Taking an autorickshaw has never been easy in most parts of the country. From moody drivers to faulty meters, several factors have made it increasingly difficult to hail one while you are stuck outside a Metro station. But thanks to the Jugnoo app, over five million people have found it easier to commute in their cities.
“After speaking to many auto drivers, we realized that they are on the road for 10 hours, but are actually driving around for five-six hours. This idle time is a wastage,” says Chinmay Agarwal, co-founder and chief technology officer of Jugnoo. Agarwal, along with chief executive officer (CEO) Samar Singla founded Jugnoo in November 2014.
Jugnoo was a finalist in the category of Smart Settlements and Urbanization, Chandigarh, at the mBillionth 2016 awards, organized by the Digital Empowerment Foundation.
The whole process of creating the app started with doing a small survey in Chandigarh. These surveys showed that while auto drivers earned around Rs400-500 a day, the amount almost doubled to Rs800-900, when they used the app. This is because after a ride, the auto shows up as available on the app’s back-end, which makes it easy for Jugnoo to arrange the next ride for the driver. Think of it as an aggregator for autos, like Uber and Ola have been doing for cabs.
However, unlike the cab aggregators, Jugnoo does not pay the drivers a monthly fee or own the autos. Instead it takes a commission from their earnings and does not make it mandatory for auto drivers to be part of the Jugnoo system once they register. This means, an auto driver may work with Jugnoo for two months, take a break and work independently for a month, and come back to the platform when he wants to.
Most of Jugnoo’s operational plans are backed by well-grounded data. This shouldn’t be surprising since CEO Singla comes from a data science background, having served as a scientist for the European Organization for Nuclear Research (better known as CERN) and a researcher for International Business Machines Corp., both in 2008. Agarwal is an alumni of the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, followed by a joint masters in Advanced Robotics from Ecole Centrale Nantes, France, and University of Genoa, Italy.
“Our model is an asset-light version where we do not own any of the autos. Because of this, we can keep losses in check. But it is challenging initially to convince the auto drivers to sign up as they will not be paid a monthly salary,” says Agarwal.
The challenge facing Jugnoo can be of various kinds when the main stakeholder, in this case drivers, are not well-versed in technology, says Singla. “We try to keep technology as easy as possible. Considering our drivers are from different backgrounds and very few are well-versed in English, we recently introduced our driver interface in multiple languages,” he adds.
Jugnoo collaborated with an unusual partner—students of Punjab University’s college of engineering—whose feedback was critical for making changes in the registration process, and to sort out debugging and verification issues.
“As a matter of fact, since these students loved fiddling with technology, they tried to hack the app’s discount features. Which was great because we realized early on that these are issues which the app can face in the larger market and tried to dispose of, in advance,” adds Agarwal.
Jugnoo has come a long way. The company has expanded to 36 cities across India, including Mumbai, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Indore, Jaipur, Kanpur and Rajkot, with over five million users.
Growing numbers is always good news but it can lead to further challenges. Jugnoo suddenly saw a spurt in user numbers—from a thousand transactions a day to 10 times that in two months—putting its operations and technology under stress. “Hiring people on short notice is never easy. They join after three-four months, they have to be convinced to join a start-up and at the same time you don’t want to over-hire and burn your cash,” says Agarwal.
The firm has raised around $16 million from two rounds of funding from Paytm, Snow Leopard Technology Ventures and Rocketship.vc. “We wanted to make sure we were choosing our funding partners properly,” he adds.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.