Raghu Khanna’s story is one of several false starts culminating in unexpected success. The 24-year-old reckons he was the first student from his Shimla school to get into one of the IITs. That engagement didn’t last very long. After a few weeks, an unenthused Khanna packed his bags and came home. The next year, he took the IIT Joint Entrance Examination again and went back to IIT Guwahati, but this time for the civil engineering programme. Khanna “slogged” his way through first year and earned a seat in the electronics and communication major class. Admission offers from the London School of Economics and Georgetown University, US, came through, but Khanna decided he didn’t want to go abroad: “After seeing people struggling to get US visas, it occurred to me that I should be staying here, near my family, instead of so far away.” Still confused about “what to do in life”, Khanna got his answer one day when he was stuck in a traffic jam.
Ads on cars: Raghu Khanna has signed up with brands such as Adidas and Frito-Lay. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Crawling forward in a taxi, on his way from Gurgaon to the Delhi airport, Khanna’s attention was caught by the stickers on the side of a van. The idea of CASHurDRIVE was born at that moment, in May 2008. Car owners can sign up with the company, and depending on various factors such as the length of the campaign, size of advertisements, which city they are located in, etc., they can make anything from around Rs10,000 to upwards of Rs60,000 a month.
When Khanna set up the company in June 2008, he got a little help from his father. He had no employees or customers. Six months later, he managed to convince a bakery in Ludhiana to put ads on the sides of vehicles. And then he went hunting for those vehicles. Today, Khanna has on board a couple of venture capital companies that have committed Rs2.5 crore.
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“I began CASHurDRIVE not knowing anything about the business. How advertising space was bought or sold. How to make the stickers to be used on the side of vehicles. Or even how to track the vehicles and their locations. I learnt everything on the job. I don’t think I ever expected it to be easy. But I am still surprised at how much I have learnt.” Khanna currently has eight employees and CASHurDRIVE operations are spread over a dozen cities and towns.
The number of car owners registering to get ads on their vehicles is growing at a blistering pace—15,000 at last count. Around 150 of them currently sport advertisements. Various options are possible for every kind of car: full wraps where the ad runs through the circumference of the car, half wraps, ads on the wheel hubs, etc.
“I could have been in Georgetown University. Besides, I have always wanted to see if I could manufacture a product I once worked on during an internship.” Khanna is referring to a device that can automatically detect drowsy eyes in drivers—he researched the concept while interning one summer in Europe. He harbours hope of resuscitating that some day.
“ I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had never dropped out of IIT the first time. When I connect the dots backward from CASHurDRIVE, it always take me back to that one decision. Backwards, it makes wonderful sense. But when I was packing my bags, I had no idea what lay ahead,” he says.