Born and brought up in Bangalore, Srinath Sudarshan hails from a middle class family with no business background. He has completed his graduation in automobile engineering from Malnad College of Engineering, but soon immediately shifted to IT by doing small IT related jobs. Srinath joined Bosch in 2000 and worked for over 13 years there in various divisions. He has also done his Executive General Management Program from IIM Bangalore.
Srinath's startup 'Let's Drive Along' aims to make car-pooling safe, flexible and measurable. They have recently touched a user base of 6200+ and are being endorsed by government agencies as well. Their mobile app was launched by then Bangalore Police commissioner the solution was endorsed by Bangalore Traffic Police.
We got Srinath Sudarshan to feature in an exclusive interview with us to discuss his decision to quit his high-paying job at Bosch, to know how his company works and his overall entrepreneurial journey. Read on!
Srinath Sudarshan, Co-Founder & CEO - Let's Drive Along
CE: When did the entrepreneurial bug hit you? When did you decide to quit your job?
Srinath: I had many ideas to start whereas had no money to invest hence I kept quiet for long. In 2011, I mentioned this to my cousin, he was excited and ready to fund the prototype. Once the prototype was ready and my friends agreed to fund the remaining, we started to develop the prototype. Parents, wife and sister where shocked when I mentioned about quitting a wellpaid job of Bosch to start my own enterprise. My kids 8 yrs and 5 yrs are too young to influence my career.I eventually decided to quit my Bosch job and took the plunge in April 2013.
CE: How did Lets Drive Along come into existence?
Srinath: I always believe the phrase, every problem has a solution. Though 'Traffic' is the most discussed topic in Bangalore, not many of such discussions bring up any solutions. At that time I got the idea to connect people. I found many cars move from one area to another, say 100s of cars move everyday from one area to the IT hubs. My idea was to connect these 100 on a real time using smart mobile phones which was (in 2012) and has (now) dominated the IT employees.
Later, we worked on -
1. How to make it easy to use?
2. How should we address the security aspect?
3. Why car-pooling is not a successful venture?
4. What is missing in the conventional system?
All these became very important to design our product, we found measurability as the major gap for corporates to promote carpooling, in corporates, It was always an initiative of “Please car-pool” and it stopped there. No one knew who has done the most, and who should be rewarded. And every corporate wanted to have their own car-pool which I believe does not work for mid or small sized companies. Rolling out car-pooling to one corporate alone will be something like 100 cars come from all directions of Bangalore, and we are asking them to car-pool, so we understood cross companies car-pooling will work.
On security aspect, stranger danger was a big problem to address. So we adopted to creation of a group to every individual and then allow him to carpool only among them. Group members need not limit to 3 or 4 as in conventional system, it can go upto any number, 10, 20, 30,…. We want every individual to know the other person to the best possible before they start to car-pool.
Prototype development was with my friend. We worked during our free time available. During the prototype development, we found our idea unique and applied for patent in Indian Patent Office in 2012 August.
CE: Could you explain how Lets Drive Along system works?
Srinath: Let’s Drive Along is a pure car-pooling solution, LDA works on usage of cars by turns. It’s a free service for individuals where one day you take out the car and the other day me, whenever you take out the car, I will come with you as companion. And when I take out the car (Sarathi) you come with me as companion. With this no money exchange happens between car-poolers. This concept is elaborated: Broadly we can classify steps in LDA to 5 steps.
1. Registration using social sign-up or keyed in basic details, user account is credited with 50 points at the time of registration
2. Update Route: Captures start & destination location on google maps
3. Profile update: Profile info, social info, car-info, driving info is captured. This helps a potential car-pooler to know more about an individual. Profile update has an option to choose who views one’s profile: All users, Favorited members, Private (only with system)
4. Make Favorites: Every individual creates a secure group to car-pool: Favorite search shows every member located near an individual & going towards the same destination. Looking at the profile, user can send requests to the members who suits you. Only after acceptance from the other member favorites group is formed (it’s a handshake).
5. Making trips: User can choose everyday new time to start, select to be sarathi(taking out the car) or companion and find his or her favorites starting at the same time. Whenever user makes a companion ride, points corresponding to the kilometres travelled will be deducted and credited to Sarathi. Whenever user has points he can make free rides, once he slips to 0 points, he cannot be a companion. This prevents users from misusing the system and other member’s generosity.
CE: How did you gather the initial resources required to get the site up and running?
Srinath: I shared initially with my childhood friends, one among them with his friend came fwd to do the prototype and helped me on the technology, architecture, design and development of prototype. This is how it started on part time basis. Later, we decided to outsource to a company who are day in and out in product or service development. One of my other friend has a company who are into such development projects. LDA product development is outsourced to them.
CE: What is the typical day in the office like? Run us through your schedule.
Srinath: I am all day in Office, with no distance between my house and office, it is easy for me. Day in office start at 6:30 am, will do routine checks and plan for the day. Around 8:30 am, will take some time off to have my breakfast and spend some time with my son. Again 10:30 onwards I am back to work. With few hours break for evening tea, night dinner and sometime kids, it will end up around 12 am every day.
Most of the time in office is spent on User support, Product development: New feature requirements, design aspects and testing. Promotion is happening only through word of mouth and connections, references in the corporate world. Good amount of time is spent on preparation of corporate meetings. I plan any meetings during 11 am to 4 pm, so that I do not get stuck in the traffic.
CE: Is this company bootstrapped? What is revenue model of Lets Drive Along?
Srinath: We are working on minimal cost possible, funded by friends and family. Our approach is to get all the impacted stakeholders to participate in car-pooling. We find the major stake holders who can pay us are corporates.Earlier, corporate had no chance to measure the effectiveness of car-pooling initiative, now with LDA they can check on freed car-parks, reduce traffic in the campus, check on carbon footprint reduction, improve employee engagement and productivity.
The Let's Drive Along team won the award of the most promising early stage start-up: AnthahPrerana 2014, organised by The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE).
CE: There are many good reasons to prefer car-pooling system, however there are several risks associated with it. How does Let’s Drive Along ensure safe and reliable carpooling?
Srinath: Earlier car-pooling system was stopping at bringing people together, there was no means to connect them together nor care for the daily commutes. We provide a platform where it is easy, flexible to adopt. There is a trip to trip commitment by user and becomes a reliable means to commute to office.
On security: To remove stranger danger we ask users to share their profile and check other’s profile before accepting or sending favorites. When user view other profile: they can view what has been shared to public. For example, phone no. and email is not shown to other user’s by default. Whereas user can override and opt to share phone number and email as well. Every user is validated for email, company email and phone. Linked-in links and Facebook links and other shared info will provide user the required pointers to trust and send or accept favorite requests. Sharing of Linkedin and facebook links helps to find common friends between the user and the potential favorite.
In LDA, first user accept the persons to car-pool and after acceptance of the favorite they can make flexible time car-pool only among them. These layers of checks and acceptability before car-pooling removes or reduces the stranger danger factor to good extent. And we emphasize user to send or accept favorite only when they feel ok to car-pool together
CE: Do you consider PoolCircle, RidingO/Carzonerent as your biggest competitors in Banglore area? What measures do you take to keep an edge over them?
Srinath: Objective and segment we work with is different from Poolcircle, Ridingo or any ride share application who also use the word carpooling for their service offering.
There are 2 types of car-pooling we get to see these days. One, carpooling in the true sense where only for car-owners participate and the other type where car-pooling participants is by all who have cars and who do not have cars.
The second type is ride share where passenger pays the driver money for the ride taken. This allows every white board car to make money, Currently, Rs. 5 Per Km in Poolcircle. This is an extenstion of taxi to passenger cars segment and giving comfort rides to the people who do not have cars. LDA follows the first type: Carpooling exclusively for car-owners.
In LDA, the segment of car-owners is clearly defined, like minded people come together to car-pool. We ask our members who have cars to leave their cars at home and come with other members (favorites). With this we reduce traffic, reduce pollution, save fuel cost & much more. In fact, reducing traffic has multiple benefits for multiple stake holders.
CE: Going forward, how do you structure you growth plan in terms of expansion? What are the plans for next two years?
Srinath: Currently, our focus is to increase user base in Bangalore, work with few corporate customers and after which we shall have a definitive plan to share with everyone
CE: How big is the Lets Drive Along team at the moment? How do you go about getting people on board?
Srinath: Our development is taken care by our friends company Arvuti, they manage the team of developers and do the product development. In Spantad (our company), it is me taking care of overall execution of product and the promotion as well. For campaigns we hire on temporary basis & run the show. We have plans to increase the promo team, what number and what kind of skills set depends on the result of this quarter.
CE: How would you describe your journey as a startup owner so far? How does being an entrepreneur change you?
Srinath: Journey so far was good. Just good, not great and again not bad. When I look back now, the challenges which I had to face through are more in number & magnitude than I had expected. This journey has taught many lessons for life. All skills I have and I do not have gets tested every day. Best part is I have learnt to handle them without losing my cool.
CE: Any message for your readers?
Srinath: There are around 11 lakh passenger cars in Bangalore growing at 15% every year. Infrastructure cannot scale upto this kind of increase in vehicle population. We have come up with a solution to optimise usage of cars. As you know 2 cars take the space of a bus and most probably these cars will be single occupants. If we have to reduce traffic, we have to increase the space on the roads. This is possible, if car-owners keep their cars at home for some days and travel in another car.
Our flexible feature allows to car-pool only few days in a week to all days. In other words car-pool only when you want.
Request all car-owners to register with Let’s Drive Along: Innovative, flexible, secure, measurable car-pooling solution. Let’s be part of the solution and not the pollution.
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