Bringing about an innovative service, Pune based entrepreneurs Janardan Prasad and Mukesh Jha are set to change the way India commutes locally. In conversation with YourStory, Janardan tells us how!
Your website seems very interesting. Please tell us more about India Commutes.
IndiaCommutes is focused on solving local commute related issues in urban India by using community & location intelligence. Our company specializes in building products and services that use online maps, community feed and location specific data. Since its incorporation in February 2010, we are building collaborative systems to solve traffic issues in congested Indian cities, using concepts of Web 2.0 and Travel 2.0.
We are also doing live projects with Delhi Traffic Police & Pune Traffic Police for effective traffic management systems, using online maps and social media.
Going ahead, we plan to partner with various traffic departments, online map companies, telecom service providers and other organizations to build interactive traffic portals for different cities.
You did a pilot study for Dial A Rickshaw? How was the response?
To discourage use of private vehicles on road, we see last mile commute as the biggest challenge. We did a pilot run for Dial-a-Rickshaw service in Pune last year to resolve this problem. During this study, we offered Dial-a-Rickshaw service over phone. In future, this service will be extended over Web and SMS. As part of this initiative, we created a communication channel connecting commuters and auto-rickshaw drivers, thereby offering following benefits to its customers/drivers:
Convenience, Cost-Effectiveness, Safe Commute and Fuel Saving (Since auto drivers don’t need to roam around looking for customers now.)
We thus help passengers and drivers plan trips in an optimized way. We are also planning to convert petrol vehicles to CNG, for better fuel saving.
How did you get started in this business?
Before the pilot launch, we did an online survey with 500 respondents, interviewed 100 rickshaw drivers, met Auto union leaders, few relevant NGOs and government officials to access the current commute situation. Survey results indicated that neither customers nor drivers were happy with the existing scenario. Instead of solving this issue by putting more vehicles (radio-cabs) on road, we thought of working with existing vehicles, infrastructure and community to serve the customers better and at affordable rates. We then partnered with 400 rickshaws all over Pune and served more than 1000 customers over phone. This pilot study got a great response from commuters, drivers, media, NGOs and government officials. Based on its success, we are now planning to do a commercial launch in June 2011.
Is this your first venture?
We both have tried hands at running part-time businesses during our college days at IIT Kanpur and also during our professional jobs in Pune and abroad. However, we soon realized that part-time efforts are half-hearted and thus never satisfactory. By mid-2009, we decided to jump into our business idea full-time. After some ground work and number crunching, we left our jobs by the year end. IndiaCommutes got incorporated in Feb 2010 and within 2 months we launched the pilot study in Pune. Apart from the pilot study, we even launched a website for Pune Traffic Police and worked with Delhi Traffic Police during CWG 2010.
How did you manage the investment in this enterprise?
So far, the company is self-financed and sustaining on revenues from projects done for traffic departments. We have tried to keep the costs at bare minimum and have been working hands-on with everything – coding, taking customer calls, finances, legal, HR, promotion.
The pilot study has made us realize that we needed to focus on our core competence only and let other experts (third-party) do the rest. With this new approach, we are now seeking mentors, incubators, partners and investors to join us.
What has been your best marketing or promotion technique for Dial A Rickshaw?
We started with an online survey with 500 customers that did some pre-launch publicity for us. Soon, we started getting calls from various media cells. As we got covered in the local media, we received more inquiry calls from potential customers. We also did an SMS campaigns in few remote local areas like Aundh, Baner, Pashan and Hinjewadi and the response exceeded our expectations.
What is your success mantra?
“To solve any problem at the root level and the others will follow.” While dealing with various stakeholders in this businesses, we realized that winning trust is imperative, be it from customer, drivers, commissioners, social workers or even the employees. We are thankful to all the volunteers who helped us in running the pilot successfully, without any vested interested in our company. We try to involve more and more people with us to achieve the ultimate goal.
Tell us about your team.
Mukesh and I are IIT Kanpur graduates; with rich IT experience. We have worked for global clients in North America and Asia Pacific. Travel and exposure to various cultures made us realize the potential of combining technology, people and business in transforming the way things work. While realizing the gaps that existed between India and the more developed countries, we wanted to utilize our skills and knowledge towards something that could help us serve the community better. It didn’t take us long to realize that Social Entrepreneurship was the way forward. Supported by friends and family, we kept on exploring various ideas, technologies, and businesses before finally deciding to solve the problem that most of us faced almost daily, that of local commuting. IndiaCommutes is our first step towards this mission.
What are the challenges that you are facing with this business?
We seek a lot of help with legal and financial aspects of this business. We are looking for mentors who can help us scale up this business in Pune, and then reach out to other cities in India. We also seek financial support to expand our team by hiring skilled and like-minded tech- and business experts.
Do you plan to seek external funds?
We plan get external funding to scale our operations in Pune and bring this service at par with Radio-cab services in metros. Once this model is successful in Pune, we would then need next round of funding to take it to other cities.
We would love to know your growth plans for India Commutes.
As mentioned before, we are doing the commercial launch in June 2011. Our plan is to expand our customer base to at-least 1000 requests per day by end of September 2011. Beginning next year, we plan to target other cities. Our bigger vision is to integrate our services with major airlines, bus services and train ticketing websites, so as to offer end-to-end commute related services from door-2-door.
So now you know who to reach out to when you have a commute-issue. To know more about this, log on to www.indiacommutes.com. And, do tell us what you think about this story by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org