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Red Bus

 Start-up Interview

Q. What is your company all about? What does it do? Who are the founding members?
A. There were three of us from BITS-Pilani, Sudarshan and Charan. Sudarshan looks at operation and Charan handles technology.
What we do is basically bus ticketing. We leverage technology through the internet. We have three divisions – Web based ticketing. We sell bus tickets online. We also have a call centre where customer can enquire regarding availability of tickets and book tickets. Delivery boys deliver these tickets to customers. Finally, a software division – here we lease software to bus operators and they pay us for the usage of this “seat selling” software - as we have access to all the seats available on all the buses, we provide the seat availability information to our competitors for a price. We operate about 10,000 buses every day spread over 15 states and 700 bus operators.

Q. What made you start this company? What first gave you this idea?
A. I got the initial idea in the Diwali of 2005. I was in Bangalore and wanted to travel to Hyderabad, so I went to a regular travel agent. He made a few calls and told me that no seats were available. I asked him to try calling other bus operators but he said that he had no dealings with them. I went to some other agents, who after making some calls told me the same thing. So, I was stuck for the long weekend in Bangalore. This pushed me to go to the bus operators. What I found out was that all bookings were done using a pen and paper method. A travel agent would not know all the bus operators. He would call them up by phone and ask whether seats were available. The whole system was flawed. I thought, why not set up a computer system and make the information available to everyone. When I told my idea to the bus operators they appreciated it.

Q. How difficult was it to start up? Did you encounter any set-backs? How did you deal with them?
A. The initial thing was software. Even though we were engineering students, we graduated with a B.E. in Electronics. We knew C, but none of the other programming languages like Java etc. We learnt whatever we could through books and started developing the software. It took us 4-5 months to create the software. This was the first hurdle. Then when we approached the bus operators with the software, they were not willing to buy it. Now this was a huge challenge for us. Initially these people had said this was a good idea but now they were not willing to buy the software.
We weren’t sure what to do next. We approached TIE, a non-profit organisation which helps entrepreneurs. If you came up with a good idea you could approach them and they will help you. So we went to them with our problem, and the mentors there were really helpful. They told us that these are the kind of problems were faced by entrepreneurs everyday. There is a huge resistance to change. People don’t change unless there is some major problem. So find out that problem. So we started searching for this big problem and figured out that selling tickets was the real problem and that was what mattered to the people. So we started selling tickets on the internet. Once the volume started picking up, the bus operators approached us and started using our software.

Q. What were the sources of finance you could leverage?
A. We were already working for 3 years and used our savings for the set up. After 4-5 months we got an investment from a venture capital fund. This gave us three crores.

Q. How will your work affect the masses?
A. I cannot exactly say masses but this is having an impact. The whole bus industry has changed. It has become more transparent. As a customer, it’s very easy for you to book seats. You can know the seat availability, compare prices, and choose the buses you want. Also now you don’t need to go to the travel agent causing less fuel wastage. If we booked 8000 seats a day, let’s say earlier the customer travelled one km up and one km down. So everyday 16000 km of fuel is saved! Even if Rs. 5 is spent on one km then the total would be Rs. 80,000 every day!

Q. Where do you see yourself after 5 years? What are your plans for the future?
A. We want to grow and expand our business. We want to achieve 10 times of what we are now. Then only would we be along with the big companies. 80,000 seats a day is not something small.

Q. Any tips for upcoming entrepreneurs?
A. They should find a good mentor and trust him. Initially when you get an idea, you don’t know how to implement it. The mentor tells you what to do and how to do it. I think this is the critical advice I would give. A good mentor would be one who has started a company from scratch and built it. He/She can be anyone, irrespective of the domain. Since start-ups are innovative you wouldn’t find two start ups to be similar. (When we asked him who his mentor was - he said “Sanjay Anand, worked in wipro. He is the founder of two companies. You can google him up.”)
Q. What lesson do you think people should take from college?
A. One of the important things is to have a big friends circle and retaining all of them. You learn a lot from your friends. You learn how to tolerate people, figure out who is going to help you in the time of need. You learn people management skills. And a company is nothing but people. If you don’t know how to manage people you can’t manage a company. People should participate in all cultural and social activities, like clubs for instance. You should try to take up leadership positions. I was head of DOPY in Pilani. I had to make people work for me without salaries. People would have tests, other activities etc. but you had to get them to produce something. You would learn to experiment and when something becomes successful, your belief will increase. I use what I learnt there even today.
Q. What are your favourite memories?
Presently the only thing I can remember is DOPY. I really love my college. In DOPY, we used to go out every semester on a trip. There was a rule that the ratio of girls to boys would be equal. From selections to excursions, this rule was always applied. We would go out to new places. As the head, I organised 3-4 trips. Booking the buses, hotel arrangements, I had to organise a lot of things. And everyone would have to listen to me. Those times were memorable. I have tons of pictures of them and I look at them even now.

Q. Any such belief as a “formula for success”?
For a company to be successful, many things would need to happen simultaneously. You need your suppliers right, you need your workers right, and you need the competition to be wrong.
Even if a things few fail, everything fails. So I thinks that if the no. of positives is more than the no. of negatives, then you are most likely to be successful. I am saying “likely” not “will be”.


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