All posts by vishy

yatra dialing Yatra

By | Uncategorized | 11 Comments

If you’ve been tracking our Facebook page, Twitter stream or updates to the mGaadi apps, you wouldn’t be blamed for  wondering whether we had gone into a state of suspended animation.

The first half of 2015 was characterised by a fusillade of pitches to all manners (and sizes) of investors. The meetings would invariably end the same way “just tell us what you are doing that Uber and Ola WON’T be doing in the next 12 months.”

We got the message. Eventually.

A pivot was obviously the need of the hour.

Doomsday warnings notwithstanding, there were large swaths of the global transportation market seemingly outside the 24-month priority list of Uber, Ola, and GrabTaxi.

Frontier markets beckoned to us through a combination of push and pull. We had received several partnership inquiries from Africa and South Asia but it was the East African countries that captured our imagination. Kampala (capital of Uganda) had popularised the use of motorcycles as an inexpensive and efficient transportation option. Boda bodas (the local moniker for bike taxis) had also spread to Tanzania, Kenya, and other parts of East Africa. The only cities with respectable taxi numbers (and Uber presence) were Lagos, Nairobi and a few in South Africa. Tuk tuks and boda bodas comprised a lion’s share of transportation in East and North Africa and the numbers were staggering. There were only three venture backed transportation startups (all pre-Series A) in the region.

Our pivot had crystallised: Destination Frontier Markets!

Back in Bangalore, Ola Auto continued to bribe auto drivers to the tune of Rs. 30 to Rs. 50 per trip with little signs of letting up (and let’s not even talk about the commuter incentives!) Our partnership with Bangalore Police to power prefixed auto stands ostensibly gave us leverage to upsell commuters and keep the auto drivers interested with an upcoming end-to-end cashless product.

Unitus Seed Fund, our institutional investor in the Seed round, reposed their trust in “pulling off the pivot” and led our second (“Seed Plus”) round in June 2015. Three bold and beautiful angels also signed up. We nearly added a new institutional investor but Uber’s Delhi auto rickshaw pilot (what would turn out to be a ‘red herring’) came at just the wrong time and spooked them away.

I had no idea how “plugged in” I was to Africa. Thanks to LinkedIn (God bless you Reid Hoffman!) I was able to reach out to every Level 1 connection in East Africa. And I exaggerate only slightly.

Fast forward three months and we found ourselves in a strange situation.

Three frontier city partners and three regional investors were on the verge of closing but there was a catch with every one of them. There had to be, right?

Our earliest confirmed partner was pushing hard for Mombasa (Kenya) as the first city launch but we needed additional regional investors. The Dhaka partner was fully committed on both the investment and field partner responsibilities but the deteriorating rule of law concerned us greatly. Over a span of three weeks (as we were finalising deal terms), three foreign nationals were gunned down by ISIS sympathisers.

A common bone of contention across all the partners was SaaS vs. JV (former was our preferred model while the partners preferred the latter). A JV meant creating an entity in Singapore or Mauritius, which entailed all manners of complexities, costs and non-trivial delays. A paucity of upfront licensing revenue along with a delayed start in city operations and factoring in a timeline of 3-4 months of operational stabilisation meant that we would have little time remaining for Series A fundraising.

Gosh! we were looking at another cul-de-sac!

But we still had plenty of money from the Seed Plus round and we were not ready to throw in the towel.

Enter Vikram Chachra.

Vikram, a prolific seed investor in the Indian tech scene, was introduced by a dear friend’s husband. Vikram passed on our Seed Plus round but helped enormously in our Frontier Markets El Dorado push. He introduced us to strong regional investor partners in Asia, broadened our business and partner model thinking and opened many doors.

He would open one more door for us.

One late evening (sometime after the cul-de-sac sighting), he called and exhorted us to take another hard look at the taxi landscape. Sure – Uber and Ola ruled the on-demand point-to-point roost in India but Vikram’s thesis was that somewhere in the taxi ecosystem (between the inter-city market, the corporate market, the hourly package market, and the various fleets that served them) was a space that we could occupy. And he wasn’t talking about India alone.

One thing led to another. A meeting with a large corporate-focused fleet owner went exceedingly well – casual pitch turning into a signed contract within 2 weeks. The pitch to fleets was to help them optimise their vehicle inventory. The fleets in turn would introduce us to their corporate customers for a broader Employee Transportation solution. Three weeks later, we had a working demo for Employee Transportation and Cartr was born.

Unlike mGaadi, Cartr was not a pioneer but a fast-follower play. We were aiming to be the smarter and nimbler player with more flexibility and more features. On the driver side, our solution worked with both Android GPS devices and vehicle-mounted GPS trackers. Associated with the latter use case, we built a Smart Logger capability that caught the interest of companies using buses for employee transportation. Our ongoing partnership with BMTC enabled us to support companies with BMTC leased buses in their vehicle mix. We built an industry leading multi-channel SOS Response platform (for police and medical emergencies) integrating Police Control Room and leading hospitals in Bangalore. The SOS platform along with our positioning around hub-level aggregation started resonating with several companies.

Pitches were happening. Betas were starting. Contracts were being signed.

However, we had a velocity problem. We soon learnt that enterprise sales cycles were unpredictable. Large the company, higher the unpredictability and that was only part of the story. The sales pipeline was strong but we didn’t have the luxury to hire (and unleash) a crack sales team.

(Rewind to a conversation with a seasoned entrepreneur in late December after I described our final pivot)

He: Well, you do realise that there’s a Mahabharata war in progress in global transportation.

Me: Of course. Uber vs. Didi for world domination. But they will be focused on the on-demand space for a long long time.

He: Granted that Employee Transportation/ETS/Corporate is not where the battle is currently raging. But it is very much in the war zone. You don’t know when exactly Ola and Uber will open up the ETS battle front. Will you be ready when that happens?

Me: Well, yes. The point of this final pivot is to sign up as many corporate customers as possible and maximise the chances of Series A.

He: There’s no doubt that you increase your fundability with this pivot but keep in mind that the capital markets are spooked. And you’ll have to compete with entrenched B2B players as well.

Me: Yeah yeah. I know. I know.

The seasoned entrepreneur’s words would turn out to be prescient as early as March. We started running into customers seriously evaluating Ola Shuttle (as an alternative for their employees) and IT parks running pilots with Ola. An Ecospace-based company started looking at a bold policy to jettison company shuttles completely and give employees complete flexibility in choosing Uber or Ola for their daily commuting needs.

We missed our March-end sales target and it triggered our end game. We did the final round of “right sizing” and the search for exit opportunities began in full earnest.

In mid-May, after a series of exciting conversations and meetings with Yatra CXOs, the terms of the acquisition were finalised.

On Jun 10, we signed a definitive agreement to be acquired by Yatra.

A yatra that started with organising auto rickshaws and meandered through East Africa and Dhaka before sinking our teeth into the employee transportation and safety market has reached an uppercase destination – Yatra.

We are very excited about Yatra’s ambitions around ground transportation. Cartr and related mGaadi technologies will of course be integrated into Yatra’s products but that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We are thrilled to be joining the Yatra family and strive to make a serious dent in the travel universe.

There’s so much more to share about our 42 month journey. We’ll likely share those stories on a different blog. Stay tuned! And thanks a ton for ALL your support.

Prefixed Stands in Bangalore – where are they?

By | Autos | One Comment

It’s been four months since we launched the first mGaadi/Bangalore Traffic Police prefixed stand at MG Road Metro Station. The list has now grown to 7 and this map shows where they are located.

Chronology of prefixed auto stand launches

  • April 9, 2015: MG Road (#1) and Garuda Mall (#2)
  • May 15, 2015: Avenue Road/Chickpet (#3)
  • May 21, 2015: Yeshwantpur Railway Station (#4)
  • Jun 3, 2015: Mantri Square Mall (#5)
  • Jun 6, 2015: Electronic City (#6)
  • Jun 20, 2015: Byatarayanapura Satellite Bus Stand (#7)

An ecstatic New Year reveler

By | Autos | No Comments

In anticipation of New Year celebrations, we had extended mGaadi’s working hours. Aren’t we glad we did?

We had at least one commuter who was ecstatic with her mGaadi experience. She took to Twitter to express her happiness:

10,000 toasts to our field operations and customer service teams

By | Autos | 4 Comments

Say hello to our 5 digit milestone – 10,000. On Nov 28, 2014 we enrolled auto driver #10,000 into the mGaadi network. Barring a passing mention on an outreach email and a push notification to the Android users, the milestone almost went by uneventfully.

As caught up on my Twitter stream on Friday, this tweet caught my attention:

It struck me that we were doing such a disservice to our field operations and customer service teams. For months, this milestone was the rallying cry to the field operations team and we had almost let it pass uneventfully. We had changed goal posts for the operations team a few months ago but still…

Bear with me while I dwell on this number a bit.

What’s so special about this 5-digit number? When we launched the mGaadi service on Dec 12, 2013, we had 500 auto drivers, 10,000 was this Big Hoary Audacious Goal! We had breached it before our 1-year anniversary. The best part is that we could done this two months earlier *if we had wanted to* but that’s a blog post for another day.

To every member of the Field Operations and Customer Service teams (even the ones who’ve moved on), a big BIG THANK YOU!!

To put this number in perspective, some fun statistics:

  1. 10,000 auto rickshaws represent 6.25% of Bangalore’s total (using the official RTO numbers)
  2. If you were to line up 10,000 Bajaj auto rickshaws bumper-to-bumper, they would cover 26.35 km (No no! It’s not what you are thinking – mGaadi has NO intention to call for an auto rickshaw bandh J)
  3. If you were to stack 10,000 Bajaj auto rickshaws, it would extend 17.8 km up into the sky

And of course, we are just getting warmed up. As the trends from this Bangalore #autoraid showed us, there are at least 70,000 more that might potentially enroll with a service like mGaadi.

One more thing… do you know that we now have competition in Bangalore?

 

The good news is that we now have competition

By | About, Autos | 6 Comments

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi

It’s been a busy week. On Monday, Olacabs released their auto service beta in Bangalore. On Wednesday we got confirmation that Ola’s biggest Indian competitor would follow suit. On Thursday Uber announced the launch of Uber Go (India-specific vehicle class 15-20% cheaper than Uber X). In short, the hot category mGaadi’s operating in had become super hot.

Friends, partners, and tweeple have been wondering what all this means for mGaadi. Short answer? This is GOOD NEWS! For the longer answer, you’ll have to read the rest of this post.

Where and how it all began

In late Aug 2012, S first pitched the idea of mGaadi to V. Mission? To dramatically improve the livelihoods of auto rickshaw drivers. How? By creating an Uber-like location-based service for auto rickshaw commuters and using customer ratings as a lynchpin to reward and retain the best drivers. V was hooked and they decided to startup. A few months later, S and V had moved into mGaadi’s first office in Domlur and soon thereafter hired their first engineer (the peerless Kiran Raj). In mid-2013 we did a controlled pilot that would set the stage for the public launch of the mGaadi service.

Where we are now

When we launched on Dec 11, 2013, we had 500 drivers! We doubled in 2 months. Doubled again 3 months later. Doubled again in ONE month. And doubled again to 8,000 by Sep 2014. It won’t be long before we breach 10,000 and not too much longer before we double that number. In the early months, we were quite terrible in fulfilling trip requests. Commuters who got an auto loved us. Not surprisingly, the ones who didn’t (or got stood up last-minute) hated us. Gradually, as we increased overall supply AND we started collecting driver locations more efficiently AND the initial driver ratings reached a critical mass for our trip matching algorithms AND after key process changes, fulfillment rate started climbing. Our repeat customer metrics started increasing… week after week after week.

The number of GPS drivers in the mGaadi network is rapidly increasing and (guess what) our best is STILL to come!

Competition and the great volte face

Funny how things change in a short timeframe. Ola Mini was launched with much fanfare in February to compete with auto rickshaws in Bangalore. Seven months later, they raised the ante. The Mini would cost commuters a mere Rs. 10/km, cheaper than rickshaws. The radio jingles and email campaigns pillorying auto drivers became shriller. Uber’s email campaigns were no different. Why would YOU (stupid commuter) pay Rs. 13/km for an auto rickshaw when you can get cheaper A/C cabs? There was just ONE tiny problem – they could not build supply fast enough! So last week was seminal because:

  • Ola CEO tweeted this: “Cabs are not a replacement to autos. Both will coexist and grow!” and
  • Uber CEO (at a global fundraising drive in New York) shared his plan to use rickshaws to shuttle around passengers in India

India has over 5 million auto rickshaws and they aren’t disappearing overnight. The solution is not to ‘vanquish’ or ‘exterminate’ them but to organize them better. We welcome Ola and Uber in joining us in this endeavor.

Caught napping?

Some friends have suggested that we were caught napping. Hardly. We’ve known for over a month that Ola would be launching an auto service in Bangalore. Yeah – drivers are a talkative bunch and the auto drivers are even more so. We’ve also known that the mechanics of the Ola Auto service would mirror mGaadi (meter + Rs. 10). We’ve also known that the cab model (of forcing the driver to undertake any trip) would not work in the case of auto rickshaws. The Ola auto offering validates the mGaadi model.

So why is this GOOD news for mGaadi?

We’ll start with a quote, “Flipkart had its fastest growth after Amazon entered the market and started competing!”

Competition (especially the entrenched heavily-funded kind) forces you to be smarter, more focused and execute like a sharpshooter.

We are huge fans of Jeff Bezos and will invoke one of his more famous quotes “We don’t obsess about our competition. We obsess about our customers”. We have two sets of customers – commuters and auto rickshaw drivers and we’ll continue to obsess about them and, of course, keep an eye on the evolving competition.

Oh! one more thing… every single member of mGaadi punches way above his/her weight.

Let the games begin.

– Solomon and Vishy

mGaadi for iPhone is FINALLY here

By | Autos | 2 Comments

We officially launched our Android app on Dec 9, 2013. What most people don’t know is that we had launched a closed beta a few months prior. Approximately 100 users gave us valuable feedback during that phase. Several iPhone users had signed up for the beta and I think you will find the following conversation hilarious once I tell you that it is dated Jul 16, 2013.

He:  I currently use an iPhone 5 and hope you have the iOS version ready.

Me: No iOS version yet though one of my engineers is working on a Sencha/Phonegap prototype – we might be done in Aug.

Aug 2013 🙂 This is what famous last words are made of.

*************

That Sencha/Phonegap prototype DID get built but it was not production quality. Over the past year, iPhone customers continued to barrage us with “When will it launch?” or “Why isn’t it here already?”  Apparently iPhone commuters in Bangalore are interested in things other than Uber 🙂

Without further ado, I present you mGaadi for iPHONE !!!

If you are reading this on your iPhone, you can download here.

The real story from #TheAutoRaid

By | Autos | 4 Comments

If you are a Bangalorean and are not ambivalent about auto rickshaws, chances are you have read Bangalore Mirror’s cover story – The Auto Raid. The twitterverse is abuzz, #TheAutoRaid is trending, and there’s much bonhomie and kudos wafting around. As there should be. The auto drivers in Bangalore (painted with the broadest brush) aren’t a loved community and any attempts to rein in the bad apples need to be applauded. But there’s one statistic that casual readers may have missed in the article. Here it is, in the second paragraph itself.

The Bangaloreans’ pet peeve was vindicated: the cops found that four out of 10 auto drivers were errant, either overcharging, refusing to ply to one’s destination or just being downright rude, and more.

This means that SIX out of TEN auto drivers are honest, not overcharging, not refusing,  not rude… Let me repeat that.. this time with emphasis.

SIX out of TEN auto drivers are honest! (gasp) Could it be that 60% of Bangalore’s auto drivers…

  • DO NOT overcharge?
  • actually go where YOU want them to go?
  • are.. err.. polite?

Surely a 15 hour sting operation can’t yield statistically significant insights? Let’s look at the numbers to answer that question.

  • 3,350 autos fined plus 450 autos seized = 3,800 bad apples
  • If this represents the ‘4 out of 10’ auto drivers, the total number of auto drivers ‘frisked’ was 9,500
  • Official RTO accounts list the number of auto rickshaws at 160,000
  • So the studied sample represents 6% of the population

I don’t earn my living as a statistician but 6% is a pretty darn significant sample size. Moreover, the nature of the sting operation suggests that the sampling was quite random. Even if certain locations were oversampled, this data is superior all other anecdotal data and mini-polls out there.

If we extrapolate, it suggests that Bangalore might have a whopping 96,000 auto rickshaw drivers of the good kind.

For about 18 months, we at mGaadi have been saying that between 33% to 50% of auto drivers in Bangalore are good, going-on-meter folks with a polite disposition. Turns out we were not optimistic enough.

Coming to a few nuanced points:

  • The  # of auto drivers exceeds the # of auto rickshaws. The consensus number for Bangalore drivers is 200,000 (on the low side).
  • The ‘4 out of 10’ auto drivers statistic is actually the wrong statistic. The right one would look at trips, not drivers.
  • Looking at overcharging and refusing destinations purely on the driver dimension is simplistic and incorrect.
  • There are drivers who will go on meter all the time. Then there are the unambiguous bad apples who will never go on meter. The third group (the largest) might overcharge based on time-of-day, destination, or weather conditions.
  • It’s thus possible that a subset of drivers who got fined on Monday are not habitual overchargers (you know.. just like automobile drivers in US who get speeding tickets don’t always drive fast).

So far we have enrolled 4,300 drivers into the mGaadi network. We plan to end the year with 20,000 drivers but perhaps we set our goal too low. What do you think?

Would love to hear from Bangalore’s auto rickshaw commuters.

 

A moving testimonial

By | Autos | One Comment

Every once in a while, a customer gets blown away by mGaadi. Varun Shenoy left the following testimonial on our Facebook page at 4:45am yesterday.

MGaadi helped me get an auto for a 3:00am pickup! At first I was skeptical if they’d accept a booking for pickup at such unearthly time. And if they did accept, would the auto show up. But the booking went through and I got a call from a representative in 5 mins who assured me she’d try her best to get an auto. Within another 10 mins, I got an SMS with the driver and vehicle details! Next I got a call from the driver himself who said he was glad to help me out. This kind of humane-ness from auto drivers is unknown of to most of us. The driver showed up at my home well ahead of time at 2:45am. He explained how MGaadi works and how it has helped him increase his daily income. At the end of the trip, he didn’t haggle over the price. Just the 1.5 times the fare on the meter(night charges) and Rs 10/- for the pickup charge. I assured him I’d give a good review for the excellent service and here I am. Thanks and all the best MGaadi ! I’m sure you know what a great job you guys are doing.

Thank you Driver Kanthraj! And thanks Varun for sharing your heartfelt experience.

 

Sense of purpose

By | Autos | No Comments

Give me a sense of purpose
A real sense of purpose now
Give me a sense of purpose
A real sense of purpose now

Pic courtesy flickr.com

Pic courtesy flickr.com

Many months ago, I had requested a good friend and daily auto rickshaw commuter (let’s call her ‘Sue’) to ‘try out’ mGaadi. Not once, not twice but I wanted her to try out mGaadi for at least two weeks.

She humored me.

And how.

Sue tried mGaadi for almost two months.. making requests every weekday. Fulfillment was spotty in the initial weeks before it got streamlined and predictable.  By week#3, most of her trips were getting fulfilled. And not always with the same driver.

Perhaps Sue’s most laudable trait was that she took her rate-the-driver  responsibility very seriously. If our customer service agent forgot to collect rating, she’d call (or SMS) back and provide the rating. The rating logic would sometimes read like the scorecard of a gymnastics judge but it was always fair — neither lenient nor harsh. And it was almost always accompanied by a feedback qualifier – “four because he jumped a red light” or “three because he jumped two red lights and was constantly fiddling on his mobile phone” or “five because today he thought about jumping a red light, then changed his mind as though he remembered“.

The last comment is worth an elaboration. When commuters provide feedback, our customer service agents relay it to the drivers judiciously – i.e. after some elapsed time and never naming the customer. This last scenario is our first documented case of an mGaadi driver changing his driving behavior based on customer feedback.

Coming finally to the subject of this post…”

Sue and I caught up in person recently and we ended up chatting about  mGaadi.

Me: “Is the mGaadi thing working for you?”

Sue: “It’s working great actually. Sure there were teething problems in the beginning.. but I’m really glad I gave it a shot”

Sue (Continuing): “To be honest, I was skeptical initially. As a Bombay girl spoilt with excellent auto drivers, I always found the Bangalore auto drivers to be a huge letdown. I didn’t think it was possible for Bangalore auto drivers to raise their game. Furthermore,  I wasn’t sure about changing my own behavior.”

Me: “What do you mean by changing your behavior?”

Sue: “Well.. instead of going out to the street and start hailing autos, I have to plan ahead of time… mGaadi matches me with the right driver who then comes to pick me up…  I wasn’t sure initially whether this ‘new way’ was worth paying an extra Rs. 10 as pickup fee.”

Sue (pausing for effect): “It is totally worth it! I’m hooked now.”

Me (beaming): “You know that this is what I like to hear from all our customers…”

Sue: “One more thing I noticed. These mGaadi drivers are different. And I’m not referring to the mGaadi going on meter and rated drivers = better/well behaved drivers brand promise.”

Me: “How so?”

Sue: “The ones I meet on the street have a Russian roulette look — Dear god, where does this customer want to to go? Let it be a nice long juicy ride and not a short trip. Your chaps have a different air. They seem to have a sense of purpose. A sense of purpose (ala “professionalism”) that probably comes from “not being confrontational” and fulfilling a commitment… a commitment to pickup a customer from a certain point at a certain time for which they will be paid the meter fare and a pickup fee of Rs. 10. Clearly this is learned behavior and it will be great to see more such drivers in Bangalore.”

Me: “Wow. That’s a fascinating observation. I guess this is what Solomon means when he talks about transforming informal transportation workers to formal workers (professionals).”

 

Factors affecting trip fulfillments

By | Autos | 5 Comments

As most of know by now, the key mGaadi value proposition is auto drivers who go ON METER and arrive at your pickup location instead of you needing to go searching. Over 4,300 auto drivers are part of the mGaadi network and, while their home locations are spread all across Bangalore, majority of their orbits are in South Bangalore.

Against this backdrop, it should not surprise anyone that pickup and dropoff locations play a dominant role in answering the question “If customer X made a request, will she actually get an mGaadi auto?” But there are nuances and other factors at play so I thought it’ll be useful to elaborate.

#1 Population Density/Sparsity

The density and availability of drivers is lower in outlying or sparsely populated neighbourhoods (e.g. Konanakunte, Kanakapura Road, Yelahanka New Town) so we usually fail to fulfill customer requests from these areas. You can call these our red zones.

#2 Cartelized Areas

Areas like Whitefield, Marathahalli, Kagdaspura, and CV Raman Nagar are cartelized and majority of auto drivers in these areas DO NO’T go on meter. In fact, Whitefield and Marathahalli can be more accurately termed as “heavily cartelized”.  Customers from these areas are a LOT more eager to start using  mGaadi and we are unable to satisfy demand because the number of meter-going drivers in these areas is still limited. We used to classify these areas as red zones but they are threatening to go double red — when assigned drivers “flake out” at the last minute, it’s very hard to find replacement drivers.

#3 Dead Zones

“Dead zones” are dropoff locations where auto drivers are not likely to get their next customers without driving 2-4km of “dead miles” (to reach the nearest commuting hub). Some of the Bangalore dead zone areas for mGaadi drivers are Hennur Rd, Electronic City, Kundanahalli Gate, Challagatta, Kanakapura Rd, and Gubballla Gate. Dead zones are sometimes associated with certain times of day. For example, auto drivers don’t like to go to Basavanagudi/NR Colony after 10am (largely residential areas means the office going crowd has already left).

#4 Time of Day

Since there are fewer drivers who work late night and early morning, it’s harder to fulfill these trips, especially when a driver changes his mind at the last minute.