It is said that the Indian railways is the backbone of India's transportation system. There is also a huge scope for travel startups in the country, and the recent past has seen many entrepreneurs starting out in this space. Manish Rathi, founder of RailYatri.in however, has a different take on this. He says, "So many solutions are made for the savvy people who use air travel. But they make up a very small portion of the travelling population in India. I have no answer to why people didn't address it before, but two years ago, we decided to provide solutions to Indian Railways' travelers, or as we call them, the RailYatri."
RailYatri.in is a collection of web applications that will help people using Indian Railways. This two-year-old startup was founder by a trio, who were in the business of consulting for startups and SMEs. Manish says, "After having worked with 18 startups ourselves, we thought that it was time that we started up as well."
The aim was to address some of the pain points of the everyday rail traveler. The first product they launched was a basic trip planner for trains. He says, "There are so many adhoc solutions for the railways and we aimed to make a consolidate it into one place. We worked very closely with the Indian Railways on our products, to get a better understanding of how they work."
Based on these learnings, they launched their second product, RailRadar, which was a map based tool, which would give the users real time information on the position of their train - "We knew that trains didn't run in isolation and the users were looking for information relevant to their information, which was the thought behind the RailRadar."
Their third product, which RailYatri launched over the past weekend, is RailWisdom. This is an interesting crowd-sourced information platform for stations and trains. The map based platform will give you information about a popular restaurant or a motel near a particular station. The RailYatri team had run a private beta on the product and they claim to have substantial information on 500 major stations.
Working with the Indian Railways
When asked if working with a PSU, especially a large one such as the Indian Railways, was difficult for a startup like RailYatri, Manish said, "Not really. We worked with the IT department at the Railways and the relationship was one of of mutual benefit. They wanted to try things out and we had some solutions that aligned with their needs." However, Manish did say that there were restrictions that RailYatri had to adhere to, while working with the Railways.
However, his key takeaway from their engagement was understanding the scale at which the Indian Railways worked with. He says, "Working with them was really beneficial for us, as we got a unique insight into what happens behind the scenes. While we did have the technology advantage, we really got a really appreciation of the scale at which they work. Yes, there were restrictions, but we respected them."
A look back and moving forward
Having worked with startups before, Manish and his team knew exactly what they were signing up for. He says, "Even with the startups that we worked with, only one in eight startups lived on to tell the tale. We knew the risk involved in entrepreneurship as such, as well as the consumer space, which we were interested in."
The revenue model at RailYatri is Google Ads; and Manish shared that the revenue generated from it has been enough to sustain their team for now. He says, "We're focused on building a community first and get enough people to use our products. If these products do well, we might raise a round of funding to make them better (Manish had shared that investors are interested in RailYatri's endeavors). Its like planting a tree - you water it, it grows and bears fruit. Right now, it's a question of which plant to grow first."
When asked about competition and future plans, Manish concluded, by saying, "Competition is a good thing! It's a sign that you're not in a dead market. And as far as future plans go, we have some internal targets, but the bigger goal is, can we make a difference to the everyday railway traveler? I'm happy to say, that in the last few months, we have."