[Startup Bharat] Why these techies quit their jobs in Bengaluru to start Sikkim’s own Ola and Uber
Urban living can make you lazy. Especially if you live in a city like Bengaluru where you can get your food, groceries, clothes, and electronics home delivered, and book cabs and autos on an app.
Ashish Mittal, Hemant Pandey, and Lehsang Bhutia, friends from college, were extremely used to this ease after a decade in the city. But it was a completely different ball game whenever they landed in Sikkim.
“As soon as we landed at Bagdogra airport we had no option but to bargain with local touts and drivers, who quoted sky high prices,” Lehsang says.
They would end up taking a Tata Sumo on a shared basis and pay Rs 400 instead of Rs 4,000. This cab would take them to Siliguri where they would wait at a taxi stand for the next ride to Gangtok.
“There would hardly be room to breathe and the ride was definitely uncomfortable,” Lehsang recalls.
This personal pain point led the trio to start Wizzride, an online cab booking platform that aims to make travel in hill towns easier and smarter, in 2017.
Why the cab service?
The trio was keen to use technology to make the lives of people hassle-free and simpler.
At that point, Lehsang had worked for the likes of Infosys and Fidelity Investments, Ashish had worked for TCS, and Hemant had worked for Microland, HCL, and Juniper Networks.
Lehsang says taxis and cabs are the most important modes of transport in a terrain like that of Sikkim. But local taxi operators have a monopoly and a few taxi syndicates control pricing.
“Sometimes, during tourist season, they quote exorbitant prices up to 5x the normal fare,” he says.
Wizzride aims to change that.
The online platform offers shared and reserved options of intercity cab bookings, along with sightseeing and tour packages.
One of their differentiators is a daily shared luxury cab airport service. The team says they transport over 150 people each day, connecting cities like Gangtok, Darjeeling, Jaigaon, and Phuentsholing to Siliguri and Bagdogra airports.
On the right road
"Our shared cabs operate like flights. It departs on the scheduled departure time even if there is only one or no passengers booked. This means you might also get a whole car at the price of one seat. There is no cancellation from Wizzride, no matter the number of seats booked,” Lehsang says.
He adds that they have professional, trained, verified, and customer-friendly drivers, who are referred to as Wizzride Captains. In terms of building the fleet, the team operates like the Ola and Uber model, where people who own cars partner with Wizzride.
The cars ply on a fixed route, making a round trip, on a daily basis. The owners are paid on a daily basis, a fixed rate irrespective of whether the car sells even one seat or none on that particular trip.
The customers can rate their ride, based on staff behaviour, cleanliness, car condition, and customer support. The support team coordinates with drivers and sends them a list of passengers. Customers automatically get reminder notifications and updates. They can opt for OTP-verified cancellations for customers on the website.
The startup functions as a cab aggregator, managing a platform where customers and service providers can connect with each other and book services, ensuring competitive prices and quality service.
The challenges and roadblocks
While quitting lucrative jobs and cutting that monthly source of income was a challenge to begin with, the three co-founders faced other challenges along the way.
“When we started Wizzride, to understand how the industry worked on the ground at Bagdogra airport, we used to go to the airport every day and study how cars were arranged and booked. We would talk to travellers and convince them to use Wizzride. However, in a couple of days, we were noticed by the local touts and were surrounded by at least 50 of them within minutes. luckily the CISF personnel came to our rescue,” Lehsang says.
Undeterred, they decided to look at different ways to attract customers. While they managed to work around local taxi unions, the next problem the team faced was the 100-day bandh in 2017.
The team had just started their services in April 2017, but the Gorkhaland Agitation started in July that year. All roads were shut down, and there was a strike and a curfew for more than three months during the peak tourist season.
The easiest decision was to suspend services, but the trio was keen to continue operations.
“The solution was to ply our small fleet (then four to five cars) in the early hours (5 am or so) so that we could drop our passengers at the airport by 9 am. Early mornings were the safest and our cars were able to ply undisturbed. This is what we tried and it worked,” Lehsang says.
Market and the future
While Ola and Uber may be the behemoths in the cab aggregation space, several other players are also betting on the services. Some of these include Hyderabad-based Vihik Cabs, Delhi-based Wagon Cabs, Gurugram-based CabBazaar, and Bengaluru-based Savaari to name a few.
Wizzride makes a margin of 10-15 percent on every booking. The team claims to have made a revenue of Rs 1.1 crore during the first year, and Rs 2.71 crore in their second year of operations, with a 146 percent year-on-year growth.
What’s next for Wizzride? “We plan to further to move into the North East with Wizzride, and are eyeing Assam and Shillong by November end. Wizzride aims to become a one-stop solution for all road commute issues in hill cities and towns,” Lehsang says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)
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