One of the most innovative company
48th most innovative worldwide company scored by FastCompany in 2012, RedBus is an incredible indian company. Several years ago, on a busy holiday weekend, Phanindra Sama actually ran after some Indian bus operators in a failed attempt to catch a bus home. Now, says Sama, “I’m computerizing the bus industry.” His company, RedBus, spent years unifying the system–bus operators, tickets, travel agents–and this year unveiled an integrated platform that serves more than 10,000 bus routes. Customers can view open seats from multiple operators, purchase tickets, and post ratings. Meanwhile, bus operators can track seat availability in real time, and travel agents can prebook passengers. RedBus tripled sales last year, adding 4.25 million riders.
The founders worked in Bangalore
Like all innovations, redBus has a very interesting story. All the founders used to work in Bangalore at the time (in 2005) – all with top IT MNCs – IBM, Texas Instruments and Honeywell. They were friends from BITS Pilani, one of India’s finest engineering colleges.
During Diwali that year, one of them wanted to spend the festival in his home town. Since he didn’t know his schedule till the end, taking a bus was the only choice. He ran around town hunting for a ticket, but they were all sold out minutes before he reached the travel agents. Bangalore traffic is notorious and can grip you at the wrong time. That’s exactly what happened that day.
That’s when he thought of the possibility of providing consumers the convenience of booking a bus ticket over the internet. The objective was two-fold – to ensure that they don’t have to leave the confines of their comfort to book a ticket, and to help them get a ticket when they need it the most.
Book tickets on Internet
The idea was compelling. And why not? The internet was being voted as a medium people couldn’t do without. PC and net penetration was increasing not only in urban areas, but also in rural India with innovative concepts like Shakti and e-Choupal. Also, people were getting used to booking tickets for travel using IRCTC and private airline websites. So, why not buses?
Nobody in India had already done it!
However, the most compelling reason was that no body in India had done this! So, with these thoughts running through his mind, he bounced initial thoughts off his friends from college. They were excited about the concept too. However, they didn’t want to take the plunge without understanding the feasibility of such an undertaking. They met with various people – bus operators, consumers and venture capitalists – to gauge how well the concept could do.
As expected, they got a favorable response. They started writing the code for the software that would be required to run the operations. Once this was ready, they put together a business plan and presented it to TiE, Bangalore Chapter.
TiE – The Indus Entrepreneurs – are mentors, to say the very least. They breathe lives and hope in to young entrepreneurs who have a working concept. The idea didn’t need much selling to TiE members either. That was the beginning of a seemingly long journey. All the founders quit their well-paying, secure jobs and started redBus.
Not simple to change the mindset of bus operators
Since those days there have been many ups and downs. It wasn’t simple to change the mindset of bus operators who are used to dealing with their traditional brick-and-mortar travel agents. It wasn’t easy to market the concept. It needed time and money. It took a few months for things to fall in place.
All that was needed were a few people who used the website. Once that would happen, the user interface was bound to generate word-of-mouth. That’s exactly what happened. Those who used it liked it, told others and the dominos started to fall in place.
To cut a long story short, redBus has come a very long way from days of struggle to days of growth. It has the largest number of tie-ups (and growing) with bus operators and a large and satisfied customer base. Being run by a team of young people, the culture is informal and everyone is ambitious and charged to make it larger than imagined. What started as a team of three grew into a team of 50 within 9 months.