Hire A Quick Ride And Keep The Traffic Woes At Bay
India has a working population of about 700M, out of which 300M are commuters. Now these commuters, obviously, choose different modes of transportation. They currently manage with 5 million autos, 5 million cycle rickshaws and 2 million taxis that are available in India, which means that a majority still depend on their own vehicles. Buses and metros help, but they get overcrowded at times and if any auto driver agrees to take even Rs 40, consider it a blessing. The heat is no help and the roads (talking from personal experience) are getting too dangerous for pedestrians.
Another thing we see a lot on India roads are two-wheelers. Be it a fancy bike, scooty or bullets, people are fascinated with them because they could easily slip through heavy traffic. India comprises of 150 Million two-wheelers at present adding 15 million two-wheelers every year. Now this number is great but the more is rarely the merrier as these million bikes take up a lot of road space.
As the Poet Shelly said in the ‘Ode to the West Wind’, “If problem comes, can an entrepreneur be far behind?” Well, he didn’t say exactly that but he somewhere meant it.
Sensing the opportunity, these entrepreneurs, Manu Rana and Ashutosh Johri found this problem and are now striving to solve it. Manu with his sixteen years of experience as a product management professional and Ashutosh with billions of dollars of sales and strategy experience at companies like Ericsson, Iridium and IBM, these two pros have headed on their entrepreneurial journey with the aim to fill a major gap in last mile transportation options for the Indian commute.
Working with renowned startups like i2 Technologies, Match.com, and BookMyShow.com, Manu as an insider gathered priceless experience while AshutoshJohri was managing the MARA-ISON Technologies, an IT Services company that is headquartered in Nairobi. Together they created what they call ‘Baxi’.
Embarking on entrepreneurial journey
Manu recalled how Ashutosh explained the concept to him and he immediately signed on thinking it’s a great idea. He added, “I have worked with successful quasi-startups A. So there was a natural latent desire to do something of my own.”
Speaking for Ashutosh he said, “Ashu always wanted to be an entrepreneur. He was never someone who thrived in a process oriented environment. The good thing was that he realised it very early in his career and so stuck to doing sales in the Telecom industry. Sales gave him an opportunity to think out of the box as long as targets were met. And more often than not he over-achieved his targets. When he returned to India in 2014 he decided not to pursue a job but to look out for business opportunities. The market at the time was replete with funding which made the decision easier.”
The big problem and the solution
Working in Africa for 4 years before returning to India, Ashutosh had seen the huge popularity of the boda-bodas of East Africa and the okadas of Nigeria, motorcycle taxis which are very common there. In parallel, the success of all the e-commerce players in India, such as Ola Cabs and then Uber proved that the common man in India was ready to embrace technology to assist him with daily commuting options. It was then that Ashutosh brought this idea to India, added technology to it and made Baxi.
He said, “The concept of using bikes as taxis exists successfully across the globe. They have all become the go-to mode of transport for the public because of the convenience of speed and the economy that they offer. But, the introduction of this concept in India had been hampered by the lack of regulatory permissions.
“We address a major gap in last mile transportation options for the Indian commuter - The lowest cost of personalized (to-the-doorstep) travel for commuters today is an auto, with a minimum cost of around INR 40. The other option is shared autos or buses, which are slow, crowded, and still require the commuter to walk the last half a mile or so. This is a basic need that we are addressing: to make commuting easy and affordable for short distant commuters,” Manu said.
Baxi follows a subscription based revenue model. A nominal daily fee allows a driver buddy to do unlimited rides in a day, with a big part of the demand coming through their app.
Ashutosh shared, “The name Baxi, itself, tells the story. It is a combination of two words Bike and Taxi, i.e., Baxi, a bike taxi. After having tried a number of options, we decided to pick a name that reflects that we offer bike taxi services to our customer and found that there’s no other word which can suit our services better.”
Manu added, “The evolution of this name is a longer story. We registered at least 20 domain names during this process, each time thinking that this is the one. But looking back now, none of them seem to express the concept as well and as succinctly as this one. Arriving at the word Baxi, after all of the permutations and combinations was a definite a-ha moment!”
Biggest challenge so far
Ashutosh recollects how, out of the many challenges, like regulatory issues, predatory competition, only one thing gave them sleepless nights. It was the question of whether consumers would actually take to pillion-riding a bike as a mode of transport, even though all the surveys had indicated that they would.
However, it took a week of operations in Gurgaon to answer this in the affirmative.
On how they face these challenges,Manu said, “I tend to look inwards to best handle it rather than seek answers elsewhere. I go back to the basics looking at my own work, buckle down and adopt best-practice solutions. I do look at the work of other successful business leaders for ideas but most often, the answer is a hybrid of ideas that my team and I arrive at together.”
Journey with your co-founder
Finding the perfect co-founder is equivalent to finding the right person to marry. And when you have a co-founder who has also been your friend for 25 years, you’ve found the perfect match. Manu recalls, “In college, Ashu was always the rebel of the batch, always very passionate about things, and supported them wholeheartedly. While tremendously smart, structured book learning was not his thing and he truly found his niche in sales and business after he graduated. Now, he is not only passionate but patient and has grown into a formidable leader; his successes have validated all that we know about him and have earned him the respect of everyone who’s known him.
“To mathematically put what Manu is saying,” Ashutosh added, “we’ve known each other for more than half our lives! We’ve always been different personalities but somehow love each others’ company. Manu was always structured in his approach to work and life including keeping the tidiest room in the hostel. Now that structured approach has gathered a sense of responsibility which one can totally rely on. Manu’s approach is very instrumental in his professional life because he always brings something extra to the table rather than just helping his team to accomplish tasks.