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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

‘Crafting Bharat – A Podcast Series,’ Premieres Its First Episode with Vinayak Bhavnani, Co-Founder and CTO of Chalo

India has emerged as the world’s third largest startup ecosystem over the last decade. Startups play an active role in surging innovation and job creation in India. The pandemic exposed the flip side of all sectors, but it accelerated digitization globally, and even more so in India. 

The “Crafting Bharat – A Startup Podcast Series” powered by AWS, and an initiative by NewsReach, in association with VCCircle, unlocks the secrets behind these successful entrepreneurs’ journeys aiming to equip aspiring entrepreneurs and business enthusiasts with invaluable insights. The podcast series is hosted by Gautam Srinivasan, famed for hosting a diverse range of TV and digital programs, currently consulting editor at CNBC (India), CNN-News18, Mint, HT Media, Forbes India, and The Economic Times.

India’s rapid population growth and urbanization is creating blind spots for innovation, but a curious and passionate founder Vinayak Bhavnani, co-founder and CTO of Chalo, is digitizing the public transport system of India. In the Crafting Bharat Podcast Series, Bhavnani talks about his entrepreneurial journey, building a bus transport technology company and trends in the Mobility industry. 

Explore the tales of Indian startup founders’ transformation from dreams to reality, navigating challenges to seize opportunities through the Crafting Bharat Podcast Series.

video embedded – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vX_6EayNks 

Segment 1: The Incubator

Preference for public transport in India is reduced by reliability issues.  Take us through the phase where customers started to see the benefits of using Chalo in terms of reliability and convenience. What did they really like?

From a customer’s standpoint there are two key value propositions that we offer. First, being live tracking, bus passengers on average end up waiting for 15-20 minutes per bus ride, leading to 40 minutes of time wasted everyday. Our live tracking solution has brought down this time to less than 2 minutes which is a massive delight. And second, is that back in 2018-2019 a couple of years after the demonetization we introduced tap-to-pay payments and we saw another surge of customer delight. I think these are some of the unlocks which we were able to leverage.

Digitizing and transforming public transportation, the gaps are significant. So, why do you believe the challenge of urban public transportation has persisted without a satisfactory solution. A lot has happened including digital payments, digital infrastructure, consumer awareness, consumer habits have changed but still those gaps exist. Your thoughts on this?

This is a great question, and one which  needs a lot more reflection. As a fact, the majority of our cities are built for cars and not for public transport. We got it wrong by prioritizing private vehicles over public transport

Beyond this, there are 3 more reasons I can think of – 

Lack of focus on this category. Most companies would rather build for the top of the pyramid, for the more affluent high LTV users. So we have products for air travel, intercity luxury bus travel but not as much for intra-city bus commute. These bus passengers unfortunately are the lower end of the pyramid. 

Second is the blindspot. Most people think that buses are run only by Governments, and usually there is hesitation to build a business completely dependent on the government. But beyond our metros, most buses serving daily commutes are run by small private operators. 

And the third is complexity. People logistics is complex and already underserved, hence it will take both time and massive innovation.

You operate in more than 50 cities across India and are present in 5 international locations. All together a lot of scaling up and your cloud ops are powered by AWS. Take us through the cost savings and operational efficiencies unlocked for Chalo with AWS? 

Our vision is to solve end-to-end mobility, we want to make sure that your travel is hassle-free and while the bus is the best main mile or the anchor mile, you need to solve for more accessibility to bus networks or Metro networks and hence, first and last mile must be solved. I personally believe in long-term partnerships and AWS has been one true partner. The biggest test is when adversity strikes, back during covid time all mobility was at a standstill and we were on a very tight spot. AWS helped us out massively by helping us reduce cost and to extend our commitments, so from a cash flow perspective we are better off as a company. These simple gestures go a long way to build trust and respect which are essential for any partnership.

Segment 2: The Accelerator

Technical founders need to know when to take off their developer hat and when to put on their business hat. Your thoughts? 

I follow  this one principle which I also preach a lot,  and that is to maximize the value that you create. Every time you look at a problem or an opportunity, Think about what’s the best way of solving, and not necessarily the best tech way of solving. In simpler words, we are biased to use our own tools vs the best solution possible. So one always needs to see things from a founder perspective vs. a techie perspective. `Tech is a subset – it’s a means and not the end.     `

Your view on traffic in Mumbai versus Bengaluru? 

That’s a controversial question. But traffic is on the rise in all the cities Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai. If you look at the number of cars on the road in all these cities in the last decade, it has rammed up. For example, 50% of road space is consumed by cars in Mumbai. And Bangalore has seen a 2x increase in the number of vehicles on the road over the last decade, with almost no increase in the number of buses. So traffic is a nightmare everywhere. We need to solve this. None of us deserve to lose our time and well-being in the middle of congested roads. And I’m hopeful that it will be solved. 

The startup ecosystem of India has been growing leaps and bounds with exceptionally great innovations by visionary entrepreneurs. The increasing adoption of digitization across sectors has created avenues for various budding startups. 

Stay tuned to the Crafting Bharat Podcast Series as we bring you these inspirational entrepreneurs for insightful and candid discussions with Gautam Srinivasan.

Focusing on maximizing value and finding optimal solutions instead of fixating on familiar paths leads to better outcomes.

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