[The Turning Point] What made these entrepreneurs embark on the ‘Chalo’ journey

In this week’s Turning Point, we feature Mumbai-based full-stack mobility startup Chalo that has one and only one purpose — making travel better for everyone.
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While trying to solve India’s transportation challenges using technology, Mumbai-based mobility startup Chalo’s co-founders also aimed to solve the first and last-mile transportation challenges. 

In March 2022, Chalo acquired Vogo Automotive — a tech-enabled Bengaluru-based shared mobility startup — which would augment the former’s bus technology services by powering first and last-mile rides at major bus stops and other public places across India.

“We want to bridge this gap and offer a mobility solution to the people with one subscription plan, which allows you to travel passively without getting bothered about all of these things. And we see a lot of synergy in Vogo in that way,” said Vinayak Bhavnani, Co-founder and CTO, Chalo.

But, before this, the co-founders had to pivot several times to reach where they are today.

The journey from Zophop to Chalo

Launched in 2014 by Mohit Dubey, Vinayak Bhavnani, Priya Singh, Dhruv Chopra, Chalo was first launched as Zophop — a multimodal journey planner app — that would show the fastest and cheapest way of getting to a traveller’s end destination. 

Zophop showed all possible trip options based on published routes and schedules, helping passengers plan their journey better. However, the team faced more difficulties with buses, and eventually, it decided to abandon the “schedule” or “timetable” concept.

In the following year, in 2015, the co-founders launched a P2P app called ETA in San Francisco that allowed users to share live locations among friends. Realising that there was a bigger market for live tracking in buses, the team built a system to track some of Mumbai’s buses in real-time as a pilot project. 

While live information sharing was a small part of the problem, reliability across the bus network posed the biggest challenge for the team.

In an earlier interaction with YourStory, Mohit said, “The intent of starting Chalo was to make bus systems in India reliable and pleasant, and a preferred choice for everyday travel.”

“If you can tell people when the bus will come, that solves a very big pain point. That was our lightbulb moment, and we said, okay, we need to build live tracking for buses so no one should have to wait at bus stops anymore,” said Vinayak.

Although Chalo’s live tracking service first started in Indore in 2016 on a partial set of the city’s buses, it was only in May 2018 when the mobility startup launched its first full city live bus tracking in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. 

“Our first break came in 2016, when Indore’s largest bus operator agreed to install Chalo’s GPS devices on its buses, enabling its app users to live-track buses and plan their trips. The operator, too, got valuable data from the vehicle tracking system on their buses,” Mohit said. 

In its first year, the company claimed to register a 20 percent growth in Indore, 30 percent in Bhopal and recorded a 2X growth in Jabalpur.

Through its services, Chalo has helped bus owners increase their revenue collections. The startup charges a fixed fee of Rs 150 and a 50 percent incremental fee. 

Vinayak says bus operators are open to paying such high incremental fees as Chalo has been instrumental in increasing their overall collections. “In a lot of cases, we have been able to increase this collection by 20 to 30 percent,” he added. 

Chalo’s 35 member tech team built the technology stack for public transport — from installing GPS devices on buses to the live tracking algorithms, payments, auditing, automated fare collection systems (AFCS), and installing ticketing devices and validators in buses. 

At present, the full-stack mobility startup live tracks 15,000 buses daily, of which 7,000 buses have incorporated Chalo’s full-stack solution.

It offers mobile tickets and mobile bus passes that can be bought on its app and through the Chalo card — a contactless tap-to-pay travel card.

“In this journey, we saw ourselves go through a bunch of evolution and pivots. So from a growth perspective, it has been a phenomenal run,” added Vinayak.

Future plans

Chalo has a core team of 100 members and other 450 employees stationed in various cities for operational purposes. 

The startup raised a total of $62 million in three major funding rounds, with its last round worth $40 million raised in a Series C round in October 2021. Shortly after, it also acquired Gurugram-based office bus aggregator Shuttl.

In January 2022, Chalo claimed to have facilitated 100 million rides on its platform, which rose to 115 million rides by March 2022.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Vinayak claimed the startup grew 4 to 5X in the number of buses and rides delivered on the platform. 

“Our vision was always to make travel better for everyone, and that is what we have been working to solve since 2014. With all our evolution and pivots, we have stayed true to it, even today,” he claimed.

The startup wants to achieve a goal of tracking 100,000 buses and having 100 million rides per day.

Aiming to become a full end-to-end mobility solution, Chalo wants to go beyond the Indian market and venture into Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America markets.

Edited by Suman Singh

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