Category Archives: About

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

The ‘No Tension’ way to commute

By | About, Autos | No Comments

[Note to non-Indian readers: No Tension is a  common phrase used in North India to refer to no stress.]

Last week, a first-time ecstatic user (Swapna) sent us the following unsolicited feedback. I’ve reproduced it verbatim except the Hindi subset which I translated to English.

First time used it….no tension of going on road to search an auto. Came before time and no extra charges… nothing on top of meter etc. Just 2 words: “No Tension!”

THIS is the essence of the mGaadi for Autos experience. No need to go out on the road searching for an auto driver that’ll go on meter. The matching auto will come to you. If you haven’t checked out the How mGaadi Works 1-minute video, please give it a try.

 

A different kind of Indian city

By | About, Commuting | No Comments
Pic courtesy designpublic.in

Pic courtesy designpublic.in

Population of Indian cities, already more than 340 million, is projected to reach 600 million by 2030. Daily passenger trips among 87 of the country’s major cities will have doubled to roughly 482 million a day. Commuting in Indian cities is universally painful. The texture of pain might differ – based on whether one uses public transportation, takes auto rickshaws or drives a personal car. Commuters privileged enough with access to chauffeur-driven vehicles, company shuttles or taxis fare better… but they too are not immune to gnarling traffic conditions.

We would like to see a different Indian city. A better city. A city where more people use public transportation. A city with less privately-owned cars plying on roads. A city with more green vehicles than ever before. A city with seamless multi-modal transportation options. A city where you stop associating vehicles with owning or EMIs or renting… actually a city where you stop thinking of vehicles altogether and instead think of commuting options. A city where commuting evokes on-demand and transactional in a manner not different from Amazon EC2. A city where commuting via an auto rickshaw is no longer a game of Russian roulette. A city where auto rickshaw drivers don’t need to waste fuel (or time) looking for customers. A city with significantly less friction between commuters and auto rickshaw drivers. A city where driving an auto rickshaw could well be the start of a fruitful career. A city where you won’t see too many auto rickshaw drivers driving a rental vehicle with nary a change to his standard of living. A city where your taxi company will not call you at the last minute to regretfully convey their inability to fulfill your airport dropoff booking. A city whose residents breathe more fresh air than ever before. A city where cyclists and runners are no longer endangered species.

You might say we are dreamers but we are not the only ones. (Thank you John Lennon)

B.H.A.G. (Big Hoary Audacious Goal). You can’t bring about change without dreaming big.

We have to start somewhere though. What is our proverbial beachhead?

Auto rickshaws.

Why?

There is a LOT of pain and a LOT of inefficiencies in this commuting vertical. Pain for commuters. Pain for drivers. In fact it’s a perfect storm begging for a solution to efface all that pain. We are building mGaadi to be that solution.

What are our motivations?

Over 95% of India’s workforce (which includes approximately 30 million commercial drivers) is unorganized. Research has demonstrated that financial and health decision “defaults” and income determinism are significant inflection points in raising the standard and quality of living of this demographic. We are passionate about mGaadi’s potential as a market-based solution that will delight commuters and generate incremental income (and social security cover) for auto rickshaw drivers. Some might call this an inclusive solution. We prefer to call it a fair solution.

 

Ah! Sweet commuting pain

By | About, Commuting | No Comments

Exactly a year ago, the last auto fare increase went into effect in Bangalore – Rs. 20 for the the first two kilometers and Rs. 11 for each subsequent kilometer. As expected, the news engendered outrage among Bangalore commuters especially since there was already significant dissatisfaction with the auto driver community. A change.org petition to complaint against errant auto drivers was one of the calls to action. Blogger Aadisht wrote a thought-provoking piece in response – The Moral Hollowness of Auto Fare Outrage. A healthy and insightful conversation between various commuters started — in his blog comments. I present below the most interesting viewpoints.

Ajay writes… in the aftermath of last year’s auto fare increase and a citizen clamor for an auto complaint redressal system.

I think auto prices are low, so before I bought a car, I had a thumb-rule: up to Rs. 20 over the meter fare was acceptable, but I refused to entertain fares beyond that.

I lived close to central Bangalore for a year. Auto guys refused to go to my place from Koramangala at 6 in the evening. Not only that, they would be rude about it. Once, a driver agreed to come. Then close to the destination, the driver turned around and asked for more. My place was at the edge of my neighborhood and on a one-way which meant a half a kilometer extra drive for the auto guy. I was then accused of lying about where I live (to pay less). If this was a one-off, that’s one thing: similar things have happened to me and other people I know. It’s not just local/non-local: I speak Kannada and can pass off as a local in other circumstances.

In Bangalore, I think fare negotiations are only part of the problem. There’s a visceral dislike of auto guys’ behavior, with refusal to ply to places being a huge problem. I don’t see why you’d grudge an auto driver a few rupees extra, but rude refusals to ply (hit ratio: 1 in 5 would finally agree at an extra price) make you hate their guts after a while.

However, I do think that a lot of people do have a sense of entitlement about auto fares. This outrage is a bit much, and reminds me of arbit Hindu articles on this issue, where some uncle will complain about a Rs.3 increase in the minimum fare.

FWIW, after I started driving, I stopped using autos and moved to driving/radio cabs completely. I couldn’t stand being treated rudely.

Rakesh Agarwal’s solution is to eliminate the permit-raj.

As someone who knows a thing or two about autorickshaws, I can say that it is the permit-raj which is responsible for poor auto service across the country. Let there be fleet-autos, freedom to buy and sell as many autos as one wishes to, freedom to fix own fares by the companies and individual owners subject to some basic rules, and you will begin to see the change.

Sanjana hastens to add that we can’t paint all auto drivers with the same brush.

Thank you for saying this, and saying it so well! While there are ruthless auto drivers, there are also those who are genuine and honest. What this petition calls for is something not just non-systemic, but potentially damaging any further positive action which could be taken.

Aadisht replies to Ajay. And how.

As a business I have the right to reject customers. In fact, in my day job I frequently do. ;-) So again, I’d like to give the autowala the same right. I agree that the rudeness is a problem, but again, I don’t want the police to get involved in something that is an HR/ customer service issue. If fleet autos ever do take off I wonder if that would fix the rudeness. I’m not sure it would, though – in the search for well mannered and soft spoken employees, the taxi fleet would probably find it easier to attract talent than the the autorickshaw fleet. But I suspect things would improve.

I guess the sense of entitlement among customers and the rudeness of the autowalas has now gotten locked into a vicious cycle where autowalas and customers totally hate each other. I think the entitlement operates at multiple levels in fact – about fares, not tipping, refusing to consider peak hours/ peak routes as having an impact on prices, and in general the class divide.

But fixing this needs customer service training for drivers and some amount of empathy from customers – and realistic fares! Getting the police in is only going to make things worse in India, where the police acts as a blunt instrument of enforcing discipline.

Mumtaz chimes in.. on the sacredness of the meter fare MRP.

I might be completely off, but my problem simply put, is this.

When I walk into a store and buy for example a bar of chocolate, I pay an MRP. It is already specified on the product, and I am not paying for it based on how rich I look or which area the store is in. works that way for petrol or a bus ticket.

Similarly, there is a meter for a reason, it shows me how much i’m supposed to be charged. I don’t care if we seem like a bunch who can afford to pay the auto driver 20 bucks more or less. and like Ajay has mentioned previously, the attitude and refusing to ply even if the place is a bit off their comfort zone, is even more annoying.

What one chatty auto guy once told me, was that many autos are not owned by them. The owners expect a cut of the auto-guy’s profits, who usually cant afford to buy one himself. so he charges extra for a little bit of the money to go directly into their pockets and not being noted on the meter.

Anyway, I eventually bought an Activa so I wont have to have endless arguments every day before getting somewhere, i’m sure that’s not a solution for everyone though.

Aadish points out why he disagrees with MRP and makes some interesting points.

Well I’m opposed to MRPs too in principle. :-D I should mention that India is one of the very few countries that has an MRP concept. But apart from that here are some reasons why the MRP analogy doesn’t work for autorickshaws.

  1. When you buy the chocolate bar, the MRP is set by the manufacturer. In the meter, the MRP is set by the government.
  2. The chocolate bar is a standardised good. The auto ride is a service. Moreover, it’s a service that doesn’t scale very well. If you buy a chocolate bar, there are still 199 other bars for sale for other customers. The minute you get into the rickshaw, you prevent the autowala from taking on any other fares. So charging based on route or ability to pay is justified. Another analogy: as a freelance writer, I get Rs 3/ word from some publications and Rs 5/ word from others. I don’t insist that everyone pay Rs 4/ word, and neither does the publication which offers Rs 5/ word demand that I take 4/ word from them because the other publication pays that.
  3. Where to draw the line between goods and services isn’t always clear either. You get the same coffee in darshinis all over Bangalore, but you get charged different rates depending on area. That reminds me – you pay two different prices in TN in the same darshini depending on whether you sit in the AC or non-AC area.
  4. Incidentally, in my day job, we make industrial goods and we don’t have a standard rate even in those. So it isn’t JUST a service pricing thing.

Agree that buying an Activa isn’t a solution for everyone, but they have other solutions that don’t involve meddling in auto pricing: taking the bus or a call taxi.

Six months later, San points out some of the fallacies in Aadisht’s entrepreneur analogy.

Aadisht, your arguments defending Auto drivers completely disregarding Meters, simply doesn’t hold.

The flaws are in your parallels. Autorickshaws are not original Entrepreneurs.

An Auto Rickshaw is a Franchise. Franchise of a Brand – a yellow and black three wheeler, with a Meter. Just like a McDonalds outlet.

By driving a black and yellow vehicle with Meter, wearing a khaki uniform, they immediately get blessed with the identity of the Franchise – that brings them customers immediately.

Obviously with that Identity comes the associated expectation from the Customers. That they will run by the Meter. That this is a safe & civil person to ride with.

There is no ‘Differentiation’ one Auto Driver can provide, over the other. There is only one definition of the Service:

Taking a Passenger from Point A to Point B.

I would go with your arguments of Doctors and Entrepreneurs, and their flexibility to set their own prices, if the auto walla, didn’t choose the auto, but any ordinary vehicle, let’s say a second hand Nano.

And he walked up to each prospective passenger, explaining what he does, why he can be trusted, what price he would charge and why that price is justified.

THAT would be entrepreneurship, and then they can charge whatever they wish. And ply only on the route of their choice. That would be completely acceptable and respected.

Your solutions seem to be to “Avoid taking Autos”. If the system is broken, you justify all the good reasons why it should remain broken, and then turn away from it!

As passengers who do need to take Autos for unavoidable reasons – they are a part of Public Transport.

Let’s unanimously show our intolerance for the complete disregard for basic rules of the Auto Rickshaw System.

Only then the Govt. will get serious about making those Meters mandatory and tamper proof.

Only then the Unions will sit up to their responsibility to counsel the Auto Drivers rather than just make money from them.

Only then the few good and honest Autowallas will find dignity and respect in their profession.

Ah! sweet commuting pain indeed. In the coming weeks, we’ll share our own views on commuting pains and how we intend to address them — so ‘we’ (the commuters) and ‘they’ (the drivers) can peacefully coexist and thrive.

Link to Aadisht’s original post: The Moral Hollowness of Auto Fare Outrage.

 

Hello Bengaluru!

By | About | No Comments

Like all self-respecting social enterprises, we’ve been in stealth-mode for the past several months. It’s finally time for us to begin talking about what we plan to do.

Why now?

Because we see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. We’re likely to start testing in weeks and a “closed beta” within two months.

But pray what exactly?

Yes – coming to that.

Daily commute made easy for everyone.

What a concept, eh?

The first three words don’t warrant any discussion but you are probably wondering about everyone.

If you are taking an auto rickshaw or a shared taxi to your office, you are included.  If you are a taxi or auto rickshaw driver, you are included. If you have a chauffeur who drives you to work, you (and your chauffeur) are sorta included. If you are the air that Bengaluru citizens breathe on their daily commute, you are definitely included. If you take the bus or Namma Metro, you are not included (at least not just yet).

Err.. what about easy?

Yeah. Right. Easy. That merits a whole separate post because we need to talk about pain.

For now I’ve said what I wanted to say. In this (our first) blog post.

Hello Bengaluru! Tomorrow is another day. And there will be another post.