How taxi rental platform Instacar is navigating the coronavirus roadblock
Ishan Vyas, Anurag Gupta, and Priyanshi Choubey in 2016 started Instacar, a marketplace for outstation taxi rentals, in Indore. The idea was simple: solving the problem of renting cars for outstation trips.
The pre-booked chauffeur-driven taxi service aims to do away with a persistent problem – India’s unprofessional, unorganised, and unsafe cab services. The co-founders were keen to offer highly professional chauffeurs with experience and etiquette, and premium cars.
Since launch, Instacar has attracted the attention of high-profile travellers due to the availability of luxury cars and SUVs that can be booked in just a click. Noted playback singer Shaan is one of their prized customers.
Taxis can be pre-booked or scheduled on the website or app, and pricing is based on kilometres. The car drivers work full time with the startup, which offers higher control on the vehicles and chauffeurs. They are paid a minimum committed amount, irrespective of the business done.
“We've raised two rounds of funding till now, $1 million from a Hong Kong-based investor and another $120,000 from Techstars. We've also been accelerated by Techstars; we were part of the first Bengaluru batch,” Ishan says.
Since then, Anurag has left the Instacar team.
The shift to Bengaluru
In 2018, the team decided to move to Bengaluru as Indore was not sufficient, “in terms of team and scale”.
“It was a testing city and worked beautifully when we were small, but the goal was to super scale. We got into Techstars in February 2019. As a city, Bengaluru has a huge educated, open-to-experimentation customer base. Also, the most successful transportation companies in India are from Bengaluru as the acceptance rate is high,” Ishan says.
The fact that it is smaller when compared to Mumbai and Delhi makes “on-ground operations relatively easier”. The team also realised that marketing was easier in Bengaluru as people usually live and work within a radius of five to 10 km.
“Also, I have done my graduation from Bengaluru and have lived here for four years. I had a lot of connections and a soft corner for the city,” Ishan says.
The COVID-19 shift
The rapid spread of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown have negatively impacted the mobility industry. According to a Google Report, there has been a 77 percent drop in trips to public places.
To deal with this situation, Instacar decided to introduce critical travel within Bengaluru.
“It is mostly for medical urgencies like doctor's appointments, maternity care, elderly care, and so on. Our cars go through a rigorous cleaning and sanitising process, ensuring a highly safe means of transport. Our chauffeurs are educated on protocols and precautions, like wearing masks and gloves. So, we're well prepared in this pandemic situation,” Ishan says.
The focus area for the next six months is safety of passengers and drivers. Hence, the on-ground focus is on hygiene.
"Along with car sanitisation, our drivers are checked for temperature. We started using masks from March 10 as a lot of IT professionals from international countries travel with us. These measures are going to scale up. We are trying to acquire testing kits to make sure each driver is COVID-19 negative to assure customers that they are safe and the spread doesn't happen because of us,” Ishan adds.
In the pre-COVID-19 world
Instacar claims to have been doing 100-150 airport transfer transactions per day before the lockdown. The major focus was airport pickups and drops. Over 10,000 users in Bengaluru use the startup on a regular basis.
The team now has customers like Udaan, who use the services regularly for their staff.
“We focused on intercity business for almost three years before moving to Bengaluru. During Techstars, we realised that we needed a bigger repetitive hook for our customers alongside outstation taxis. We started kids transport, which worked out really well, but meanwhile, we were experimenting with multiple categories,” Ishan says.
Airport as a category came into the picture and “within one-two hours of launch, we did about 35 transactions with absolutely no marketing”. “We just notified existing customers. This happened in August 2019,” Ishan adds.
Within two months, the startup hit 150 transactions a day - with no marketing. They soon decided to scale up the airport business as the need was very high, and started ramping up the team.
“We organised our team last month and the lockdown happened. We then started getting requests from existing customers for local transport service. We built out a point-to-point (within the city) app overnight, and rolled it out,” Ishan says.
The Instacar co-founders feel that safety of passengers is going to be top priority after the lockdown is lifted and when local in-city business is scaling up.
“if you are moving out of your house, you want to 100 percent make sure that you are safe. Hence, you don't want to use public transport, other cab aggregators don't guarantee quality.”
“We are going the extra mile to ensure all our drivers are coronavirus-negative, and hygiene is taken up at utmost levels. Our customer acquisition cost is still zero because people love our service. Our week-on-week repeat is 30 percent, and month-on-month repeat is about 80 percent. With point-to-point service coming into the picture, our week-on-week repeat will go much higher,” Ishan says.
Apart from Instacar, larger startups like Ola and Uber are focused on car rentals and taxi services. They are now providing mobility to hospitals and for critical care amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Speaking of future plans, Ishan says, “The bigger plan for us has always been to be operational in almost all metro cities along with Tier I and II cities.”
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)
Edited by Teja Lele