The world of entrepreneurs is full of people who saw a problem and decided to do something about it. And then there is the world of entrepreneurs who think of doing something but keep thinking. It easy to fall into the trap of wanting to do something and yet not doing it. But what if it had already been tried by a few and a few times but they had all failed? Listen to KNM Rao of Quick Ride talk about going from Farming to Tech Entrepreneurship and putting a dent in India’s urban mobility problem.
It takes unique ability and unique insight to attempt solving the same problem attempted by a few. After all, the world of startups is full of failures. 98% of startups fail and it is said that most of them fail because there was no market need that was felt. Barring the obvious ones that fall into this bucket, how would you know?
You would know by the intensity with which the problem keeps coming at you. And the unique insight that you have developed about that problem. So much so that it refuses to let go of you or you refuse to let go of that. That is the unique insight that KNM Rao had about Quick Ride. Although a techie by profession, everything about KNM Rao and Quick Ride stands in stark contrast with what we usually associate startups albeit scaled up startups with.
From being a farmer and stumbling onto programming by accident, KNM Rao’s tryst with entrepreneurship is full of interesting twists and turns. This is his story. Give it a listen and let us know your take!
By the way, DON’T MISS – We have included a Bonus section at the end of the Episode summarizing many key insights about Quick Ride.
Here are a few key excerpts that you can find in the episode
K N M Rao 1:35
Yeah, so Quick Ride we started with a vision basically to remove the vehicles from the road and to help the tier 1 cities to combat with the traffic congestion and growing pollution. And we started in 2014. Last five years, we have grown to scale that way we are able to do almost 100,000 carpools every day. And so we are a team of close to 200 people now and working across all the metro cities.
Krishna Jonnakadla 3:10
That’s wonderful. So let’s go back to the beginning a little. Carpooling is not a new idea. While in scale, it’s an idea that can impact a lot of people. And also take off the severe stress that our urban infrastructure is in across the country.
What was that moment where you felt personally? Because there have been, like you said, there are carpooling startup, there are companies that are enabling this. How did you rationalize that you could do a better job? And what was that emotional point that caused a trigger that force you to start? Yeah.
Thought Behind Quick Ride
K N M Rao 3:45
So in 2013, I was working in Huawei as a Director, so I have a team and many of my team members I used to see them waiting and the reception for office cab. And they used to wait for a long time. And I also know a couple of them come from the same area.
Then I thought that I wanted to offer, but there is always a hesitation and they also know that I go to the same location, but there is a hesitation. So, I thought there should be a dynamic way instant way to connect the people and where people are going, and they can share the commute.
We also used to face parking issue and there was limited parking, so to get a more convenient parking, we used to race to go to the office early so that we can get a convenient parking which is close to, I mean, where we are working.
Otherwise they used to provide a standard parking somewhere and I used to watch a lot of single driven cars along with me including me at the signal, then the thought came that there should be a way to connect the people and these people have different timings then you should work on different days. So it should work instantly.
Rao’s Humble Background
K N M Rao 8:39
So I come from a farmer family, I used to, I studied most of the time in government schools, and 10 standard and even intermediate in the villages, mostly in the villages. And we used to work in the fields in the morning and evening and only during the time used to go for the College or School. So for the College I was studying, actually we never expected that we will come out of the intermediates we thought that we will close the intermediate will fail intermediate and we will continue in the farming.
Krishna Jonnakadla 12:26
Okay so 16 years is not an easy thing to shake off and say okay, tomorrow I’m going to be in the wild on by my own Yeah. Did any of the farming roots because when you’re in the farm, you’re close to nature. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about how gardening tells you a lot about life right because you sow hundred seeds and not all the hundred grow.
Yeah, and about 20 grow initially and eventually in the 20 some again die some that you don’t expect to grow actually end up growing. But it also teaches you patience. So did any of your farming roots have anything to do with any of the jump that you took?
K N M Rao 13:09
Yeah, I think it has given me required risk appetite. If you look at it many times when I was farming also we used to farm very carefully from the beginning and when it was about to get the yield we used to get the cyclones, floods and used to lose all that but at the same time still with the fresh energy we used to s start next year again, right with a lot more hard work lot more hope we got a nice to start.
I think that is the risk appetite. And then we really see the youth coming and we also feel we cherish that success, whether we got the best yield out of the whole village or not we used to compete lacking on it. So I think that has given it required a risk appetite and also to work hard and be persistent. Got it.
K N M Rao 16:53
Okay. So we didn’t follow the MVP model.
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K N M Rao 23:59
Yeah. Whenever we ask anyone to do carpooling, the first question is the trust, the first question is still that trust and there are a lot of assumptions also.
Krishna Jonnakadla 25:40
Some of these things can work at scale. Yeah, so once you have say 5000 riders and 5000 rides, then these things are ratings, but now the initial, let’s say the zero to 500 or zero to thousand. Yeah, that journey must have looked very different. How was that?
K N M Rao 34:13
I think the reason we came so far is also because of the user’s.
K N M Rao 52:27
It took some time for people to understand. See, people always say that carpooling is good, but it’s not for me. My timings are different, my route is different.
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carpooling, people, users, company, sequoia, startup, support, marketing, carpool, thought, product, journey, day, talk, personally, road, scale, bangalore, founders, create
Krishna Jonnakadla, KNM Rao, Nida Sahar
Krishna Jonnakadla 00:01
This is Maharajas of Scale. The podcast where we go behind the scenes and talk to founders were demolishing the myths around building and scaling a big business in India. These are the stories that have shattered the assumptions around Indian consumers and are changing the game completely. I am Krishna Jonnakadla, serial entrepreneur, co founder of FLIT the fashion located in town and startup mentor bringing you these stories. Hey everyone, this is Krishna Jonnakadla from Maharajas of Scale. We have a very interesting founder and a startup Quick Ride of Bangalore which is powering about hundred thousand shared rides across the country and doing a fabulous job. I'm today here with KNM Rao, the CEO and founder of the company who is a very humble man and Rao, Welcome to the show.
KNM Rao 00:58
Thank you. Thank you Krishna. Yeah Thank you for this opportunity. It's my pleasure to be on the podcast.
Krishna Jonnakadla 01:04
Wonderful. So now tell us about yourself and tell us about what you're working on right now.
KNM Rao 01:10
Yeah. So, clarity we started with a vision basically to remove the vehicles from the road and to help the Teir one cities to combat with the traffic condition and Growing pollution and we started in 2014. And last five years, we have grown to escape that way. We are able to do almost 100,000 carpools every day. And so we are a team of close to 200 people now and working across all the metro city.
Krishna Jonnakadla 01:37
Wonderful. Tell us some interesting numbers about Quick Ride that does justice to the scale that you have achieved so far.
KNM Rao 01:47
Great. So Quick Ride, today. If you look at the top 10 companies are we are eight of the top 10 companies we are solving for carpooling, we are the really carpooling platform. For a lot of top 10 companies and when you get into more into the data for example, so we have we we are the largest carpooling platform in the 3 billion car carpoolers, which includes some bipolars as well. And good part is the carpooling is there for many years. But carpooling on Quick Ride, We see a continuous phenomenon that various regularly we see the people doing it as part of statistics. So we have more than I lack users across 7000 companies, different companies will have completed 100 carpooled city. So, in your vehicle card, help seeded the carpooling culture in almost 7000.
Krishna Jonnakadla 02:45
That's wonderful. So let's go back to the beginning, the little carpooling is not a new idea. While in scale, it's an idea that can impact a lot of people and also take off the car stress that our urban infrastructure reason across across the country. What was that moment where you felt personally? Because there there have been, like you said, there are carpooling startup, there are companies that are enabling this. How did you rationalize that you could do a better job? And what was that emotional point that caused a trigger that forced you to start?
KNM Rao 03:20
Yeah. So in 2013, I was working in wwami as a director, so I have a team. And many of my team members, I used to see them waiting in the reception for office cab, and these to eat for a long time. And I also know a couple of them come from the same area that I thought that I wanted to offer, but there is always a visitation and they also know that I go to the same location but there is a visit. So I thought there should be a dynamic way instant way to connect the people and where people are going, and they can share the commute. Also, we also used to face parking issue and many sort of limited parking. So to get every more convenient parking, we used to race to go to the office early so that we can get a convenient parking which is close to them, I mean where we are watching otherwise they used to provide a standard document somewhere and I used to watch a lot lot of single driven cars along with me including me at the signal then the thought came that there should be a way to connect the people and these people are how different timings then you should work on different days. So, it should work instantly, then I then I thought there should be a car pooling application which should work instantly in real time, you should tell that these are the other people going and they are also the same company. That's how the.com thought came, then how they can share the cost on how they can rotate the carpooling contribution converted and these are the money so these are the ideas came when I seen that I thought that this idea if we can make it into reality, it can really it has many benefits to the society as enough money. The benefits like reducing the traffic and police And that is in the fuel consumption got it now and feel that way we can contribute to the economy as well. And also the comfort of the people or the comfort of the team. So when we started thinking about that it is almost like six to eight months we keep on the I keep on thinking but but a you know that it's coming out of the comfort of the corporate job so difficult. So, to make a decision, we took more than six to eight months then during this process, I also check it out that carpooling is not new, but many people tried in the past and there were many applications also that time also act too. Then I have studied about them why they're not getting the scale right and and getting success. So mainly two reasons I have merely to raise Part Two reasons I identified. One is that technology is not complete, but technology is very inefficient or incomplete. We can say if a car owner has to carpool, if your car owner has to start carpooling, he doesn't want to take an inconvenience you want Help people, you want to get a good, feel good about it, but at the same time that he doesn't want to do want to go to a lot of manual process coordination, calling the people waiting for other people, but he's fine if he if everything is taken care by something else. But the carpooling solutions, which were there were very incomplete and got it now, and very, under a lot of wrong assumptions. They were built on the wrong assumptions and they were not customizable, they were not suiting to the flexibility they were not fit. And I thought that there's a good scope for the technology usability wise on so many of them, they also they were marketing, the carpooling application. Of course, carpooling is for b2c, but at the same time the strategy which they should choose for carpooling is different, the marketing was not aggressive enough and it was not focused enough on it was not having a good strategy. So then I thought that okay, this the problem, maybe I should solve it and then I discuss with my co founder also show gonna show now is working with me once in a while me And she has read and print and started.
Krishna Jonnakadla 07:03
Very interesting. Yeah. So I will come back to the marketing aspect of it. All startups need marketing. There's no doubt about it, because we're all doing something cool. And we believe the world needs to know about it. And the way we solve that marketing problem fundamentally defines the product is one aspect of it. And marketing is the other aspect of it. Usually, we think it's 80-20. You can get the product, right, but you can get the marketing wrong and still fail, but you could get the product somewhat right. And if you get marketing completely right, you will still succeed is that is what we have seen. Right. So we'll come back to the marketing track a little later. Let's go into your own personal background. Is this your first entrepreneurial venture?
KNM Rao 07:46
Yeah, this is a plasto enterpreneurs journey. Yeah. And, yeah, I'm not from a family of enterpreneurs. So I came from farmer family.
Krishna Jonnakadla 07:58
KNM Rao 07:59
So I was a farmer During college days.
Krishna Jonnakadla 08:01
So where did you do all of your schooling and your college?
KNM Rao 08:03
In Andhra Pradesh near the Vijayavada village.
Krishna Jonnakadla 08:06
Okay. Okay, wonderful. Your family is into farming?
KNM Rao 08:09
Krishna Jonnakadla 08:10
KNM Rao 08:11
And they still continue to farming.
Krishna Jonnakadla 08:13
So how did you end up in technology?
KNM Rao 08:15
So I come from a farmer family, I used to, I studied most of the time in government schools, and 10th standard and even intermediate in the villages mostly in the religious and we used to work in the fields in the morning and evening. And only during the time we used to go for the college or school. So for the college better I was studying Actually, we never expected that we will come out of the intermediates. We thought that we will close the intermediate, we will fail intermediate and we will continue with for me so it's luck. We can say I passed out I was the only one person passed out in that batch in that government Junior College in brother Parker in Ghana. And then for the marks which I because I passed out I wanted to continue for the month, which I got I think only the nearby going in college can can most of the courses like engineering engineering, I was not even aware I have not even written the inset or something and I had to study BSc and BSC, normal BSC, I will not get the seat. But fortunately there is a one bc computer science course that started only in that year, because it started in only in that year, not many know, and I applied for it and I thought on my life, I become more interested in programming and coding. Maybe I have that skill I used to do very good programming is to continue my fee forming work during the weekends and study past ODBC computer science, then BSc computer science and the next one is the MCA. Otherwise we don't get the MCA have written that I studied well, and MCA was a college topcoder the university taught in another university and the reason is, I could pick Programming very, I used to do very, very good programming is to tie it up a bit. So when kamado completed MCs being a topper in the college in fact, my father went to receive the certificate and he was very happy and he was a farmer. It was very happy. So then I got into companies like the Vipro, working with Vipro, Phillips and Cisco, Kwame finally. So when I came to Bangalore and also my English used to be very, very poor. So most of the written test that I'm lot of pressure tests used to be, they used to conduct most of the written tests, I used to clear and I used to fail in the personality. And fortunately they happen with....
Krishna Jonnakadla 10:38
Those failures have actually channeled your ambition into. So that's fantastic. So as you were going through this journey of evolving into a technologist was there the the and you must have seen people around you start start things because a lot of initial founders in India, were all tech Right, even even today to a great extent they are so till you came up with a quick right idea good entrepreneur being of becoming an entrepreneur ever enter your mind at all as a thought?
KNM Rao 11:11
There always used to be a thought that I want to do something my own. I want to do something my own. I used to think that after five years, 10 years or something like that, but when the idea of carpooling came, then it become reality. And you so you resonated very deeply with the idea. Yeah, there is a problem. That's what's Yeah, that's a problem. Yeah, I could I think I could connect with the problem very, very bad. And I used to reinforce my idea every day thinking about and I think carpooling idea is what made me to create and I mean, it has given enough push to create the comfortable job in comfortable responsibilities.
Krishna Jonnakadla 11:51
Very interesting. So from a financial perspective, let's let's talk about that. jump from a corporate career. How long was at corporate we are 10 years?
KNM Rao 11:59
So i have done 16 years corporate, okay before.
Krishna Jonnakadla 12:03
Okay so 16 years is not an easy thing to shake off and say okay tomorrow I'm going to be in the wild on by my own Yeah. Did any of the farming roads because when you're in the farm you're close to nature. And I've seen a lot of people talk about how gardening you know, tells tells you a lot about life right now because you saw hundred seeds and not all the hundred grow you know and about 20 grow initially and eventually in the 20 some again die some that you don't expect to grow and if we end up growing, but it also teaches you patience. Did any of your farming growth have anything to do with any of the jump the jump that you took?
KNM Rao 12:44
Yeah, I think I think it has given me the required raise capital. Yeah. If you look at it many times when I was farming also, we used to farm very carefully from the beginning and when it was about to get the yield used to get the cyclones fan clouds and used to lose all that but at the same time still with the pressure energy we used to talk next year again with a lot more hard work lot more hope you got a nice to start. I think that that said he's got written he got it and then we really see the youth coming and we also feel we cherish that success whether we got the best you know, tough the whole relays are not we used to compete lacking on it. So I think God has given us required his capitate and also to work hard and be persistent. Got it.
Krishna Jonnakadla 13:30
Interesting. So let's talk about the beginning itself. So when you started Quick Ride, how did the founding team come together very old working in the same company, was it you and Shogana are first that started it and Navin and now he didn't everyone else joined? How was that?
KNM Rao 13:47
So my son fun chauvinists talked it to be recruited a couple of freshmen and I have it done my money for 16 years, whatever it been, I hope it is all the same money we have used and we used to be very free. And all of us used to do coding, a lot of you used to do development. And if there is a marketing campaign, even all engineering team, everyone used to go and do that at the beginning. So that's how, yeah,
Krishna Jonnakadla 14:11
How did you find your other co founder?
KNM Rao 14:13
So over the period, I think, Navin initially. The first one is I met Naveen. I wanted someone who can help me with the design of that. And then I posted on LinkedIn that I was not having sufficient money. Then I used to meet him every Sunday morning at HSR. Park near to his house and he used to share the idea and he's to give me the design and then the style. He also started liking down yet and then I after October, enough here and after initial version, it then I invited him to join full time content, then came on board. And during those days, it was more of passion, which was helping us and I was to be frank, I was actually giving very small fees to you He also likes them. Yeah. And that's how he started contributing his own countrymen. And then I invited him to come on board when we started senior of patch, and the other co founder is Michelle. So he was my customer. And he was one of the first customer from magnetic Park. And Michelle started doing carpooling, I and I used to see him in the car folder, and I used to meet him. And he used to give a lot of suggestion. And then he also helped me to do that in IBM, to get the IBM whole company approval. And then after some time, then I again invited him and he also started liking carpooling at a quick ride. And he used to work part time also to support preterite, initially for some days, is to take care of the customer support for Sunday and help prepared in many ways later, I invited him to join for the time, then he come on board.
Krishna Jonnakadla 15:51
Very interesting. So let's dive into the initial user acquisition thought of when How long did it take for you to launch your first so you spoke About one, the app interface being intuitive so that it doesn't make the person that is giving the right you know, jump through multiple who can create one, right? So obviously, it means there has to be convenience both for the person who's writing and the person who's actually giving them. Right. Right. So the first version of the app, the MVP, as it as you know, popularly called, How, how long did it take you to launch it? And how long did it take you to get in first year?
KNM Rao 16:28
Okay, so we didn't follow the MVP model. I, in my mind, I have a vision that the carpooling app must how these features should connect them in real time, it should tell who is who profile, who is to who need to help them to coordinate, so that if I have a four people in my carpool, I do, I should not tell all one by one. They should be a group chart but should be dynamically created from tonight. So coordinate and it should help them to kosher but it should not be a cash. I should RBA payment directly to the bank, it should be a legally compliant way, where in a normal way, I hope people can share the fuel expense, I hope people can share the experience should be got me. So I wanted this end to end to be complete. But one is we should help them in real time to kind of identify who is going. It's called discovery call, it's a discovery and help them to connect by sending invite and accepting it. I heard them to coordinate seamlessly so that I know exactly where is the car, I don't need to go and wait. Or if I want to tell I'm late, I can tell them in the core group charters, and we should help them in car sharing legally. And when I say legally compliant way, I have to tie up with fuel companies and the whole process to time management. So we spent more than a year a year to develop the postulation. In fact, we also I also don't want to spend all the money. Maybe I could, if I hired a very high end experts, but we are some of us learned Android and then started coding. So it took some time. And I didn't want to double deliver, release this version without any of these important core features, which I believe and which is, which is required for complete carpooling, automation seamlessly so that car owners feel that there is no hassle in car.
Krishna Jonnakadla 18:16
Interesting. So I'm, so I'm going to ask a related question. And this is not the first time I'm actually going through a use case right now where the talk process is somewhat similar. So there is this whole MVP model, right? So there's so many beliefs and myths that sort of speak in the startup arena. But I feel there are certain use cases where the need is no longer related, you know, which means it is not heated. It is really wide out in the open. Yes. So other startups that are trying to solve the problem is proof enough. You know that there is pent up demand for it. It is not even later created demand. It's pent up demand. So would you say that when there is pent up demand, instead of going the MVP route You would rather just go the full product route. And then and then say this is exactly how we're going to do it as opposed to doing MVP is that sort of the rationalization that you did when you came up with this?
KNM Rao 19:09
Exactly. So, before starting the company Yeah, as I mentioned that I already studied about available carpooling application. So those are like Mbps which are available. In fact, I met some users I still have that survey form. I met the users have other application and I met them in their offices when they are and ask them why it is not scaling up What do you feel that is how I think I may be is already done by other we can say that and secondly, I really want to make it a hassle free when I want to make it massively I wanted certain feature body and those features without completing I didn't want to go tomorrow. I have ensured all are completed and then went to of course maybe if I have more resources I could have but I also want to be frugal. I want to be spent very comfortable and go and stick to the game for a long time.
Krishna Jonnakadla 20:00
So how long did it take for you to get your first user?
KNM Rao 20:03
So first user, I think, okay, so the first campaign, which I did the first real user, yeah. first real user. So after we launched it in our apartment, we started the campaign, we went to door to door and told them about the product and made them to download. I think the first user is maybe what you put in three, four days. So that's good. There were many other users but they were not finding the carpools. But I say fast, use a fast carpool God. The first carpool is after the complete XP or three week time, within a week, we done that. But before that, when we launched, we, of course, put it on social media and tell it to our friends, they download it, but really, carpooling did not happen. And in the carpooling, it is actually it's not like someone orders and I can manufacture it and deliver it. It's not like the real carpooling means both the demand and supply need to be traveling on the same time. We should confined to people living at the same area, what can get the same area and they are agreed to try their travel at the same time and they agreed to share they should be agreeing to so it's a more complex than any other marketplace. Right? It's a both aside demand and supply is you cannot fix any of them, they have to be matched in real time, there has to be matching that brand they have to be convinced to to share with each other. It's not like automatic or in case of any other marketplace. If you can take it an e commerce, I can buy a computer inventory of the products but and I can put it and I can deliver it whenever they mean that there is at least
Krishna Jonnakadla 21:37
in the demand and supply, but in this case, the demand and supply have to be near real time. Yeah, for
KNM Rao 21:43
me it is fix it also. I can also fix it. I can bind hundred units of your product and I can advertise and I can deliver it right. It's a guarantee. But here, you need to find the carpoolers who are living in the same area traveling to same place, same time and they should agree to share The personal preferences house should match. So it's a multi complex market. But at the same time, the good part is like it's a very economical night. No, I don't need to deploy any asset. I don't. It's not operation heavy internet. It's, it's a technology which can do.
Krishna Jonnakadla 22:15
So let's talk about that trust building factor. Yeah. A little bit, we just agreeing to share means, you know, they trust each other right now. There is this, I think an American anthropologist called Edward Hall, who categorizes India as a high context society, in a high context society people are trust is based very casually. So for instance, if you had a friend and somebody came to the recommendation of a friend, you said, You trust that person can very, very quickly, right. And it's almost like let him break my trust and then I will start doubting him, but till then, he sort of has implicit trust and, and he has more of a family driven society, right. And we have our own communities, we have our own complexities, so I always put personally felt from my days in the US that a carpooling concept and and also if we heard back to the days you know our own younger days we would we would all pull in you know a family would have no car would have like 10 1215 members and we will take another person maybe next door neighbor as well. So, I always thought that email high context society like ours the trust building aspect should happen rather quickly. And therefore a carpooling application should work for a variety of cultural reasons. Did you? Did you discover that and how did that initial trust building process?
KNM Rao 23:34
Yeah, whenever we ask anyone to do carpooling, the first question is the trust the first question is still the trust and they also there are a lot of assumptions and so in that order, so to build that trust, basically, we started company bacon, and we started telling that Okay, these people are even one company employed, so would you mind so they say that how do they share with the community for example, how do they share with you Was changes I don't and I tell them that I verify them and confirm that these are your own company employee then can you share start sharing then to others ladies to target ladies For example, we are given same gender, they can also limit same gender there are many, many women are driving the cars, so they can offer the car pool to other women employ a colleagues. So we started giving them and also we don't assign a carpool or dining directly we give them options and we let them choose when they start choosing about it. So we provide them all the quality information like this person walks into company disability client, and this many carpals have been deterred. And this is the rating then they start making the they started making decision from the choice. The choices also helps providing creating the confidence. So then word of mouth hope. Initially we start we focused on company by company, and we used to tell them that it's your own company employees we verify them and You can be given them to cater subnetwork, like same gender, carpooling networks. And we also given them a lot of information, a lot of choices to make choose their own choice. And then through word of mouth, it started creating.
Krishna Jonnakadla 25:16
So some of these things can look at skip. Yeah. So once you have there to 5000 riders and 5000 Drive characters, then these things are ratings, but now the initial, let's say the zero to 500 or 0 to thousand Yeah, that journey must have looked very different. How was that?
KNM Rao 25:31
Yeah. So I think Yeah, credit card billing did not happen in other we started in 2015. September. I think that first whole month we are done only 42 car, whole month. You could only afford it. That's because of the size. But it has grown up in 2016. Hold 2016 and so we spent and maybe we were doing only 2000 capital per day may enough to determine so that but we will persevere and we used to we also use retargeted large company I knew that I had to target large, large companies took a lot of time to get approval because although there is no cost involved there's no liability involved. But when you you're a new company new startup going and talking to the company like Wipro, it took a lot of time to get approved. So we used to do with apartment and now it was not getting the scale. It was not getting required. So we'll live in the big company like we pro and Cognizant we could get back to work then we have done a very focused have been in the same place like we were president only has maybe 10,000 employees. So we tend to focus a campaign past to be result was maybe couple of carpools on the we are not given up, then we continue second week, third week, fourth week, then third week onwards for you the whole thing gotcha. The even the four or five people who are completed carpool, they used to share the news to other people. And we also used to spread that we also really recognize them and we would also plus system, and we proved that that. In fact, they never seen any startup to So long, I mean, persistently doing. But I was with a commitment that like out of 10,000 people, at least minimum 2000 people should come on quick, right? And only carpooling will happen because then the network effort will come and more option teams, we would persistent and it has given me.
Krishna Jonnakadla 27:17
Let's talk about your bootstrapping journey of it. It's not common to find especially high frequency high intensity use cases like yours, stay away from funding for that long, right. And that also means that there is a core personal philosophy within the founding team saying, Let's build this differently. And let's build this for the long term. So were you always driven personally, was it always a choice to bootstrap as father as you could? And talk about that book?
KNM Rao 27:47
Yeah. So when I wanted to start its old form. I was. I thought that I should do not give up default two years and I should have a fund sufficient for a minimum to hear Then I made that sufficient point. And then I was always focusing on product, full time focusing on product, spending more time on product. And then once the product is ready full time focusing on customer go into different companies trying to get approvals and making the approval, utilize it value very well by effort to campaign talking to the customer supporting them. We were always busy with product, customer support customer acquisition, and these hours, and we were not really looking for the funds. We know that we thought that if the product is very good, it fit to the market and customers spread the word and then automatically at one point of time, anyone investors can come automatic and we also want a thought that it must mean should come from them or they should come to so you got it. Let's do our good job. That's the kind of philosophy and fortunately the fund which I planned which it came up almost three years then after That in fact, my friends supported they seen some traction, they seen my commitment, then they them support a little bit within the fence. And I think the Sequoia, the Sequoia started showing interest when we started doing almost 12,000 carpools quality, that is almost after three and a half years, and they didn't invest because the reason is many carpooling startups fail in the past. So at the last meeting, they said that we still, we appreciate your work, be a good traction, but we still believe that carpooling may be a niche segment, got it. It may not get the required scale or some, but after three to four months, within three to four months, we also made a very good progress. After three to four months again, Sequoia heard about us through customers through different channels. Then they came again and they did this If so, but till that time, we were completely bootstrapped and a little support from my friends. After three years, and we were also even, we were also committed. And by that time we were operationally coming to be breakeven, personally, we are getting breaking.
Krishna Jonnakadla 30:10
So a lot of people who start as founders don't understand that co means Steve, everything. And I have I say this, when I recruited my first set of employees, I would say, those of you who've worked in the corporate world, if we order pizza, and none of us have thrown the box the following morning, it will still be there. Because the invisible stuff that actually came up on the pizza boxes no longer existed a startup scenario. Yeah. So that support system that we all take for granted when we come from establish jobs in corporate doesn't exist in a startup. You are everything. Yeah, right. And you wear multiple hats. Yeah. And did was that something that you also went through in your initial journey?
KNM Rao 30:54
I went through but I went through very happily, it has given very satisfied Melody do customer support mail I used to write a very passionately the kind of response I used. And most of them used to operate on it when I saw when we were doing these multiple walls, there's a kind of a lot of satisfaction, I feel a lot of satisfaction and the good thing is see I was not a marketing person I was not a salesperson got it. But when I did that work and for my own company and I see the way we do is also different passion, different observation. So it helped me later to train my all function very well when someone joins now sales I know how the sales force someone joins finance and so I normally hold on basic finance couple ultimately have to organize that thing. So customer support, same way how to write the mail to keep giving them some case study. This helps a lot so at the beginning we should be ready to do everything even. So I didn't make the quote algorithm of quick ride the route matching part is done by me and got it and that I have recording and testing. And that still runs and got it. And that still runs so, and that has given me a lot of satisfaction and got it. And same way. recruitment, many of the people who are working now I have recruited and wanted to call them source the resume. So it is. So it's a, it's a great experience, being able to do multiple finance learning. And then when learning because there is a passion, by default you have, you will be able to do much better, a much better quality. And later when the company has to scale. We still know all functions, how they work, and we still can guide them and give them courage and give them some lessons we learned. We learned that helps.
Krishna Jonnakadla 32:40
Interesting. So let's all of this. I have a notion and and I was pleased to actually see that validated by none other than Google. If you if we take Google's guiding principles a lot. The very first principle says focus on the user. Yeah, and everything else will take care of itself. Right. I've, I've seen historically that even startups, many startups do not do this very successfully though. Firstly, first sight of success and the user is abandoned. And we hide behind our offices, and we hide behind, you know, fancy charts and stuff like that. Right. But I believe no matter what level of scale, you already know, being out there in the trenches, understanding users, because your users change, the first set of users that have a different set of motivations, and then the users that come later have a different set of motivations, right? And the bigger you get, the less emotionally involved the users become. And therefore, you there is always a constant need for you to be out there in the market. And I don't mean that as a negative constantly but wonderful passion, right? And what is your approach to you know, the user and, you know, learning about you?
KNM Rao 33:49
I think that the reason we came so far is also because of the users that we wanted. I mean, that the winner I we used to interact very personally. We used to interact with them at the same time, I mean when we do the come carpooling awareness companies to interact personally and whenever they have an issue with to interact with them no one so all nine cities I have pop users WhatsApp pop users or they have called Quick road top users WhatsApp groups we have and very actively whenever they report a solution, whenever they report issue, we reply directly the city head and myself also reply directly communicate and we often meet them. And I think most of the innovation, maybe 2015 pastilla is was mine my thought process and my team process, but team ideas, but after that, whatever the innovation we are done later, most of it is driven by the user, they have suggestions, their feedback, we respond very positively and many of the users in Bangalore recognize me now. And they they also know that they also feel that because it belongs to them. cried it Not just a product, some product, it, they want the product, there are many people they want the product. Got it. So I think with a close communication, close support engagement, thanking them and listening to them know that we have been able to do good product at the same time good good as a royalty of users, our ownership of lawyers, ownership of our users for the product. And we are very honored to although we are into the market for a long time now. So at this point of time, for example, every city we have in top groups like Gordon, and all the top users we responded.
Krishna Jonnakadla 35:42
I'll take a slightly different track and we'll cover rolling over in order to elephants in the room. But for context, and if we get out in Bangalore, perhaps Bangalore has the worst traffic of India right now. Given the amount of vehicular congestion that exists. Karnataka has about two points. One crore registered vehicles out of which close to one crore are there in Bangalore alone. While the official data suggests it's like 80 lakhs here tonight, but if I take in all the unofficial vehicles and all of them, it is close to a curb. even assuming every vehicle spends about 100 rupees per day, we're literally talking hundred crores on transportation, which I feel is on the lower side. Yeah. And on a monthly basis that is literally 3000 crops. Yeah. So the first phase of the value of Metro actually took was slated to be 11,000 gross, and eventually it got finished at 15,000. So if we take it at a grace city level, that is equal to five months of the city's expense, yep. Right. And I was recently talking to another entrepreneur Cory RDD. well below resorts where they are taking smaller resorts in smaller towns and then creating a local economy economy around it where the model is perfect for developing country. I personally feel given the lackadaisical approach of the govt has to urban transportation and urban mobility, Quick Ride works like a charm. And not everybody can afford a cab, right? Yeah. And all of the surge pricing, which are mostly developed and evolved economy, you know, models are possibly not completely relevant here. So therefore quick ride should work bang on, and which means it should get legislative support. So let's talk about the legislative angle. How is the government support? How is the legal area around this? We've seen governments will flip flop Some say we love it, some say we hate it, and they keep changing their position after what what is that? What sort of environment are you seeing there?
KNM Rao 37:39
Yeah. I think that carpooling requires a lot more support for the kind of impact it has a kind of party to think it has on the society economy. First of all, carpooling and taxi, if you look at it, you got it. In taxi, you are adding your motivator to the road you are adding one more Baker to the road and providing in carpooling a distinct vehicle already going making I made identifying empty seats and making them available for other people who are either taking their vehicle or looking for another vehicle got it. So, it is completely I mean eco friendly and less vehicles on the road for the kind of impact it has a kind of positive impact it has everything like people who are offering people who are taking roads, society everything, we should get a lot more support, but we have seen that governments have been talking about it saying that you do carpooling. Even the Prime Minister has mentioned that carpooling is one of the important things and traffic policies carpooling, but action wise, they can be laughed more, they can be more implementable actions. For example, they can, they can try. They can, they can take up the carpooling program in a big way and they can involve all the enterprises and tech pounds. Start putting programming every company and they can incentivize little bit the conceit incentivize on parking spaces are it can be on the insurance fees or whatever the registration fees are road tax or whatever, if they can incentivize positive at least if they can start take it as a program government program and involve all and big companies and take parts and they can be a lot more result and that result will help government only because if if you have to cater to this one core vehicles for you are talking either you need to build a large infrastructure, which will take a lot of time, a lot of money. But there is an easy fix that easy fixes carpooling. And if a government can take it up as a program, saying that let's do carpooling as a major program in Bangalore and may involve all the enterprises or tech parks on the commuters regarded encourage them. I think we can get today we are doing close to 60,000 carpooling down Do we can make six lakh carpoolers pila capital Very good, very good. So, we are getting a reason, nominal support, but they can be lot more competitive considering the impact and shared mobility. People talk about shared mobility. Everyone claims we are shared mobility solution, but what is the shift through shared mobility? What is concerning us is road space. So, what can we do model which mobility model helps sharing the road space is carpooling and public. Yeah, no all other side only a section. If you talk about a taxi, you are Hi, I'm hiding and you're hiding after that. But there's no sharing of the road space. There is no sharing of the fuel condoms about it. But carpooling works on all the dimensions in the best way. Like whether it is a road space and a fuel consumption, parking space and acid, all the dimensioned carpooling scores the best so we are looking forward for government block more support, I mean, much better engagement and support.
Krishna Jonnakadla 41:05
So having Sequoia as the main investor or as the first institutional investor is a big word of confidence, so it means a huge stamp of approval because Sequoia up while they're invested in a variety of spaces, this means that there is that legitimacy it gives that although personally, as a founder, I do not accord much legitimacy to funding base legitimacy. User Love is the first legitimacy right? And funding base legitimacy is maybe a proxy for for that. So with Sequoia being there, and Uber and Paula also being in on the other side, do you see Uber and Ola as competition? Or do you see them as enabling different use cases versus you will see them as complimentary or as competition?
KNM Rao 41:56
Um, yeah, it is certainly a complimentary thing. A person who is a taxi is for different different purpose for example, an Uber and roll up a temporary provides taxi from door to door and anytime of the time anytime of the day. But carpooling is mostly due to the during the peak hours and for all fees commuters and then you also have some last minute connectivity challenges. Sometimes we also see our users they take carpool till from the monitor to cardi B Sally from Caribbean holiday. Take a Uber to go to the inside. Today. Today home right on it. So it will complement certainly it will complement Yeah. So yeah. Now we have actually three investors, Sequoia came in city ca and naspers and venture hybrid also Sequoia funded in.
Krishna Jonnakadla 42:52
And what sort of mentors or support system have you cultivated in order outside of obviously the investors do Have a set of advisors they come with you personally in your first first few years and otherwise, what sort of support system Did you cultivate? So you could if you had some key questions, if you were sort of stuck somewhere you would go and ask, do you have a support.
KNM Rao 43:14
So what one you like a lot of support system in Charlotte, maybe I hope I have used I have used it at limitedly. But the lot of support system available in now. One one forum I have used is very much as NBC NBC NASSCOM product complaint which happens every year I used to attend. And every year we used to see some progress in the past year I was at thought process I can do I have to leave the product. earlier. Maybe we got the product showcase award for the year we got our emerging 50 startups got it. So I used to listen to the talks and get motivated and a lot of insights and a lot of startup journeys inside is to get motivated and that helps a lot and after the series here guidance from Sequoia after series vicodins from Nazca, sorry, naspers and vinted high they also involved with, and they see a lot of startups. And they keep giving the suggestions and required candidates in the industry. And that helped him.
Krishna Jonnakadla 44:13
And so we will focus a little bit on the users and the marketing. But he now alluded to earlier. Have you seen a change in the type of the user? Or have you seen the same kind of users scale up now that when you started the first 500,000 different set of users, because no matter what you build, there will always be early adopters for certain things. And then you'll have different set of users. Have you seen that happen?
KNM Rao 44:39
Yeah, of course. Yeah. So when we have done the campaign in Nice to see only the initiators, not the early adopters, only maybe eight to 10% to join moderated then always there are some followers got it. No backbenchers have anything. I think we see that followers are coming up now very much and also the use case is spreading. Initially, we targeted only enterprises and tech. Now that is spreading to colleges college, not a lot of students are using the platform. And government office, government employees are using media. People are using journalists are used doctors are using, we've seen some doctors offering the rights and right. And so it's spreading to the other segments. And according now people also use not just for office going, even if they want to go to hit for their use quick drive. And even they want to go to the restaurant, they have trying to find a quick ride and carpooling and going. So in fact, we also want to come in here, we also want to spread this, tell them tell our users, these are the use cases you're going to airport, maybe you can carpool with a pilot got it. You get a time maybe you get a chance to carpool with a pipe. So you're going to ask for don't maybe you could carpool with your doctor got it. So because we seen those user profiles on our platform, we want to spread this and we are seeing it's happening.
Krishna Jonnakadla 45:58
So these become those fancy Eventually they become like fancy jewels in the box, right? Yeah. Like Airbnb we have Gwyneth Paltrow was an actress who stays at a certain villa. And then all of a sudden Airbnb, which was supposed to be a platform for to find cheap local accommodation suddenly becomes iconic Hmm. And then Now similarly you write with night and then you find that the flight that you're taking to Delhi, you're flying the same fighter, you're driving with the same pilot to the airport.
KNM Rao 46:27
In fact, I have taken a card flew from airport to Martha with general manager who manages the airport in Bangalore airport in touch I have posted on my LinkedIn.
Krishna Jonnakadla 46:38
Amazing Alright, so the marketing part initially spoke about marketing and the approach that you suggested was more of offline and personal driven, right. It's not really about digital and spending money, right because a lot of companies today because of the easy money that was available, you know, have different Model .Yeah. And the other thread I'm finding in this is that and this is not the first step, there are a lot of startups, which are catering to the tech segment, the largely tech tech worker, and the modus operandi here seems to be that let's acquire the users to the b2b. So when you get an IBM or a jam pack as your official, so when you're officially authorized by them, so the lead generation and the user acquisition, largely when you get a stamp of approval, saying, hey, IBM supports a, which is a huge stamp of approval, because it's a reputed argument. And the second one is you really didn't have to put in any of the megabox into marketing that you otherwise would. Not particularly for Quick Ride, per se, but I'm seeing this sort of approach being taken in multiple use cases. I will go companies that are in was that a serving food cloudkit in you know, use cases like that. So do you think a new sort of a marketing approach is upon us whereby the traditional lead spend big let's roll the big ATL, BDL and let's do through the organizations or the through the users new approaches unfolding new thing that's happening?
KNM Rao 48:02
Depends on the product. But in case of carpooling, I wanted it to be like company by company and tech part by tech company by company and acquired by the parties what I want to address and the every company is to take it like a walled garden, we are going to go visit and it's like a walk, we should get it like 3000 or at least 25% of the people join our in that platform within QuickTime in that camp in that campus within I mean within short time, like one week or two weeks like that. So that's how we used to approach and....
Krishna Jonnakadla 48:34
How often did you succeed?
KNM Rao 48:35
And majority of the cases where we are done with like, okay, so another thing is most of the marketing campaign on so they used to if you look at the in the enterprises or tech part, they keep it and they sit there in one corner and wait for the customer. In fact, the way we have done is marketing we go to the person is not a week. Go to the person we do got it if the employees are working we go to them and Dr. Employees are packing their car we are there in the parking. We have employees that come to the cafeteria we are there at a table talking to money. So that way we are done it like the HR team, we had to create it so so we all we figured out the like in a day we used to talk to them at least four to finance got it. So I used to say this actually morning we used to target the parking lots when the person parks the car itself, then we talked to them personally, sir, you have the car empty seats, would you like to share with your colleagues we can reduce some of the services we used to do when they come for the coffee break Mr. Popcorn in the cafeteria in the evening again, parking and people who are lobbies we used to talk with them. So that is how we did a lot of passion and water coverage. Our board was like No, like we had to get 25% of the people joined and dislike a war and this opportunity doesn't come again. You got it. Now if you prove it, we can enterprise can do opportunity again, if we don't prove that kind of thing it is to drive in our mind, and we have to work very hard.
Krishna Jonnakadla 50:06
So now that you have achieved a certain degree of scale, and I'm sure you're just because you talked about than yourself getting to 10 lakh and you haven't even scratched the surface yet, but you're out there. Yeah. So we're personally where do you see the next few years but how do you see the rest of the journey unfolding?
KNM Rao 50:24
We're growing good 2018 and 2019 on for us we are looking forward for a million carpools lined up next day, of course, which is almost a 10 x so good part is like similar to bamboo. Now Chennai is doing and Delhi NCR is responding very well. And there's gone to almost eight 8000 cars. And so we have no foundation in some cities. And we believe that those also in the result and we can 81 million cars per day. And when we do 1 million carpool a day and everyone should know protect everyone will almost.
Krishna Jonnakadla 51:01
Do you see intercity and maybe go spreading out of India outside of India anytime soon?
KNM Rao 51:07
Ya we are thinking about it similar like there are traffic is not just for India there are other cities also struggling, including California. So we are exploring, we are discussing, but in India itself lot more to do. That's what is taking us to here. But at the same time we have panelists explore on Indonesia, where we can help the help telecommuters to do carpooling effectively.
Krishna Jonnakadla 51:30
So let's look at the decision making part looking back at the journey so far what have been some things you've got right and what have been some....
KNM Rao 51:40
No I think we we focused on very much in Bangalore, so at the beginning so it is given a good real estate a very thorough good, so we could continue on the fight for a long time. But maybe we we are done a lot of free work. Maybe we can be avoided if if I have motor strong technical people to really work on the record, but at the same time, even the marketing part also the way you create the network also, it took some time it's not like an imposter can get plus two to three months I can get the cockpit work and give you well It took some time for people to read. See, the people always say that carpooling is good, but it's not for me monitor my timings are different, my route is different. No one is coming from my road days, you know. So to break that all that notions it took it took time and it required that got it. So one way we stay very frugal and continue for a long time it helped. But maybe some Do you work with it on maybe some cities I used to think initially I focus on bamboo and go because I have limited resources. But maybe in some cities we cannot started with that time itself. If he started maybe those cities also could have performed like bandwidth on it. So like the neighbor, yeah.
Krishna Jonnakadla 52:59
Do you have another Now we are personally what is Rao as a person outside of all his entrepreneurial passions, what drives him? What, what are some things that he likes?
KNM Rao 53:09
I think I like to basically most of the time I spend particularly my family, his family, I think more what is what motivates and man gives me a lot of enjoyment.
Krishna Jonnakadla 53:21
Do you have any personal heroes personal people that you look up to? In the entrepreneurial world or in the personal?
KNM Rao 53:27
Yeah, so I'm in it's like, in my duty, my profession, many, many things from my leaders, like someone called me a commie Island a lot from my leaders. They are my leaders. And I always remember the important instead of...
Krishna Jonnakadla 53:44
Who are these people, what is their background?
KNM Rao 53:46
So they were senior leaders involved and Okay, yeah.
Krishna Jonnakadla 53:50
Do you read?
KNM Rao 53:50
Not many books?
Krishna Jonnakadla 53:53
What are the last book that you read?
KNM Rao 53:55
Not many books I'm just taking the trillion dollar coach.
Krishna Jonnakadla 53:58
Nice. Wonderful. In closing, what would your advice to early stage? What was your goal? So, to early stage founders, what would your advice be?
KNM Rao 54:09
I think that the problem should be the problem, you should connect very well. And once you connect the problem, we should be persistent. be frugal. And don't give up. Don't give up till it happens. Because the problem is the problem is being you must find me and it may be like, for many of us, maybe you dislike one time or but we should not give up.
Krishna Jonnakadla 54:31
Amazing. So Rao we've, we've had a fantastic conversation we've we've talked about your, your humble beginnings. I see that you're still you're still very humble. I think humility is a quality that comes very naturally to you. And I think you've socialized the right lessons from your farming background. You it is it is very rarely, it is very rare that you come across a person who looks at farming it tells me that you know what once we have a woman The other time I had a bust, which means the board doesn't change is my effort. And many times and I have a way of saying this, and this is an example I picked up from someone long time ago in Southern California, Surfing is a very, very popular sport. And you will find all kinds of people that will tell you use this food, do this shame, maybe chisel here chisel there. So you can find all kinds of people who can major in the fibers and all of that about how to put a surfboard together. But the one thing they cannot tell you is when will the wave. So the wave is not in our hands, but it's certainly in building their equipment. This is I think what you've done and fabulous journey. I know we've not seen this is only the beginning. Maharajas of Scale will be back to cover when you hit that 1 million rights. In closing, anything else you would like to say to the listeners of Maharajas of Scale.
KNM Rao 55:54
Thank you for listening and I think start carpooling and saving your environment.
Krishna Jonnakadla 56:00
Nida Sahar 56:02
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