Infibeam Becomes First Indian E-Commerce Firm To Go Public; Will IPO On March 21

While biggies like Flipkart and Snapdeal are figuring out where their next round of funding is coming from and looking at the very real possibility of down rounds, a relatively unknown player in the space is all set to get money from public markets. Infibeam, founded in 2007 by Cornell and MIT Sloan alumnus Vishal Mehta, has its IPO scheduled on 21st March from which it hopes to raise Rs. 450 crore.

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The company has fixed the price band at Rs 360-432 per equity share, and has proposed to list its shares on the NSE and BSE. Infibeam plans to utilize the IPO proceeds towards setting up of cloud data centre and shifting and setting up of registered and corporate office of the company. The funds will also be used for setting up of 75 logistics centers across the country.

While public attention on the e-commerce space has been fixed squarely on Flipkart and Snapdeal over the recent years, Infibeam has grown silently since its inception in 2007. The company has offices in Ahmedabad, Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, and has a total of 1300 employees. Its revenues for FY 2014 were were Rs. 207.3 crore, a far cry from Flipkart’s Rs. 2,846 crore in the same period, but its losses were proportionately lower too – the company had a loss of just Rs. 25 crore in 2014. 

Apart from its e-commerce business that sells phones, books and clothing, Infibeam also launched its own ebook reader, called Infibeam Pi in 2012. The company also operates an e-commerce platform called Buildbazaar that helps users create their own web stores. It has also launched its own music streaming service and ShipDriod, a logistics aggregation platform that provides uniformity of logistics services to small merchants across all courier partners.

How A Simple Blog Became India’s No. 1 Freshers Job Site

Freshersworld is somewhat of an anomaly in today’s fast-paced startup ecosystem. For starters, it’s barely a startup, having started off way back in 2006. Also, it hasn’t yet joined the funding rat race, and remains proudly bootstrapped to this day. And most importantly, unlike other vaunted, well-publicized startups, it’s profitable. We talked to CEO Joby Joseph about his experiences with building Freshersworld.com.

freshersworld

OfficeChai: What was your background before you started Freshersworld? Why did you get into the jobs space?

Joby Joseph: I have worked as an software engineer in CGI & Wipro. The tipping point was when I faced challenges in finding a job from outside campus. That stirred something in me. I thought to myself, I can either sit and work in my 9 to 6 job or actually make a difference in the life of millions of other candidates like me who are looking for their first break. I started Freshersworld as a blog and later on it pivoted to become the No.1 job site for freshers in India. I never thought it would grow to this stage but more than that, getting the opportunity to help place 2 Lakh+ freshers every year is something that gives me immense satisfaction.

OfficeChai: You remained bootstrapped for a long time. Was that a conscious choice?

Joby Joseph: Yes. I still believe in the age old logic of having solid traction and revenue before look at external funding. We have been profitable for over three years now and this now gives me a solid footing to reach out to investors. We have started talking to some VCs to fuel the next growth for the company.

OfficeChai: How did you grow the blog in its early days?

Joby Joseph: It was mostly word of mouth. At those times, Yahoo groups and other such portals were very popular and that also led to our expansion. We were the early movers in this domain and this helped us getting initial traction.

OfficeChai: At what point did you realize this could be a serious business?

Joby Joseph: We got our first client in late 2011 who wanted to do campus hiring through us. This was something that pushed us to make this a serious business. From then on we experimented with a lot of stuff and finally settled on the services we provide, namely on & off-campus recruitment, online assessment, Hot Job posting, etc.

OfficeChai: How is Freshersworld different from other job sites?

Joby Joseph: Freshersworld.com is a niche job portal only focussing on entry-level hiring for graduates. We are also the only site which provides specialised services for grey collar hiring across India. This includes the typical sales, marketing and support job roles. We have already carved our niche and that has helped us. We now get around 2-3 lakh fresher registrations on a monthly basis and have 60K recruiters hiring through us. This includes big MNC’s like EMC, Facebook, Accenture, Toshiba, Huawei, etc to startups like Practo, Uber, HDFC Life, Flipkart, SME’s and large and small HR consultants.

OfficeChai: What are your expansion plans? What does the future look like for Freshersworld?

Joby Joseph: We have a very solid expansion plan set-up. We launched Hot Job Posting 6 months back and have successfully helped 92% of all clients to close their job openings. With this product, we provide guaranteed hiring in 4 days, or clients get their money back. I think this speaks volumes about the confidence we have in our delivery capabilities. Most jobs being found this way are grey collar jobs, and 80% of all hiring is happening in this segment. Grey collar jobs is one of the toughest nuts to crack but I am happy to say that we have found the right solution for it through Hot Job postings. Also, we have plans to ramp up our technical and product capabilities. We also have some new and exciting products tailor-made for entry-level hiring in the making and we will be launching one early next month. Stay tuned!

Why The Pricebaba Offline Model Failed: Our Learnings And Journey

[This article is a part of our First Person series, in which  entrepreneurs and professionals share their stories about their startups, lives and careers.]

As I sit down to write this blog entry on why our offline model failed, a realization sets in. All the hundreds of conversations with mentors, friends, colleagues and investors across the globe over the last three years discussing this business is now seeing a closure. Yes, at Pricebaba our identity has been connecting local retailers to consumers on the web and after INR 2 crore invested, over 2400 retailers in 15 cities on-boarded, INR 300+ crore worth of inquiries and 86+ million visits on Pricebaba.com, we failed to make a business around this.

Pricebaba founder Annkur Agarwal (Source: myventure.in)
Pricebaba founder Annkur Agarwal (Source: myventure.in)

Some of you probably already see where this is going. Let me put it upfront. We are very motivated by a challenge of solving a real problem, not copy a proven western model and paste it in India with our PR folks cooking up a story around our journey later on. What I am doing with this post is sharing a lot of details about how we did what we did, what we were thinking and decisions we took. Thus, we do not want to be just another name written off the race with a face saving acqui-hire or shut down with vague wordings on our homepage.

Also, before we begin, let’s be clear. Pricebaba.com is a 25-member strong team and I am incredibly proud of what we have done so far and what we continue to work on. Yes, we aren’t dead. I would have said ‘we aren’t dead yet’. It isn’t uncommon for every startup to pitch their venture with such vigour — that their idea will happen and not may happen, no matter how uncertain the outcome. However in the below post, I will keep the pitching hat aside. We are a very powerful team working on a tough problem that accommodates our learnings from running Pricebaba all along. Survived by our user traction and revenues (yay), we are just getting started in our journey to create an impact.

So here is the Pricebaba offline model dissected.

Our understanding of the market before starting Pricebaba

A big belief statement and documented analysis of the market is not how we started Pricebaba in 2012. It was a lot of chaos back then, but decoding now, here is what we spoke about and what we believed. We didn’t see value in just showing online prices from various sites to a user because that just seemed like a very simple problem and had no USP.

  • We believed that people in India use the Internet to research products, but largely shop locally.
  • Discovery of products locally is difficult and business directories do not go to brand level, forget providing product / price level info.
  • Online and offline prices are not on par. We strongly believed back then that offline is cheaper and there are fundamental reasons for the same [1].
  • There is still resistance in people to shop online. Buying a book online vs buying a mobile online are very different levels of commitment.
  • A lot of decision-making happens at the storefront after looking at multiple products and exchanging phones is easier locally.
  • Both online and offline retailers will co-exist for the foreseeable future. Retail in India would be fragmented between these channels and not dominated by just local or online mediums.

What changed

E-commerce boomed right when we started going aggressive i.e. 2013-14. A lot of heavy discounts took place online and it took a good mindshare. This helped us too when onboarding retailers, but the consumer value in what we were doing was often questionable or in doubt.

A lot of smartphones that got very popular started going online-only, which we believe was the biggest push (apart from discounts) till date for consumers moving online to buy smartphones.

A note on our operations:

Before we jump into the business model and product, let’s talk about operations. Everyone assumes that operation-heaviness will be a big obstacle when starting a business like ours. We find that surprising given that folks such as Zomato, Flipkart, Ola, etc. have had to do tremendous amount of operations and field work. In our case, it was still very very limited amount of ground work. Here is how our offline ops worked.

Pricebaba retailer brochure

Our onboarding for retailers was super smooth from day one and launching a city was two weeks effort end-to-end. This included photographing them, geo-tagging (using a web interface or manually entering lat / lan numericals when our browser-based app failed), verification of phone nos, tax registration, etc. A lot of cities initially were launched by interns and we didn’t need any ground presence there post launch. Given our category, number of stores in a city generally ranged from 100-300. While we worked to get all stores onboard, for us a few (two to three) good stores in a given locality of the city was very good coverage for our users.

We rejected a good number of stores mainly due to missing tax registration or because they were not reachable when re-verifying over the phone. We also had a criteria of listing stores that stocked a minimum number of mobile phone brands; the hypothesis was that stores that have more stock are more capable of offering better service and prices to our users.

In the initial days we didn’t have concrete update on what phones the store stocks and certainly didn’t have SKU level updates. We had smart groups for tagging retailers with particular type of phones so that we show their name against a product listing which they were most likely to sell. This was a hack. We looked at trends on how retailers stock products —  this was brand-wise, price range-wise or attribute-wise (like CDMA). The idea was to not aim for 100 percent data accuracy on day one, yet be much better than online directories who just do category-level mapping.

Being in the mobile phones business helped us as we dealt with very few SKUs (top 100 SKUs would easily satisfy 80 per cent of the demand).

Local Stores Listing Pricebaba

Over time, we rolled out web login for retailers and allowed them to update their stock status and price. We also gathered rough estimates for how many days should a price quote be valid for (we also started displaying the last updated data next to the price), for how many products does a retailer needs to update price for most of our users to be happy and how many shops from a city should we target to get price updates. Retailers who were more proactive of course got more inquiries and the algorithm rewarded retailers who updated price more frequently.

One of the things most feared by businesses in this segment is fake price updates from stores. Given our communication and rapport with stores, we did not face this issue in a big way. In our lifetime, we may have banned not more than 2 stores from the platform for misuse. Most errors that happened were due to an extra digit being pressed or missed (1,700 instead of 17,000). That was easy to tackle both during the updation and at the backend. We also built systems to predict if a price was valid or not and had a few minutes of curation effort every day to fix those. Even when managing 15 cities and 500 retailers updating data every month[2], this part of the business never became a big challenge for us.

Pricebaba Retailer Panel

Of course, like everything tech, our technology for local retailers could have been much better; we could have gone multi-category, we could have given an Android app to our retailers too — why didn’t we do it? There aren’t concrete answers for these questions. We wanted to do all of that, but didn’t get there. Specifically, the app for our retailers didn’t look necessary for mobiles as a category and the frequency that we were looking at. We instead tested an app for our field ops to geotag retailers and photograph them. For the most part of our existence we had two full time developers (Tirthesh + 1). So a lot of such efforts to improve our product / ops was done by some awesome interns or simply deprioritized till we had more resources.

The Business

Pricebaba started in 2012 after I moved out of running a tech blog OnlyGizmos to join Tirthesh in this journey of helping our friends shop more powerfully. Given that the top question that always came to me from friends was around finding the right price for a mobile phone, we decided to focus on helping this segment first; hence, the name Pricebaba.

Having started my career in 2002 as a retailer, I had a good hang of the local markets in Mumbai. So there was good amount of confidence on how to digitise these stores and get data from them. There were always open questions about the business and we wanted to organise the data and bring it online to see what impact it had. The mission was to get 1M users a month and then think of monetisation.

Looking back, we could have iterated and tested a lot of things much more quickly. Lack of organisation, planning, funds crunch (until August 2014, we always had a runway of three to six months), technical limitations on the platform, etc. slowed us down significantly. Also, not to forget our blind optimism on the prospect of digitising local retail!

There are several ways of monetising a O2O business like ours.

  • Online directories sell a subscription package that sends leads to paid retailers.
  • If part / full transaction money is being collected online (remember the group buying sites?), a cut can be taken.
  • A listing fee is charged to be listed i.e. become a paid directory with no listings.
  • Charge a fee to promote a retailer over others. Think Google ads on their search results page!

We were open to all of these except taking transaction money at our end. Our belief was to be a RoPo (Research online Purchase offline) player. So becoming a e-commerce player by doing transactions at our end didn’t fit our thinking. We tried all of the other options.

We did charge a subscription fees to a good 9% of our retailers in Mumbai. However, even 10 per cent of 400 retailers paying Rs 12,000 each year (sold as Rs 24,000 with 50 percent discount) wasn’t enough. We wanted to increase our subscription amount per retailer, but that didn’t happen.

Here are some issues in making monetisation work in this business, despite reaching a run-rate of sending ~INR 60 crore worth of leads to local retailers in a single month.

  • Conversion: a two-fold issue

i) When a consumer sees a nearby store and the price mentioned next to it, why would he/she place an inquiry to that store via an online portal? What’s the incentive? The information that a user wants is visible upfront. So, the overall conversion of visitors to leads / inquiries is very low (under 0.5 per cent, though with some optimisations it can go a bit higher).

A common suggestion is to offer users cashback, give an exclusive offer, etc. to make them go via us or come back and report to us. Problem is with the razor thin margins and commission (if at all) paid by a retailer to us, we would be paying from our pocket to fund this gap. There are no special pricing or additional things that a local retailer can give just for a partner like us. They would give that deal anyway to a consumer standing at the store front.[3]

ii) From the number of inquiries sent to a store, the total conversion rate isn’t very high and even the ones that convert are hard to measure. A lot of this conversion also depends on how aggressively and promptly the shop follows up on the inquiry and its price competitiveness.

  • Follow-up strength of local retailers

Stores not following up with consumers is also a very bad experience and that happened with most leads. So, unorganised retailers were not up to the mark. We couldn’t reach a point where we could reward retailers who did better follow-ups.

We started with having an in-house team doing follow-ups on behalf of retailers and helping consumers place an inquiry. But that just didn’t work commercially for a product like mobile phone where margin for both retailer and us is very low.

  • Competition with online players and other local retailers is race to bottom

This one is probably an industry-wide issue. A lot of consumers started coming online to only look for cheapest price, deals, etc. And given we started showing online and local players together, some local players had complains that customers keep calling to ask for discounts or quote online prices. This, of course, happens offline too where walk-ins at the store quote online prices, but phone calls to negotiate the price was something some of our local retailers weren’t happy with.

Somewhere being in a market where ecommerce and online shopping started getting synonymised with deals / free goods / lowest prices, it was hard to acquire organic users with the right mindset. Searching local prices online isn’t an established behaviour and if the motive of that online search for best price is greed, then we were bound to have a tough time serving our local retail partners who have to personally talk to consumers, rather than throw a checkout page at them.

Mistakes?

  • Spoiling retailer habits

We listed both paid and free retailers together. With every retailer starting as a free customer, converting them to paid at a later date was very tough. Some of our team members believed that we shouldn’t have gone multi-city and instead focussed on converting free retailers to paid sooner in each city. Our approach, however, was to get more and more data online till we got enough organic traffic to start making a dent in the retailers’ businesses (and charge them).

Zalani collection

Letting free and paid retailers co-exist with the only benefit for our paying customers was priority listing meant that we sent a lot of leads to retailers who didn’t pay. This was necessary because our paid retailers weren’t always offering a product or even following up with customer leads. So, we gave the user more options. We ended up with cultivating a habit of free with no major push for following up with leads. Somewhere we are today convinced that most local unorganised retailers aren’t in a position to follow-up and convert business inquiries sent to them.

  • Not focussing on repeat users

We didn’t realise how necessary multi-category would be for repeat users. With just one category (mobile phones), our users had no reason to come back to us more than once a year. While we always wanted to go multi-category and were advised for the same repeatedly, somewhere (resource constraint aside) we didn’t prioritise it enough in a race to prove the model with one category first. Also, going multi-category with the RoPo model was far harder than mapping inventories from ecommerce sites.

PS: Fast forward to 2016, as an online price comparison site Pricebaba is now adding new categories every month, Laptops being the first one.

Product challenges

  • App vs Web

We were pretty clear that a web interface works just fine for us, rather than making the user download an app for buying a mobile phone, which is a yearly event at best. We went responsive back in 2012 itself and the site worked great on smartphones. However, some mobile browsers and slow connections needed extra work (especially on heavy pages). An app would have been a must-have for us if we were present across multiple categories and there was a repeat use case.

A counter argument was of course that car portals have an app, then why can’t a mobile phone-focussed product like ours have one as well? We debated, started sketching the app twice but decide against it. Had we gone the app way, we may have had a different experience to share.

Amongst other product challenges, our web-only presence had its own limitations in offering a hyperlocal service to our users.

  • Detecting user location:

One of our challenges was to upfront show users relevant shops from their city as soon as they loaded Pricebaba. And that has never been an easy problem for anyone to solve. We used a service called MaxMind to try and figure a user’s city based on IP, but city-level data in India is hardly accurate. So we had to largely rely on the user’s input.

We began with a Google-powered location box where users can enter their area / pin-code and we can show nearby stores. Later we shifted to our own city and area drop boxes which worked much better on slower connections and improved our conversions.

For sometime we also automatically requested users’ location on mobile web from the browser (required users to give consent) and automatically show nearby stores. However, given that a pop-up would show up the first time a user loaded our site, we did away with it. Had we known that the user was visiting us for only looking up local stores, we could have continued with that browser-based location collection.

  • Showing both online and offline prices together

We had our challenges showing both online and local prices together. Compared to less than 10 online players, we could have as many as 400 local retailers selling a product in a city. How do we show all of this content to our users?

We started with offline listing on top and online sites listed below it, gradually moving to showing both of them side by side. This does get tricky on a mobile screen. Our thesis was to clearly segment users who want to go online vs local. This was partly so because we started with local prices and online was an afterthought.

Ideally, if you know the user’s location (hyperlocal area), you can show two-three local stores with the best price and online stores together. After all, the users wants to know the best price at which they can buy!

  • DND and SMS OTP is a pain

Since collecting phone numbers was our primary way of generating leads for local retailers, we had our challenges with sending messages to customers who are in DND (Do Not Disturb) list. We were a little over-cautious and started with an OTP (One Time Password) before any lead went to a retailer. While the drop off wasn’t very big, it was still hovering around 30%.

It was only much later that it occurred to us that we can always pass the user’s phone number to the retailer; we just needed the OTP verification before we could send messages to the user’s phone number. So we made a system that automatically verified if the phone number provided was valid and sent the lead to our retail partner and gave an optional OTP to the user or a simple opt-out.

What Next?

So what next for Pricebaba? Simply put – Pricebaba continues to exist for improving shopping experience for its users. We are constantly enhancing our product research engine that we have built with all our learnings over the last few years. And of course there are interesting pilots in search of the next big thing ;).

Hat Tip – CleverTap

On product and analytics we must mention that signing up for CleverTap (Wizrocket back then) early on was a great support for us. Founder Anand Jain and the CleverTap team helped us realise our conversion funnels and drop-offs that we were otherwise not looking at very deeply. Today we use CleverTap for a variety of things including saving user preference, conversion tracking, user surveys, targeted emails and notifications.

If there is anything you want to ask, tweet me @annkur and I will try and add it here

[1] Our belief on why offline can be cheaper was based on a simple calculation. For an online marketplace, the payment gateway cost of ~1.5%, delivery & packaging cost and CAC adds up to a minimum 3-5% of the transaction value. Add to that the marketplace commission which can be as high as 7% for mobile phones! A local retailer is happy to make Rs 500 on a Rs 10,000 phone and sell it. And for high-end phones like an iPhone, even Rs 2000 on a Rs 45,000 bill is very good margin for local retailers.

[2] In the initial days we bought leads from other directories and kept the retailers engaged.

[3] Some parts of this is doable with retail chains.

Thanks Tirthesh, Shivam, Nishit, Maneka and Rohan for reading, editing and contributing to this post.

[This author of this post, Annkur P Agarwal, is the founder of Pricebaba.com. This post originally appeared here.]

Paytm’s Horizontal Expansion Continues; Now To Sell Movie Tickets

Paytm doesn’t want to be just another retailer, its CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma had said in an interview recently. He claimed that Paytm’s mission is so “pious and sincere” that he doesn’t like comparisons to Snapdeal and Flipkart. And it’s true – Paytm, being one of India’s foremost e-commerce chains, is charting a path very different from the others in the sector.

After selling hotel rooms, buses, and even gold loans on its platform, Paytm is now going to be offering movie tickets for sale. The company has tied up with PVR, INOX and multiple other cinema houses to sell movie tickets. BookMyShow currently has a near monopoly in this market and sells over 4.5 million movie tickets per month.

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PayTm will work on a commission based model and plans to sell 30,000 tickets by the end of the first quarter with a more aggressive target of 100,000 tickets by the end of the year.

“We will use movie tickets as an anchor to expand our offline reach,” said Vijay Shekhar Sharma.”Our aim is to aggressively expand everyday use cases and cover the whole basket ranging from bill payments to ticket bookings and e-commerce. Let the network effect play (out)”.

The network effects that Sharma is talking about are an increase in the usage of its digital wallet, the product that Paytm is betting the biggest on. Paytm is currently the largest digital wallet operator in the country with over 120 million users, and the company’s overarching aim is to take a majority of everyday transactions online. All its other initiatives seem to be broadly aligned along this philosophy.

But the company is stepping on plenty of toes as it expands horizontally – the bus tickets service it introduced competes with established players like redBus and AbhiBus, and its hotel booking vertical has incumbents like MakeMytrip and Ibibo. While Paytm is expanding into every sector it can lay its eyes upon, it has to be careful about spreading itself too thin.

How The Lack Of Fraud-Free Matrimony Sites Led Me To Build Truejodi

[This article is a part of our First Person series, in which professionals share their stories about their lives and careers.]

Coming from a business background and having managed my dad’s battery manufacturing business at an early age, the passion for entrepreneurship has always kept me asking for more. I love picking up simple problems that haunt the society and give efficient solutions to people, making the world a better place.

The inspiration to start up came when friends and family who used matrimonial sites to seek matrimonial alliances, often cribbed about fakes and frauds on those sites. While matrimony is quite an important life decision, you often get bumped into a lot of fakes. Having seen this happen with close family and friends, I thought that no matrimonial site was looking at authenticating profiles. This led me to build Truejodi – a reliable place to find a 100% verified match.

Product ss

After a lot of research and analysis of the present online matrimony market in India, I’ve understood that most people lost trust in online matrimony due to the increasing number of fakes and frauds lurking over these matrimonial sites. I’ve closely examined what’s missing, what are the problems that are being faced by people who are looking for a probable match online. I’ve realized these problems and decided to provide a solution and built Truejodi.

Truejodi solves a very important problem in online matchmaking.

1.    There are hordes of singles looking for matches online, but are often frauded by fakes due to lack of verifications.

2.    People seeking matches are often scared to ask about their match’s education, age, income, medical records and have to rely on the vocal commitments without any facts.

We are trying to solve this twin problem of removing fakes and bringing in transparency to matchmaking with 9 step verifications and zero-tolerance towards frauds. Users are awarded trust ratings based on the information they verify. This helps others take a better call on their match. Among things we verify are photos, cross verified with valid ID proofs, Education, Income, Address, Phone number and Facebook. We also ask for Medical tests (users have to undergo medical tests at certified labs across India). These prerequisites filter out the spam and fakes from the serious ones.

Our team of 15 comprises of web, app developers, digital marketers, social media specialists, graphic designers, UI/UX designers, moderators, me being the founder & Ceo.

TRueJodi team

Once a user signs up, the next step is an elaborate 9 step verification process where users have to submit their photo ID proof, education, income, address proof, Facebook and mobile number and even undergo medical test before they can enter to find a match. There is an entry barrier for users who do not verify themselves. India is a country with more than 40% of its population around 20 – 35 years in age. Thanks to the high rate of internet penetration in India, most youngsters are glued to the internet and are searching solutions to their problems on the web. Also, it is expected that the internet usage will increase twofold by 2020.

We launched Truejodi in Nov 2015, and in a short span have managed to gather a user base of 4000+ users. Out of these 70% are female users. Our target audience is single Indians who are in age group of 25-35 yrs. This gives us a good vibe and is encouraging.

In terms of growth, we expect to cross 300,000 users by the end of 2016 and help people find true life partners that they truly deserve.

[The author, Ravi Mittal, is the CEO and Founder of TrueJodi]

Uber Bike Taxis Seized In Bangalore As Company Refuses To Comply With Ban

Over 80 bike taxis on the Uber platform have been seized after the company hasn’t complied with Karnataka government’s orders which declared them to be illegal. Uber continues to operates its bike taxis in the city, while Ola, Ridingo and Hey Bob have stopped services.

ubermoto

Uber and Ola had launched their bike services in Bangalore within hours of each other on 3rd March. The service had proved popular, with many Bangaloreans using it to get around the city. But within 2 days of its launch, the Bangalore government had declared the taxis illegal and urged commuters not to use them. While Ola seems to have complied with the request (the bike taxi option is no longer visible in Bangalore on its app), Uber seems to be still continuing the service.

“We have seized close to 80 vehicles, all of which are from Uber,” said Karnataka transport commissioner Ramegowda. “These bike taxis are operating on white board. We’ve asked these aggregators to approach the Road Transport Authority (RTA) and procure the right permissions to operate.”

India’s Motor Vehicle Act doesn’t currently have a provision for two wheelers to be used as taxis. The Karnataka government has said that it could look at allowing two wheelers as taxis on a case-by-case basis as long as such service providers apply for permits. The government is also warned people against using these taxis because being illegal, they will not be covered by insurance in case they meet with accidents.

Uber has a history of being at loggerheads with governments across the world as it tries to get them to accept its innovative forms of transport.

How We Are Building Spinny

[This article is a part of our First Person series, in which professionals share their stories about their lives and careers. If you’d like to contribute, please send a mail to [email protected]]

Spinny’s story started from a conversation over coffee. Ramanshu and I were casually remarking on how many of our friends had bought used cars and how the experience has always been a very complex process. They had to go to a number of dealers, each day just to find the right car. And once this search was over, they had to tackle unreasonable prices quoted by the dealers and even when the price was right, they only got a sense of doubt about the quality of their purchase.

Spinny Founder

Spinny’s founders(From left to right): Niraj, Ramanshu, Ganesh and Mohit 

The used car market had a lot of issues and there was a need to tackle these issues head on. We shared our thoughts with Mohit and Ganesh and all four of us were convinced that this would be our next big venture.

Initially, we conceptualized Spinny as a means to smoothen the transaction of buying used cars. But, as we researched further, we found that the inconveniences and hassles extended beyond buying. It encompassed the entire buying and selling process of any used car. The presence of information asymmetry throughout the market quickly became apparent to us. At this point we knew exactly what Spinny’s aim will be.

Building Spinny

To tackle information asymmetry in the industry, we decided to build Spinny on the pillars of trust, transparency, convenience and standardization in every aspect of the used car industry. This meant creating a comprehensive ecosystem which focused on all the pain points of a used car transaction, be it the payment issues, improper title transfers, right valuation of cars or the total experience itself of buying or selling a used car.

In the 10 months of Spinny’s operations, much of what we had set out to resolve in the used car industry have been addressed. Our services have been refined to deliver a truly unified experience to our customers. Sellers coming to our platform get the advantage of our standardized Price Engine, which is based on a million data points that take into account all the standard aspects of a car’s condition. This makes sure that our sellers get a very accurate estimate of the value of their car that is based on actual tangible data.

Spinny 2015 Milestone

One of the biggest hindrances for prospective used car buyers is the quality and condition of the car itself. In the unorganized used car market, most buyers find out the true condition of the car after their purchase. We’ve brought transparency into this area by developing a standard inspection process that evaluates a car on 200 parameters. Every car listed passes through this rigorous inspection process and the report is readily available for the buyer, so there is never any doubt about the car’s condition. Also, for buyers who are buying their second hand car from another source, such as online classifieds and third party dealers, we launched a pre-purchase inspection service, Spinny Inspect, which offers our thorough inspection process and detailed report to these buyers. Using this service, buyers across the used car market can save themselves from falling prey to certain malpractices in the industry such as meter tampering and refurbished accidental cars. The buyers can also use the included report to negotiate a better deal and make an informed decision before making the purchase.

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In the end though, providing the right services won’t count for much if the customer feels inconvenienced throughout the process. We take great care in ensuring that our customers, buyer or seller, don’t have to do face any of the hassles usually involved. Every step of the transaction is handled by Spinny, be it loan processing, title transfers, or even the delivery of the car. Our entire focus is on providing end to end convenience to our customers.

And the response to our site and services has been phenomenal. Currently, there are more than 3000 cars listed on our platform and 500 satisfied customers. On the operations front, we are handling 300 requests daily while our inspectors inspect more than 100 cars a day. This in itself is more than enough validation that our services and platform are making a difference in the industry.

[The author, Niraj Singh, is the CEO and Founder of Spinny]

The Karnataka Government’s Transport Aggregator Plan

Uber’s been at loggerheads with governments the world over as it aims to radically change how people move around cities. India has been no different – the company was briefly banned in Delhi after a driver raped a woman passenger, and more recently, its bike taxi service, uberMOTO, was declared illegal in Bangalore within 2 days of starting operations. 

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The Karnataka government is now drafting a comprehensive law, called ‘On-demand Transportation Technology Aggregators Rules’, that regulates the vehicle aggregators in the state. Here are some of the salient points of the plan, and how Uber responds to them.

1.The Karnataka government doesn’t like the concept of surge pricing, but Uber disagrees. Uber contends that surge pricing follows the natural laws of demand and supply, and having higher prices brings more cars on the road.

2. Uber has always maintained that it’s merely an aggregator of cabs, and it is not responsible for the behaviour of the drivers on its platform. The Karnataka government doesn’t agree – it wants to make taxi aggregators accountable by withdrawing their license to operate if a driver on the platform flouts any conditions or if a criminal complaint is registered against a driver.

3. The Karnataka government proposes to collect a security deposit of Rs. 10 lakh from firms having more than 10,000 taxis on their platforms, and Rs. 2 lakh for up to 1,000 taxis, which Uber is opposed to. Uber has around 30,000 cabs on its platform in Bangalore.

4. Uber has also argued against the proposal requiring the display of driver details inside the cab. Another point of contention is the draft policy prescribing a panic button inside the cabs for fear of misuse.

5. Uber, however, hails the government’s proposal to allow cabs of any permit, city or state, to offer its services.

6. The company is also supportive of the definition of a taxi as a vehicle with a seating capacity not exceeding six passengers, excluding the driver. The isn’t good news for shuttle service provider Zipgo, whose Tempo Travelers seat up to 10, and was banned from operating in Bangalore recently.

 

It will be interesting to see how the law finally shapes out, but there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that such a law needs to be passed. Bangalore does have a serious traffic problem, and the sooner the ground rules for startups working in the sector are laid out, the better.  

Freshdesk’s New Office In Chennai Is One Part Office, Three Parts Magic

Offices in India, particularly belonging to the startups, are a new way to show you have arrived. Be it the Flipkart office with a Star Wars meeting room, or sleeping pods at Grabon Hyderabad, the new age office has evolved way beyond a collaborative space for teams to work.

Joining the league of startups invoking a “I would love to work there” feeling, is, the customer service and helpdesk management startup Freshdesk’s new office in Chennai. Apart from seriously contemporary international furniture and fixtures, the office boasts of free food, a gym, a table tennis & foosball room and a mini golf course as well. The office is a 60,000 sqft addition to an existing office of the same size, also in Chennai and is the 9th Freshdesk office in Chennai.

Here’s a glimpse into this kaleidoscopic haven.

 

1. This doodle captures the centre guiding principle of the company well.

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2.  These colourful chairs will make you want to never get off your a** and work!

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3.  But swings, because sitting still is so 2015.

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4.  How about this for some mobility?

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5. Just when you want to get away from the monotony of it all and just splash your work day with some colours and more swings.

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7. Look at all those colours, all the shapes, all those shapes in all those colours.

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8.  Thinking outside the box, while inside one.

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9.  And there’s a slide thrown in for good measure! Google who?

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