Let’s say you have to catch a flight and you are driving down to the airport. More often than not, you will not factor the time it takes to cross the toll plazas, to pay at the parking lots and the time spent waiting for it in the queues. You hit a toll plaza and you notice a long queue of vehicles waiting to pass through. Someone may not have the exact change, speed of the queue is extremely slow and you are getting late. It happens a lot of times and we wonder how easy life would be if there was an easier alternative for these payments.
There is a burning need for a solution which reduces such queues. Pyush Agrawal’s Hyderabad based MTolls, which was founded in May 2011, is trying to solve this problem of payments at toll plazas and parking lots by making this transaction cashless between infrastructure provider and user.
MTolls intends to enable automated electronic toll collection for Indian masses - infrastructure providers, vehicle owners, fleet operators and anybody involved in this process. With the use of MTolls technology, one can use a single tag on multiple toll plazas. MTolls will be catering to both the infrastructure providers and users. It will be deploying the automated cashless toll collection technology at the toll plazas and enabling the toll plaza for cashless toll payments. It will also distribute the tags and provide the customer service to the vehicle owners. As the vehicle passes through the MTolls enabled toll plaza barrier, the money will be deducted from the vehicle owners’ account and credited to the toll plaza operator’s account.
Pyush says, “We envision that every gate, be it toll plaza barrier or commercial parking or office/residential parking lot gate, opens automatically for your vehicle. We envision a future where the vehicles are able to actively present their identity to on road devices so that better & new services could be provided to the vehicle owners. We want to enable smoother uninterrupted driving on the roads.” It can also reduce frauds & enable smooth cashless toll collection for infrastructure providers.
Pyush has completed his Masters in Computer Science from PennState University in the U.S.A and B.E from Delhi University. He has over 14 years of industry experience working with Microsoft, IBM and Accenture. He has also worked with a US based startup called VideoMining and played a pivotal role in launching multiple products. He has a strong academic experience with 10 international publications to his credit including two patents.MTolls started because of a personal pain point of waiting int he long queues and sometimes getting stuck in them for long time. The good part was that the condition of roads had improved enormously and driving had become much more fun but the toll plazas became the traffic choke points. He says, "I found myself questioning the use of creating world class roads if we have to wait in long queues to pay the toll fee. I felt that the current system requires an overhaul.” He realized he was getting into an unknown world of entrepreneurship with MTolls and spent approximately three months doing extensive market research. His concept was validated and now he felt that the idea was grounded in factual data and not an assumption.
A lot of the international tolling companies are already in India and few are trying to setup their base here. But what makes MTolls different from them and how will a startup grab some market share with so much established competition present in the market? Pyush tells us that none of these companies are really addressing the core problems in making the cashless toll collection a reality. The core issues are that one smart tag works only at one toll plaza and not at all the other toll plazas. He says, “If we consider the 24 toll plazas between Delhi & Mumbai, most of them do not provide the smart tags. Even if they started providing the smart tags, and I took all these tags, I would actually have 24 different tags.”
MTolls’ tags work across multiple gates. They are aware of the fact that the tags need to be cheap and they need to craft a business proposition such that infrequent users also use these tags. “Our competitors just provide the toll collection equipment to the toll plaza owners, and leave it to the toll plaza owner to operationalize their own cashless toll collection solution if they want. For our competitors reducing or removing the queues at the toll plazas or providing mechanisms for web or cell phone recharge of tags is not a goal at all,” says Pyush.
They are reaching out to their target audience via digital marketing, business networking, affiliate partnering, etc. Pyush says, “At a typical highway toll plaza, approximately 65-80% revenue is through fleet operators, such as state transports, taxi & bus operators. So, we are reaching out to the CxOs in the fleet operator companies and creating awareness of MTolls with them. Some of these companies have already signed up. We are seeing tremendous traction in this segment.”
The other part of the equation is deploying the technology at the toll plazas. And they are trying to reach out to the companies where new toll plazas are coming up or to the toll plazas where the current toll equipment is reaching end of life. Their biggest problem in this segment is that the number of toll plaza operators’ companies is very limited and reaching out to the decision makers is not a cakewalk.
MTolls is a pre-revenue company sustained by family & friend funds. They are currently in talks with bus & taxi operators and are liasioning with toll plazas as well. Though the solution is smart and can be very effective, convincing various parties involved in the process including the Government is a necessity. The diffciukty in initial adoption of this system can be hindering for MTolls’ growth.
Pyush shares that they had resource crunch, no money and no office space but they took up one problem at a time, solved that and went to the next one. As per the Murphy’s law - ‘whatever can go wrong will go wrong’. A lot of things will not pan out as per your planning or expectations. At a startup you will make mistakes, slip and trip on the way to success. The tripping does not determine the fate of the startups but the fate is determined by how soon you get up again and start striving towards your company goals without the loss of enthusiasm.
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