In a city like Bengaluru, pretty much everything is available on mobile phone apps. From hailing auto-rickshaws and cabs to buying your groceries, clothes and electrical appliances, life has become remarkably convenient for salaried urban dwellers in the city.
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Want to travel back to your flat after an enjoyable night out, but can’t drive or ride your two-wheeler or car? Book a cab on Ola, Uber or TaxiForSure app.
For three friends, Ashish Mittal, Hemant Pandey and Lehsang Bhutia, who had made this city their home for a decade, this convenience had embedded itself in their daily lives.
However, whenever they came back to their respective hometowns of Gangtok (Ashish), Kalimpong (Lehsang) and Shillong (Hemant) for their holidays, the bubble of convenience, burst.
Tired of having to choose between stuffy and uncomfortable shared cab rides in a Tata Sumo from Bagdogra airport to Siliguri and subsequently, another taxi to reach Gangtok or paying through their nose to hire a single cab, the trio came up with Wizzride, an online cab booking platform for the Northeast, in 2017.
“People couldn’t hail an economical yet comfortable cab ride from say Bagdogra airport to Siliguri, and going further to Gangtok. The only inexpensive option available was a shared cab, and those are very uncomfortable. Moreover, if you wanted a cab all to yourself, it was too expensive, especially for people who do not travel in large groups. Why must we choose between comfort and pricing? Why can’t we balance the two? That was the basic idea behind Wizzride,” says Lehsang, Co-Founder of the Siliguri-based Wizzride, speaking to The Better India.
Its objective is to make travelling in the hill towns smarter, cheaper and more convenient for the average consumer. They want to ensure that local taxi operators do not have a monopoly over critical modes of transportation across the hills in places like Sikkim.
There are occasions when these taxi drivers quote five times the standard fare for passengers during peak season. This state of affairs, they believe, needed to change.
So, how is Wizzride different from Ola or Uber?
Although Ola has an ‘Outstation’ facility, apps like these are primarily focussed on intra-city rides. So, within Siliguri, for example, Ola is functional but not very economical.
“Cab rates in these parts here depend on return journey fares. So, the fares for Ola Outstation, for example, will take into consideration the fact that the driver will come back empty-handed, and thus is more expensive. From Siliguri to Darjeeling in hatchback, the rate on Ola would be Rs 3,000. If we go by the market standards, we know we can get the same cab at a much cheaper rate. If you book a cab from Gangtok to Siliguri but assure the driver that you’ll be travelling back to Gangtok on the same day, you’ll get a discounted rate,” explains Lehsang.
So, the founders at Wizzride worked out that if they can develop a module that offers drivers bookings on a to and fro basis so that he doesn’t come back empty-handed, he would give them a discount. This, in turn, they can pass onto the customers at a much lower price.
Right now, Wizzride is operating in the North Bengal and Sikkim region, although recently they have also started to cater to tourists who want to travel to Bhutan as well.
“About 150 passengers travel on our shared rides, daily. That’s where we began the business. With good reviews on Tripadvisor and other online platforms, there was a demand to start a full reserved cab booking facility as well. Then users began asking us whether we could offer them a sightseeing service in Gangtok, Darjeeling, etc. So, we added that service to our roster as well. We are on the verge of starting a shared sightseeing service as well for solo travellers who don’t mind sharing a cab for a full-day tour of Gangtok, Changu Lake or Bara Mandir and Nathu-La. Once again on popular demand, we started a taxi package for five nights and six days as well,” adds Lehsang.
Despite its relative early success, the founders did face some considerable challenges, particularly in getting customers, vendors and cab drivers to believe in their vision.
“Our shared cabs, for example, depart on the scheduled departure time even if there is only one or no passenger. This means the passenger may get a whole car at the price of one seat. There is no cancellation from Wizzride, no matter the number of seats booked. Making both driver and passengers believe that the ride would go through irrespective was a real challenge initially. There were trust issues that had to be resolved,” says Hemant.
Meanwhile, there were other fundamental challenges, as well.
“In Tier-II or III cities, setting up a startup is a little difficult. People did not believe in the volume of people that we could attract to our business. Scalability is still a point of concern. We were earlier based out of Gangtok, and another issue we came across was that people weren’t the most tech-savvy. We had to visit places and teach people how to make an online booking and explain its advantages because most people here use the cash system. Initially, people didn’t believe in us, and it was hard getting driver-partners onboard. Having said that, we worked these issues out, and people have shown us the love,” says Lehsang.
And business is good. They have 35 ground staff, including the drivers and claim that they make a profit of 10-15% on every booking. They further claim to have made a revenue of Rs 1.1 crore during the first year, and Rs 2.71 crore in their second year of operations.
Unlike most startups, they have not sought any external funding and would like to remain bootstrapped.
What are the plans for the future?
“We plan to expand into other cities as well. The objective is now to spread our service across the Northeast and expand our current bookings,” says Hemant.
So, the next time you’re travelling to these picturesque parts of India, you know what to do.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)