Simplifying commuting by auto-rickshaws, Pune based venture AyAuto is a respite to those who depend heavily on public transport. Swati Maheshwari catches up with its co-founder, Vikas Menon and finds out more, exclusively for YourStory.in“AyAuto is all about making commuting easy, for the commuter as well as the driver. There are many who depend on public transport for moving around in the city and face various problems such as availability at odd hours, paying higher than the meter reading, etc. AyAuto essentially takes care of all those problem areas. One call from the commuter, and we provide them with an AyAuto. Our autos charge only by meter and are tracked by a GPRS tracking device. AyAuto also empowers auto-rickshaw drivers by exposing them to technology, marketing and a stable source of revenue.”
Swati: What got you interested in this area?
Vikas Menon: Staying in Pune, we often faced difficulty in finding auto-rickshaw at the right place and the right time. Some auto-wallahs demanded extra charge over and above the meter price. We felt a huge gap there. We did a bit of study on the auto economics, and a ground level primary research made us empathise with the story on the other side. We realised that the auto drivers faced a lot of problems which forced them to refuse to comply with the meter, etc. We decided to get involved at that level and tried to organize this untapped sector.
Tell us about your business model.
We started off by paying the auto drivers a fixed salary. Later, we pivoted into a hybrid model where we had a few fixed salaried drivers along with drivers on a rental scheme. In the rental system, we provided the drivers with the customer's fare, and we, in turn, charged the drivers a rent or commission for every customer provide by us. Presently, we have evolved into a complete rental/associate scheme. Drivers pay us a registration fee and a deposit for the tracking device and are then charged on a per call basis.
Tell us about the consumer requirement for Autos in Pune.
Rickshaws connect this city like nothing else. Buses do not provide door to door connectivity like auto rickshaws do. There are cab operators available, but rickshaws are the most affordable option. Rise in petrol prices was accompanied with a revision of the meter fare, so there were no issues from the drivers’ side.
How many requests do you get in a day?
We were a night-only service till about 2 months ago. At that time we used to get around 50-75 calls during the night. Of those, we managed to convert around 60-70% into dispatches. Since the launch of our day services, call flow has increased to about 100-120 everyday, and we convert most of them. We have also brought down our lead time to 20-30 minutes because we have an analytics engine to predict hourly demand based on location.
How do you manage the entire system - receiving customer calls, booking, making the Auto available, etc?
We work with a very scalable technology. Our integrated backend system provides for booking, tracking and analytics which is manned by an operations team. Drivers inform us about their availability by the press of a button on their pocket tracking device, which again was made based on our customized requirement. We are trying to make the booking process as simple as possible (even simpler than hailing a rickshaw off the road). For this, we have launched online bookings just last week, and have started development of an android app through which a customer will be able to book a rickshaw through the press of a button, and also track how far the rickshaw is from his location. For booking an AyAuto, all you need to do is call on 844-600-1234!
How much investment did you have to make to start AyAuto?
Along with support from the Incubation Centre at FLAME, we have invested around 10 lakhs into AyAuto. FLAME incubation centre was instrumental in providing us with guidance, office space and other needed equipments.Are you looking at external funding?
Yes, we are looking at expanding to 1000 auto rickshaws in Pune alone. We are already in talks with a few investors who share our enthusiasm. We are, however, proceeding watchfully.
How have you marketed yourself so far?
Not aggressively. We got a bit of unplanned PR early on, but a huge chunk of our customers come from our social presence, word-of-mouth, etc. Our drivers also help us get the word around. We have these really small calling cards which our drivers happily distribute to anyone who sits inside the auto rickshaw.
Do you face any competition?
There are other dial-a-rickshaw operators, in Pune and in other cities also. Our competition also includes the well established cab services as well as radio cab players that have recently started. There are around 50,000 legal rickshaws in Pune alone. Each and everyone is a potential competition. There is always a threat of some big player waltzing in, because entry barriers are minimal. The biggest challenge we face is to convince the customer to pre-book an auto. Most of the cancellations occur because customers want the rickshaws immediately after calling. Earlier, we had a lead time of 60 minutes, but because of the analytics engine and efficient internal processes, it has come down considerably.
What are your expansion plans?
We are looking at venturing into other cities in Indiastarting with Hyderabadand Chennai. Presently, we are perfecting the model for the entire country. We have received numerous proposals for partnership, and we are in talks with some of them. We are scaling upto 500 rickshaws in Pune in the next 2 months. It helps that it does not cost us much to scale up.
Tell us something about your core team.
We are a 3 member team with an interesting mix of technology, marketing, psychology, engineering and communication backgrounds. Gopi Aravind, Shreyash Parekh and I took the entrepreneurship course at FLAME, Pune and all of us have spent a significant time negotiating with rickshaw drivers when we were in college.