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2011-03-02

Expertise from experience

Bhavish Aggarwal, Co-founder & CEO, olacabs.com, began his entrepreneurial journey as a quest to seek solution for the problem that he had faced in relation to travelling via a rented car, when a weekend trip from Bangalore to Bandipur turned foul courtes

Bhavish Aggarwal, Co-founder & CEO, olacabs.com, began his entrepreneurial journey as a quest to seek solution for the problem that he had faced in relation to travelling via a rented car, when a weekend trip from Bangalore to Bandipur turned foul courtesy the driver who was ill mannered and totally unprofessional in his conduct. This incomplete trip sowed the seeds for Bhavish’s entrepreneurial voyage. He set up Olacabs.com as on online car rental service built on the idea of using technology to offer a better and more predictable experience to consumers.

 

Archana Pareek(AP) :How did Olacabs.com come about?

Bhavish Aggarwal (BA): Ankit Bhati and I co-founded Olacabs. Both of us are from IIT Bombay. I graduated from IITB with a B.Tech in Computer Science and Engineering in 2008 and worked with Microsoft Research for 2 years. I left my job in August 2010 to start Olacabs. Ankit has a Dual Degree (B.Tech + M.Tech) in Mechanical Engineering from IIT Bombay. He worked for a couple of startups (QED42, Makesense and Wilcom) before co-founding Olacabs with me. My interest in Entrepreneurship started during college. I used to attend all of our entrepreneurial cell events and learnt a lot about starting a business. After college I decided to work for a couple of years to gain some real world experience and then open my own company. We are just three months old but we have already started to get a turnover of 1 lakh a month, with just one office in Mumbai and 4 employees.

 

AP: How has the company grown under your able guidance? What has been your strategy to bring it to this level since inception?

BA: We launched our operations in the middle of December and have seen very encouraging growth in sales. We've also increased our partnerships and have been working on new products. Our strategy is to prove our model in Mumbai before we expand to other cities. We are working very closely with all stakeholders in the ecosystem to ensure there is greater efficiency, predictability and standardization in this industry. 

 

We have tied up with many car operators in Mumbai. They are very receptive to our concept as we work on a pay-for-performance model. We just charge a commission in whatever sales that we bring to them. Also, to get access to the technology platform, we charge them a small fee. Other than that, there are no other costs that operators have to bear.

 

AP: How was the company funded when it began? What’s your take on PE/VC investment?

BA: We were bootstrapped and funded the company fully out of our savings. Recently, we've got investors in the form of a group called "The Morpheus".  We want to be a profitable company first and not reliant on external funding. That said we will definitely be looking out for good deals to grow much faster. 

 

AP: How did you develop your first team? What were the challenges you faced?

BA: Right now, we’re a two-member team Ankit is the CTO and handles the technical aspects, from building the website, building the backend platform, scaling servers etc. I’m the CEO and I handle the operator partnerships, sales and operations. And yes, we are looking at hiring like- minded and passionate people for technology and product development roles.

Other than full time roles, we keep hiring interns. Many of our juniors from IITB approached us for internships and we offered them exciting work to do and a lot to learn, which is not the case with internships in big companies. 

 

AP: What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far while operating through the web base in India?

BA: The biggest challenge is to work with the whole car rental ecosystem, right from operators, agents, consumers, corporate, etc and ensure each party benefits from the technology efficiency we are bringing.

 

AP: What have been the key marketing and brand building strategies for your business and how do you define your USP?

BA: Most of the existing portals work as opaque agents, offering marked-up rates. Olacabs, on the other hand, has a marketplace approach. We tell users the rates of different operators along with what accessories and features each car has. So, users can compare and book the one which suits their needs the best. The rates displayed are also exact fares that a customer would get directly from the operator.

 

Also, most cab booking portals are plain vanilla websites with price listings. Our strategy is to focus on the backend interface with car operators because that would ensure a certain level of quality and predictability with respect to the consumer experience. We intend to bring all car operators and all taxis on to a single technology platform to enable real time inventory distribution, nationally. 

We are in the process of launching a loyalty and referral program for our customers. Also, we are partnering with many hotels to offer our cars to their guests. We have also come up with unique concepts like free in-cab WiFi for our guests

 

AP: What is your growth plan for the company? Do you plan to diversify and how?

BA: Currently, we offer our service only in Mumbai. We are looking at expanding to other cities like Pune, Bangalore and Delhi within the next 2-3 months. In addition, we want to offer a broader service portfolio including local point-to-point taxi services soon. We are also looking to service our current customers better by starting loyalty and referral programs. 

 

AP: What have been the advantages and disadvantages of working as an online business?

BA: The biggest advantage is that you can start with very low upfront costs. You can iterate on your business faster and get to your core product offering without spending too much money.

The challenge, especially in India is to move beyond just the online space. There is much more potential for companies to get more closely involved with their respective markets and move to a hybrid model

 

AP: What would you have been if not an entrepreneur?

BA: I would have most probably been a PhD in Computer Science as I love building computer systems and technology! 

 

AP: What is your word of advice for today’s entrepreneurs who would like to start an online business? What investment is needed?

BA: The biggest joy and the biggest challenge in entrepreneurship is finding a real and challenging problem to solve. Most of us first generation entrepreneurs have a tough time finding the right problem. But once that is figured out, the joy of solving real issues for real users and seeing people benefit from your innovation is beyond comparison! My advice is keep experimenting and you'll find your niche sooner or later!

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