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Intra-City Logistics Startup TruckSumo's Co-Founder Shares Insights On Ups & Downs Of Startup Life
Founded by Nithin Baalay, Arun Rao and Abhishek Bajpai, TruckSumo is the logistics startup currently operational in Hyderabad and Bengaluru that offers instant free quotes, safety-screened vehicles & drivers, real-time tracking and free insurance. Nithin Baalay and his team are currently processing 17,000 orders a month and are catering to 1000+ loyal customers in Hyderabad and Bangalore. They help everyone from small start-ups to big brands to scale up their logistics. Their plan within next 6 months is to soon raise funding and expand to 6 cities in the next one year.
In an exclusive interview with us, we got Nithin Baalay, Co-Founder at TruckSumo to share his entrepreneurial journey with us, how things works at TruckSumo, what his key learnings are and a lot more. Read on!
Nithin Baalay, Co-Founder - TruckSumo
CE: What city were you born and brought up in? Tell us about your growing up years.
Nithin Baalay: I was born and brought up in Hyderabad. I did my schooling from The Hyderabad Public School (HPS) and St.Paul’s in Hyderabad and later pursued my engineering from Chaitanya Bharati Institute of Technology (CBIT). I did well academically, always played a sport and liked to explore creative activities. About my family, both my parents are very well educated with high moral values. My mother is a home maker and father has retired from the Civil Services. My sister who is 8 years elder to me has constantly been an inspiration during my growing years in school and college to push myself harder.
CE: What made you pursue MS in Computer Science right after your B.E.?
Nithin Baalay: After my engineering, I went to Columbia University in New York City to pursue my Masters with a specialization in Software Engineering. At that point of time, I loved Computer Science and I knew I wanted to get to the next level. Doing a Masters was the next logical step and getting into Columbia University which ranks amongst the top 10 universities in the world was a dream. I did get selected in few companies in the final year of engineering. But offers from service based companies from on-campus recruiting weren’t interesting enough to pursue.
CE: How did you begin working for World Media and subsequently as the MD at India.com? How was the experience?
Nithin Baalay: After graduating from Columbia, I saw an email from a Columbia alumnus who was just starting up. I did not know much about him. When I later interviewed with them, I realized I was talking to Wall Street veterans and the team which created a 2 billion dollars public company called Mail.com in the late 90’s. I knew I was in good hands to start my career with.
My first boss is Mr. Gerry Gorman, one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with. I hugely admired his style of working and doing business. I started off as a Software Engineer and worked on advertising and travel related products.
In 2008, I had an opportunity to lead India.com. We launched a revamped India.com, which was a horizontal information portal and provided users with @india.com email addresses. India.com scaled up rapidly and was sold to a joint partnership between a leading media house in India & New York.
World Media group gave me the exact exposure I was looking for at the beginning of my career and helped me move beyond a technology to get a deeper understanding of business.
CE: When did you decide to return to Hyderabad to become the CTO at BuyThePrice.com?
Nithin Baalay: Before going to the US, the plan always was to move back to India sometime soon after working for couple of years. Although I was exploring few options in India before moving back, I did not have any clarity of what I would be doing next. One thing I knew was that I wanted to take a 3-month break before doing anything.
During this time, I met Ranjith Boyanpalli who was the CEO of BuyThePrice to have a chat over coffee. Few months later, I got a call from him and he asked me if I would be willing to join his startup as the CTO. E-commerce was the next big thing in happening to India back in 2011, the product vision was perfect and Ranjith was a terrific guy to work with. I loved the aggression the entire team has and how we scaled up rapidly month-on-month and raised a Series A from Naspers. In 2013, we got acquired by Tradus.
CE: When did the entrepreneurial bug hit you?
Nithin Baalay: If I look back, I have always worked with start-ups through my entire career. The rush you get building something innovative and see it grow is out of the world. Even during college days, I would take up these mini web development projects and that’s probably where it all started.
CE: Tell us more about your first startup - SayShaadi.com
Nithin Baalay: The idea of SayShaadi originated in 2010, when I moved back to India from the US. I realized the strenuous process a family goes through during the wedding with little or no information available online. It was almost impossible for a layman to organize a wedding without referrals of friends/relatives and without the thought of being taken for a ride by the vendors. I could not take it up in 2010, because I had to join Buytheprice.com as the CTO.
After I came out of BuyThePrice, 2 years later, I still could not find a great platform that helped the unorganized wedding industry (both vendor side as well as client side). We have done extensive research to find the pain points and the result is SayShaadi.com. With the help of my two close friends, Suhruda Sagar and Asrith Reddy, I created SayShaadi. Leveraging the best in web technology, it helps the to-be-wed couples and their parents to easily and efficiently manage everything leading up to their big day. It can also be called as a wedding professional network that connects millions of to-be-weds, parents and wedding professionals across the country and around the world.
We started SayShaadi small in Hyderabad to validate the product and the response was great from both vendors as well as users side. We quickly scaled to 4 more cities in less than 6 months and we now are in more than 10 cities. We now have more than 10,000 vendors registered on the website generating leads worth Rs.50 Crore a year.
CE: How did TruckSumo come into existence? Tell us the behind-the-scenes story of how the idea struck you.
Nithin Baalay: We wish there was a fancy story to tell here, but there wasn't any Eureka moment. This idea was lingering in the founder's mind for about a good 2 years and we had chats about the same. We could clearly see a number of problems in the industry.
Goods transportation and delivery infrastructure in India is broken. There was a clear lack of transparent pricing and quality. Supply base, the other side of the coin, is disaggregated and suffers from poor utilization. Finally 2015, we felt the time was right, tech in place and we felt the market was more open to this idea than ever before.
Arun and I met via a common friend and have known each other since 2008. Abhishek and I are class-mates from school and have known each other for over 18 years. Each of us at some point wanted to work on the transportation problem and when we all got together for an evening coffee.
Truck Sumo Founders
One of us wanted to crack the intra-city problem, other inter-city etc. We got talking and it clicked and within 24 hours we had a name and logo ready for the new venture. The skill set balance was perfect as well. Arun comes from a solid sales/business background, Abhishek's skills was in to running large scale operations in warehouses and I come from a product/technology background.
CE: Could you explain how TruckSumo works?
Nithin Baalay: Our USP is simple – We bring a hassle-free experience to goods transportation. It takes 45 seconds to make a booking and 45 minutes to get a complete transportation solution at your doorstep. The icing on the cake is that we are 40% cheaper than other alternatives available in the market! We’re out there to give a perfect transportation experience - the quickest, cheapest, most hassle-free way possible.
We got our operations right during our test launch. We had a bunch of learnings with quite a few surprises and exceptions which we never had thought of. We then went ahead and built a solid tech product from all the feedback and learnings.
For the customer:
- Super Easy to book a vehicle. Takes 30 seconds to order a vehicle and 30 minutes to get it.
- Drivers are thoroughly vetted, trusted, professional and friendly. Stylish branded trucks with professional friendly drivers who will take care of your goods. Everything reimagined.
- Transparent, modular pricing. You always know how much to pay and what you are paying for.
- We offer the Best prices in the city. Up to 40% cheaper.
- Hassle-free, all-in-one solution - multi-pickup, multi-drop, proof of delivery, real-time tracking
For the Driver:
- Opportunity to earn more. Improve your quality of life. (Up to 80% increase in earnings)
- Get access to a larger pool of customers.
- Buy vehicles from partner dealers at a discount (we have strategic partnerships with multiple dealers)
- Better interest rates on their vehicle financing (same as above)
- Prompt weekly payments so that operational expenses are taken care of.
- Fostering entrepreneurship and creating employment opportunity.
CE: How did you gather the initial resources required to bring your ideas to life? What was the most challenging thing?
Nithin Baalay: The flow usually remains the same, but this is what I’ve done so far -
- Background research about the industry
- Understand problems, talk to experts
- Build a solid team
- See if it can be profitable or a high growth industry
- Check if my product is “actually” solving a problem
- Build an MVP and start operations, learn more about the game and keep prototyping.
CE: What is the typical day in the office like? Run us through your schedule.
Nithin Baalay: I am not a morning person; I start my day at 9:30 AM. I have a 1-hour drive to my office, so my workday starts in my car with a bunch of calls to sync up with teams and other clients. I’ve always liked finishing the most important tasks during the first half of the day and make sure I avoid meetings before lunch. Meetings are time consuming and the scheduled bigger ones worse - these are rarely productive. We keep meetings short with a fixed agenda and limited time. I do a quick round up meet up with my teams in the morning to make sure everything is running smoothly.
Since we are a startup, it soon starts getting chaotic with issues cropping up from various customers/teams/drivers. The founders are primarily focused on making the product better and we make sure we have a good balance between short term and long-term targets. I typically end my day past 8 in the evening, to head out for a quick workout session and to head back home.
CE: How do you consider competition in Hyderabad and Bangalore area for hiring trucks? What measures do you take to keep an edge over them?
Nithin Baalay: We are operational Hyderabad and Bangalore. We are doing very well in both the cities so far. We have a good amount of competition in both the cities with a number of companies entering this space. We believe in solving the problem, creating the perfect experience with an unbeatable service and offer the best prices in the market.
We want to be an AWS for logistics, offering customers the flexibility of resizing their fleet on-demand, be it a single vehicle or multiple using our platform. We not only work with SMEs, urban customers who need help with moving but are also working with institutional clients, be it a small startup or some of India's biggest brands. We want to power their logistics part of the business while they manage their core
The core engine processes orders to maximize efficiency and we pass on the benefits both to the customer as well as the driver.
Cab industry algorithm is the simplest use-case algorithm for TruckSumo. Logistics involves many more complexities like loading/unloading of goods, vehicle tonnage, sender-receiver concept, return trips, specific vehicle size and shape, specialized vehicles, waiting, multi-stops, helpers, proof of delivery documents, payment complexities and so on.
The TruckSumo algorithm absorbs these complexities and optimizes the business to operate at scale. Our team and drivers make sure that the entire trip is reliable and a happy one.
We are currently experimenting with a bunch of features like part-load aggregation of orders, bike aggregation, order broadcasting, reverse auction model, long-distance and larger fleet vehicles, plugging into bigger ERPs, integration with eCommerce websites to provide real-time quotes and tracking.
Our consumer booking app is yet to go live on the app store. It has some helpful features which is very handy for customer with regular needs for transportation. The customer can book a vehicle with a single tap.(literally!). We have a concept of sender and receiver where both parties are notified about the trip.
This industry is hot with a good number of companies in this space. But the opportunities and problems to solve are infinite and that's one of the reasons why some of the biggest companies like Uber, Alibaba and Amazon are exploring this space as well along with us.
CE: How do you go about getting people on board?
Nithin Baalay: We started TruckSumo with people we worked within our earlier companies. They were more than ready to join us. Also, referrals worked great for us, we in fact launched a social media campaign for recruiting and received over 250+ resumes in a month.
CE: How would you describe your journey as a startup owner so far? How does being an entrepreneur change you?
Nithin Baalay: After reading this article, here's what came to my mind - my two cents from my short journey - I once read Kanye West's quote "Would you believe what you believe in if you were the only one who believed it?" and this question keeps me going. It's a long journey and very tiring one. As an entrepreneur, I am not even close to a "success" yet and clueless about where I will end up.
First, you need to trust yourself, grow some guts and man up to stand up for yourself. Second, I've learnt is that it is important to surround yourself with the right people - be it personal or at work. These people will make it or break it for you. Yes, people will walk out of your life like you never mattered to them. Be prepared to see unbelievable set of events/change in people because of your changes in lifestyle, cash and all the other factors mentioned in the post. These are all true.
Emotional support/motivation is the biggest thing you need when you are by yourself. And you will feel blessed when you see it coming from your dear ones. You will discover the true ones who stick by you - will never stop believing in you no matter how hard the situation is.
I've built the closest of bonds with these people and they will remain special for the rest my life. I exactly know who these people are in my life today. The others, just feel lucky to have lost them.
Third, I never had the courage to say this to anyone although I wanted to on thousand occasions "Your mind is constantly filled with a million things going on inside and no other person, including your girlfriend or family, has a single clue what is going on in there." I realized no one would understand this statement, leave alone the journey and you would be tagged arrogant for making such a statement. And to add Indian masala to this, there's the family/relatives/neighbours/marriage/in-laws/society-shit/NRI-son-aunty to f*** your head every other day.
Every bit of the article is true. The joy and satisfaction of a good day's of work is out of the world, but so is the pressure. I know all good things I have experienced which I never did in life, I know what I gained, I know what I've lost and exactly know what all I sacrificed to make this work. At the end of the day, it better be worth all of it. Regretting is not an option once you are in it. I've stopped caring much about what others have to say. Not sure if it's the right path, but listening to them isn't right either. But let's see where it takes me. You do your best and let life do the rest.