Most startup stories begin with two passionate friends or classmates inspired by an idea that would solve an existing issue in the market. This one too begins that way, well sort of. A forty-one-year-old Ashwin Jain started DRIVEN by you, with 27-year-old Karrar Taher Ahmed. But the huge gap in the founders' age was bridged by the opportunity they both sniffed out in the self-drive business. Coming from families that run chauffeur-driven vehicle businesses, it made sense for them to join hands and set up a car rental business based out of Hyderabad.
The duo observed that while there were several car and bike rentals in the legal issues ensured they never the car-bike-bicycle experiences were never integrated for the self-mobility play.
This got us thinking and we thought we wanted to build a hub for mobility rental enthusiasts, where they can hire a self-drive or self-ride automobile effortlessly for every occasion, says Ashwin.
The idea was to bring in a whole new car rental experience for consumers that fit every budget and aspiration. The duo began their journey with the idea of offering self-drive and self-ride experiences, with Nano to some of the fanciest cars, street bikes to super-fast bikes and bicycles, like Cannonades to Surly.
In 2014, when they started up, the Indian market was opening up to the idea of self-drive. The concept of self-drive car rentals is already very popular in countries like the US and China, where fairly large companies like Hertz, Zipcar, eHi, etc., have been created. However, India too isn’t far behind. Today there are several self-drive rental companies that have burgeoned in the space. Some like Zoomcar, Carzonrent, Cartisan, Myles, Voler Cars and JustRide have already raised funding. Apart from the funded startups, there are other newer ones in the space like Let Me Drive, ZipHop and NOW.
Ashwin says, We in India now have an increased need for privacy and safety, there is lack of skilled manpower, increase in the cost of available manpower, non-reliability of the manpower, the rise of newer business models like app-based taxi aggregators as well as the increase in the quality of road infrastructure plus a slew of other factors were decisive in creating a new category for self-mobility.
DRIVEN was initially floated as a joint-venture between 4-Wheel Travels and Noori Travels, the duo’s family business. The fleet includes Audi, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Volvo, Porsche and Mini and bikes like Triumph Rocket and Ducati in addition to bicycles like Cannondale and Surly. The rental prices start from Rs 299 to Rs 29,999 for the top-end model car.
Since last year, the online rental automobile market has seen funding being pumped in across quarters. The funding has been across self-drive car rentals and automobile service providers. In June 2015, used-car marketplace Truebil raised $500,000 funding from Kae Capital and Anupam Mittal. Last July, automobile-focussed classifieds marketplace Droom secured $16 million.
Ashwin adds that they are expanding their base of 50 cars and 10 bikes to a fleet of 150 cars and 50 bikes and 10 bicycles as they are beginning to gain insight into customer expectations and are now showing a 30-percent incremental growth month-on-month.
However, DRIVEN’s biggest challenge was to build and run a hub that offer dream cars, bikes, and bicycles at one location. To build awareness about the idea was their first big challenge. “Our first big milestone was to get the government agencies to approve the licencing for the car and bike rentals,” adds Ashwin.
Insurance products are available world over for self-drive services but these weren’t available in India, which in turn worked as a challenge in dealing with clients and convincing them, while maintaining sight of viability of ops and fleet.
The team claims that from the proof of concept stage to now, DRIVEN has seen a close to 350 percent growth and has gone from zero to $4 million in a span of seven months. “We are witnessing steady acceleration of customer numbers; we believe a 50-percent growth rate month-on-month is an achievable target we set for ourselves for the next few months,” adds Ashwin.
Ashwin says that they are an integrated mobility services company that offers a range of cars, bikes and bicycles that none offer in the industry under one brand and one roof. He adds that their services are backed by strong city-centric pick up and drop facility, which is in turn is backed by comprehensive maintenance along with transparent and hassle free self-drive and self-ride rental plans.
“Our unique offer also includes pick-up point at Hyderabad airport, which is the first of its kind self-drive car rental service from airport. We will soon launch ‘DRIVEN Cafe’, which will be first-of-its-kind destination in India where you could step in for a cup of coffee and get your bike, car or super car rental as well,” says Ashwin.
DRIVEN has rolled out its services in Hyderabad, Vizag and Vijayawada in the first phase. The fleet addition is to help strengthen its next phase of expansion to cover Bengaluru, Chennai, New Delhi, and Mumbai.
“Our target is to build a fleet of 3,000 cars and 1,500 bikes. While the venture is bootstrapped we are open to investor interest and are evaluating them,” says Ashwin.