokers and middlemen would stay if they added value to the system. People spend a fortune in the name of a commission to these brokers, whereas ours is an online marketplace in which the client is allowed access to our inventory which contains 1 lakh properties. Out of the 30,000 new properties that are added every 6 months, Bengaluru’s share is the highest. Clearly the house-rental startups are taking the real-estate industry by storm." says Agarwal.
NoBroker is not the first firm to face the wrath of traditional businesses that are not tech-savvy. Taxi aggregators like Ola and Uber have face resentment of cab drivers and auto rickshaw drivers.
On August 13, 2015, app-based taxi service Uber was attacked in Maharashtra by members of bodies representing taxi drivers and auto rickshaws to ensure that cab aggregators do not ply on the streets of Mumbai and Pune. Terrified Uber drivers stayed off the roads.
In July 2015, members of the Dakshina Kannada Taximen’s and Maxicab Association staged a protest outside the Deputy Commissioner office in Mangaluru.
October last year saw traders demanding a government-led regulatory body to control e-commerce sites. The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a traders' association demanded that the government take necessary action against e-commerce sites from indulging in predatory pricing during peak seasons to ensure free and fair market with a level playing field.
Despite the constant protests and the recent vandalism, Mahesh says: “It doesn’t mean we should stop innovating.”
Watch the video taken during the protest