V Ramesh, Founder, Fremo : India’s first bicycle sharing program

Team YS
8th Sep 2010
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Eco friendly commuter solutions

Many Indians will soon have a healthier choice of conveyance for their daily travels. The humble bicycle will soon be making a return to our streets and roads in a big way. The “human powered two wheeler” will not only clear congested roads but also clean the environment while improving our health besides reducing the parking related issues. V. Ramesh explained how Ecomove Solutions (www.ecomovesolutions.com) will bring the ecologically friendly bicycle back into popular demand through FreMo (www.fremo.in).

How does Ecomove Solutions propose to solve daily commuting and vehicular pollution?

Our Company, Ecomove Solutions Pvt Ltd is established with an intention to provide convenience to people so that they can use eco friendly vehicles for their daily travel. Ecomove firmly believes that unless you change your lifestyle by “replacing” your existing travel option from a motored one to a non-motored one, you will not be contributing to the environment. Thus, the week-end fun-ride cycling activity is not a contribution to the environment as is popularly believed. The question is how will one replace the daily travel option with a bicycle? Only and only when he/she is provided with convenience to use the bicycle for his/her short trip in the first and last mile, will usage of bicycle increase. Thus, bicycle sharing programme is an important aspect to have in every urban city.

We have developed all infrastructures, including special software for the same. Thus, each member will be given a swipe card, which will be used to hire the bicycle. The person can take a cycle from any depot and drop it at any other depot. Each member can track his usages and balance online. Also an online payment provision has been made. We also have provisions for giving free helmets and bags along with the bicycles, which can be taken along with the bicycle hired and returned along with the bicycle in the next depot.

How safe is it to have people travelling on Bicycles? Do you have any special safety measures?

V Ramesh

Along the way, we had an important learning. The primary reason for a person not to take a bicycle on the road is fear. Every person believes that the traffic is so horrible that he/she cannot ride a bicycle in this traffic. But the fact remains that the bicycle is the safest mode of transport. That is why you do not hear of any accidental deaths related to bicycles. It is not that there are not many bicycles on the road. There are plenty. But, in reality, we have become blind to bicycles and when it passes by we do not even notice it.

Riding a bicycle is very safe because of two specific reasons. One, the speed is very limited and it is very controllable and two, the rider knows that he has to take care of himself as his speed is less and rides the cycle to the extreme left on the road. Therefore, we concluded that the fear of people to take to bicycles is not because of accidents, but perceived accidents due to lack of practice in riding a bicycle. It is similar to the first day when you ride a motorbike or a car by yourself. You will be very afraid since there is no practice. But, in case of a car or motorbike, the person is determined to use it and so he overcomes his fear after sometime. Similarly, in bicycle if the person rides the bicycle for some time, he/she will surely get used to it and overcome the fear. Therefore, we are not approaching Housing Societies, Factories, large campuses, etc to provide bicycles there so that for all short trips they can use the cycles which are readily available in their premises, which is well maintained and clean. Thus, the member of the society can use the bicycle for the visit to market, hair cut, or any other short errand, which otherwise they would have taken a car or motorbike with associated parking problems as well. In the factory / campuses which are typically large, people can use it to travel from one building to other within the area.

On a rough estimate what is the size of the market for your services?

In our view, innumerable number of people will be benefitted, especially all those who travel short distances. As per data available, there are about 12 million people in Mumbai who travel short distances every day. With effective implementation, at least 50% of them, i.e. 6 million people can benefit from this.

What are the benefits from your services apart from the obvious?

This is a first time in India business. India is yet to have a networked bicycle sharing system, which we have launched the first time. Therefore, it is out and out a different proposition for the user. We bring in three specific values to each of the user

  1. Cost effectiveness – a person who would use our services would be able to save at least Rs. 30-40 per day
  2. Time Saving – Travelling to station is so congested that any other mode than a bicycle, will consume more time to reach the station from home. Thus, at least one hour per day will be saved (30 minutes one way), particularly since we wipe away the unpredictability and the waiting period of getting an auto or bus to the station and save that time too. In our system, the person just walks into the depot, swipes the card, takes the cycle and leaves for his destination. The waiting period is brought down to zero with our system, thus saving precious time for everyone.
  3. Exercise – Cycling is a proven exercise, especially for the heart. The person will be exercising daily by using the bicycle, thus improving his health.

The fourth important benefit is to the society as a whole. Since more people will take to cycling while going to office, we will start getting a pollution free atmosphere which will benefit all residents by way of better health. Imagine, 1000 people using bicycle to go to the station from residents and 1000 autos will be off the road. The environment benefit is invaluable, besides saving precious fuel.

Have you chalked out a plan to scale-up the business?

Scalability in this business is very very high. Because, each street can have a depot. Besides, we also have plans to introduce it in various other cities. We are in talks with a few Municipalities and Government authorities for the same. If it can be worked out, we will scale it up much faster. Moreover, we are also on the look out for some funding to scale up our business.

Why did you start living the life of an entrepreneur?

I have been in the corporate world for more than 25 years. But the urge to do something different had always given me a kick. The urge to start my own business came to my mind since around 2001, soon after the dot com bubble burst. But I never wanted to start something conventional or routine. In 2008 February, I got this idea and then I worked my way to launch this. Of course, being an entrepreneur is completely different from the 9-5 job.

Where did you procure the seed capital for your company?

V Ramesh

Seed Capital. This is an interesting word which I came across. I had certain notions about seed capital till I came across a funding agency who called themselves “Early Stage Seed Capital Investors”. When contacted, they said that the company should be at least one year in existence and in the revenue stage. Is that a seed capital stage? Well, I had invested some money and a few of my friends had shown confidence in me and invested some amount. Besides, the project was approved by Bank of Baroda who had sanctioned a Term Loan of Rs. 63 lakhs for the project.

What do you feel is an area that Indian entrepreneurship lacks in?

The eco system. Right from government regulations to funding. Each one is a key challenge as and when you keep approaching it. There are too many ifs and buts in establishing and starting up the business. These needs to be more smoother and availability of funding will be very crucial, especially for any social oriented for-profit ventures.

What has been the biggest achievement for Ecomove?

At least creating a mindset change among many people with regard to cycling is what we consider a big achievement.

After one and half years that we have been struggling (though we still struggle), today, we find many takers using bicycles for their travel.

Has your organization, been feted for your work and concepts by any entities?

First and foremost, the media has been very kind to us in projecting us very regularly. Both print media and TV had done stories on us. Even many blogs in India, US, Canada, Australia, etc, name the country and we have been mentioned in the blog. If one Google’s our name, the search results will be enough to know the extent of recognition that we have got. Besides, we have received the following:

  1. Awarded “Star Entrepreneur Award” at the 2nd Indira International Innovation Summit 2009.
  2. Awarded the “Best Innovative Business Idea” at the 3rd Indira India International Innovation Summit 2010.
  3. Awarded the “Best Innovative Startup of the Year” at the 3rd Indira India International Innovation Summit 2010.
  4. Ecomove Solutions Pvt Ltd was selected as a Top-30 finalist out of 588 nominations in the Hottest Startups competition conducted by TATA NEN. In the final, Ecomove ended up as 8th.
  5. Ecomove Solutions was short listed for the second stage amongst 12000 nominated companies in “ET-The Power of Ideas” competition 2009 conducted by The Economic Times.
  6. Ecomove Solutions is once again short listed for the second stage from among about 20000 nominations in “ET- The Power of Ideas” competition 2010
  7. Received 4th place in the Industry Category in the Go Green Award instituted by the Thane Municipal Corporation, with nominees included multi-national companies like TCS, Glaxo, Hindalco, Cadburys, etc.

Could you share some of your entrepreneurial learning with your peers?

First of all, with so much tom tom about “venture capitalist funding”, “angel investor funding”, etc, do not jump into entrepreneurship keeping your eye on these guys. One has to believe that all these people are simply “investors” and they are not interested in a strong “venture” in a real sense, especially if it is a social venture types. And, I had learnt it the hard way. Secondly, one has to be convinced about the product / service in terms of its acceptance. Thirdly, ensure that your assumptions are correct and closer to the reality. Last but not the least, be sure that you listen to your heart and mind and not everyone around; at the same time listening to everyone. What I mean is that, there will be scores of people telling you the ways in which you should do your business. Also, lots of free advice will come in. Pick the right things and always work it around what you think and what you believe in.

Yourstory hope that Ecomove finds many takers and that Ramesh will soon be able to ride his bicycle all the way to the bank…

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