Arunprasad Durairaj was excited to go home to Chennai one Diwali in 2011 when to his misfortune, he missed the bus home. Little did he know that this bad experience would lead to the birth of Zinghopper.
“I was left stranded in Bangalore unable to join my family for that occasion. I wanted to hitchhike from Bangalore to Chennai. However, concerned about my safety in travelling with strangers, I didn’t do so. I knew that several of my friends or friends-of-friends would be travelling from Bangalore to Chennai for Diwali. So, I tried calling my friends to see if they know someone that’s travelling. I painfully realized that my friends knew a couple of their friends/colleagues who just left to Chennai by car. Had I known this information before, I would have travelled with them. This experience sowed the seeds to build a social carpool portal,” says Arun. Wasn’t such a bad miss after all, was it?
Soon in February 2012, Arun shared his idea with a friend and now technical co-founder, Vijaybabu Gandhi, who had experienced several such painful instances himself. They were of the belief that travel is a social activity and the commute problem, both short and long distance, can be solved by leveraging social media. And so they started Zinghopper.
Zinghopper, launched in beta on the 31st of May, 2012, as you might have gathered already, is a marketplace for ridesharing where drivers with empty car seats can sell the seats to passengers looking for a ride to the same destination. Their “Launching Soon” page went live a week before launch and received over 300 requests for the beta invitation.
Carpooling is a no-brainer solution to increasing fuel costs, car maintenance costs and traffic congestion. As such, there are several companies that have attempted carpooling. “There are a few startups that are active in this space. To name a few, Megacarpool.com, Olivetrips.com, poolmycar.in, and vridealong.org. However, we believe that only megacarpool.com seems to have figured out a revenue model,” says Arun. While trying to figure out the reason behind the fact that these initiatives haven’t taken off, they realized that carpooling per se was not a bad idea. The problem lied in the lack of consideration towards some of the unique challenges to the carpooling solution in India.
“Security is hands down the foremost and formidable challenge. Almost everyone we surveyed indicated this factor as a deal-breaker. Obviously, people are not very comfortable traveling with someone they do not know. So, we decided to make “zero compromise” when it comes to security,” says Arun.
To ensure security, in Zinghopper:
- Users need to login with facebook to be able to use the system
- To be able to post a ride or book a ride, users have to confirm their corporate affiliation with a simple email verification
- Optionally, users can connect to other social platforms such as Linkedin and Twitter to increase their credibility on the system
- Users can review and rate their fellow users after they complete a ride
“We know that we may have fewer conversions because of such required verifications. But, we believe that the quality of users is as important if not more as quantity of users on a carpooling website. So, we decided to restrict it to a self-selecting community of ridesharers that value Zinghopper’s security features,” adds Arun.
Arunprasad Durairaj has also co-founded a previous startup called GreenLeaf. He is currently working in Corporate strategy and M&A role in a large global conglomerate. Prior to that, he graduated from Tuck School at Dartmouth with an MBA. Vijaybabu Gandhi, also Co-founder, has over 10 years of experience in open source technologies, and has previously worked in developing social network platforms and mobile applications for various leading global companies. They also received help from Shreenidhi Srirangam and Divya Paulnagraj on a part time basis with their product development efforts.
Zinghopper is mainly targeting the corporate community to begin with, because according to them, they are the ones that experience the most painful commute schedule. “We recognize that the number of carpool users in India is alarmingly small; however, we believe that there is a huge untapped latent demand. Many potential users such as me have not been an active user of existing ridesharing websites because of security concerns,” says Arun. They are currently in talks with the top four IT firms in India to roll out Zinghopper for their employees. “It would be interesting to see which company will lead the ridesharing revolution by being the pioneering user. In fact, employees belonging to initial set of companies are that are willing to pilot Zinghopper will be given lifetime license to use Zinghopper’s current features at no cost – no strings attached,” adds Arun.
They are considering a few different revenue models, two of which include:
- Licensing their platform for corporations in India that need carpool portals
- Subscription/usage based pricing for customers
They are not looking for an investment at this point. They want to seal a few corporate partnerships before expanding. They are, however, looking for a mentor who is a veteran in the travel industry and has connections to large corporations.
“We are currently in private beta stage. Users can access the service on an “Invite Only” basis. Zinghopper is accessible in all cities in India because of the scalable nature of the website. However, we will be running promotions on major routes so we can own those routes in 6 months. We are developing more sophisticated features that can potentially make ridesharing and travel a breeze. In the long term, we envisage Zinghopper to become a largely popular social travel platform,” concludes Arun.
More on Zinghopper, here.