Bangalore: Getting comfortable in a world where anything from pizzas, Chinese food to taxis and groceries can be brought to the doorstep, two entrepreneurs decided to make autorickshaw services available to Bangaloreans at their doorstep.
The autorickshaw-ordering platform, mGaadi, is available as a mobile application for Android phones and also on mGaadi.com.
The idea was conceived many years ago when Prakash, who also owns the Movement for Alternatives and Youth Awareness, a Bangalore-based non-governmental organization, interacted with the wives of autorickshaw drivers and the drivers themselves on a regular basis, trying to understand problems faced by them in this business.
While Prakash was mulling over this idea, somewhere on another side of the country, Kuruganti had quit his plush IT job and started blogging about social entrepreneurship in India, while keeping an eye out for any possible opportunity to grab.
“I was unemployed for 15 months, just blogging and hoping that something I would like to do come my way. I had spoken to Solomon a couple of times and liked the sound of mGaadi, but it took me a good one year to decide that it was the venture I wanted to jump into,” said Kuruganti.
There are approximately 160,000 registered autorickshaws in Bangalore, said Prakash, and they all have only one worry—to get customers.
“We always see them (autorickshaw drivers) in the wrong light because they sometimes overcharge, but actually they are just trying to earn their living,” said Prakash. “What they are the most afraid of is hunting for customers and wasting gas to get to a place with prospective customers.”
mGaadi helps autorickshaw drivers gain customers and customers get doorstep auto services.
“When a customer calls our customer care service to place an order for an auto or uses our mobile app or website to do the same, we page drivers who have enrolled in our programme. The ones closest to the area of pick up reply to the request,” said Prakash.
An autorickshaw driver enrols in the programme and pays Rs.5 to mGaadi for every customer it gets him, while customers are charged Rs.10 more over the meter reading.
Although autorickshaws do not use technology as advanced as Uber’s global positioning system (GPS)-based taxi services, they make-do with whatever technology drivers have.
“Most auto drivers don’t have gadgets that are GPS-enabled, most don’t even have smartphones, so we cold-call each auto driver, based on ratings given by previous customers, to check if they are available to take the assignment up,” said Prakash.There are downsides to the lack of usage of technology. Also, all mGaadi autorickshaws have small stickers on them indicating that they have enrolled on to the project. The size of the stickers could also be the cause of some confusion some time. “There have been instances when customers have assumed that the driver is an mGaadi driver and got on without double checking. This has made some auto drivers furious,” said Prakash, adding, that, “They sometimes travel a big distance to pick up customers, hoping to make some margins in long trips.”
An interesting trivia about this start-up is that most of the 15 customer care executives who take care of the operations of mGaadi are housewives who log into the company’s portal to take customer calls and arrange autorickshaw logistics for pick-ups.
Though the application has about 2,157 enrolled autorickshaw drivers, the entrepreneurs plan to hit 20,000 enrolments by the end of the year, said Prakash. “The response of autorickshaw drivers is quite positive now, though we did struggle a lot to get our first few enrolments,” said Prakash, stating that they used to flag down autos on the road and request them to fill enrolment forms. What started as a two-member team has grown into a company with more than 30 employees, and has plans to start operations in other cities.
This Bangalore-based start-up, registered under India Drivers Network Services Pvt. Ltd, recently raised an undisclosed round of funding from Unitus Seed Capital before which it was boot-strapped. The funding will be used to expand into different cities like Hyderabad, Kolkata, Pune and Delhi.
On asked about their plans for Chennai, Prakash and Kuruganti laugh. “There are many people trying to organize the autos in that city. I don’t think anybody is succeeding,” said Kuruganti. “We will explore it, but we still think it is a long shot.”
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