Interview with Dhruvam, Founder The Smart Taxi

Hi Dhruvam, Tell us something about yourself?

I was born in a middle-class family in a small town named Jamnagar (Gujarat). 3 months after my birth, we shifted to Ahmedabad and I was brought up there. My childhood was fully surrounded with Indian music, as my father was fond of singing and playing harmonium.

As per my parents, I was very calm, full of patience, a good observer and full of deep understanding. On the other hand, I was very shy in nature and full of fear while interacting with someone (except my own family members). Something which I was loving at that time was playing around car & truck toys. I used to spend hours playing with them and I didn’t even need any company. When I grew up, playing cricket was something which I started liking and helped me groomed well to connect with people around. My society had very limited left-handed batsman during my time and I was one of them, which gave me the advantage to get select in the team.

Coming back to the present day, my father is a retired Govt. Bank employee, my mother is a housewife, brother is a Graphic designer & painter and my sister completed her Comm. Graduation. My brother and sister, both have disabilities in terms of hearing and speaking. My wife is an architect and I have a kid who is 3 years old now.

Talking about my academics, I was good at studies and was securing position among the top three, during school time till 9th std. Considering financial aspect, my family admitted me into a Gujarati medium school from the nursery, which was very near to my home and was well known at that time. From 10th standard, our condition was good comparatively. So I shifted to a new school which was a bit farther from the previous one. However, I managed it by traveling on cycle. My father has always tried to give me the best without caring much about money.

By seeing my academics track record, I joined the science stream. It was my dream to become an engineer from quite a long time, which was also one of the reasons to move towards that direction. However, everything got crashed when I was failed in 12 standard’s final exam. It was a disaster of a dream for my parents. I was depressed and felt like I was thrown by society when I was seeing other's behavior towards me. This was even tougher for my parents to face. But they gave me hope to bounce back and asked me to join a diploma course based on my 10th score. I applied for it and got admission in one of the most reputed colleges of Gujarat (Nirma University) and got back on track.

Automobiles and Machines were something which I was very curious about every time I see them and that has prompt me to opt for mechanical engineering. Semester by semester, I was performing exceptionally well and secured a silver medal by standing second among all the students of the University. On co-curricular activities, I was involved in many of them which were organized by the college but didn’t secure any awards. I always use to get a consolation certificate for participating, which was more than an award for me. I used to be proud of it as I was considering the experience of participation rather than focusing on the result.

Staying ideal was never a choice for me, so I started doing part-time jobs which were of very short tenures. But that tenures had taught me some of the life learning lessons, which I still remember, apply and follow every day. Thanks to campus placement drive, before completing my diploma course I was having a job in my hand from a well known MNC in Bangalore. My mother was hesitating a lot, as I never had stayed away from family. It was my father who gave her strength and I joined at Bangaluru in 2008.

Planning up the thing within defined time and turning them into reality according to it, was something which I was very passionate about from college time. Hence, I selected Production planning as a function. Staying in Bangaluru was like a heaven for me, as it was completely opposite from Ahmedabad in terms of weather. Initially, I faced problems communicating with local people. However, I overcame it by learning Kannada (local language). My office colleague helped me a lot in it. In the span of 2.5 years, I was completely well versed in speaking Kannada, despite leaving Bangaluru in 2013, even today I easily and clearly communicate in it, when I receive a call from any of my ex-colleagues.

During the professional journey, I was always believing in one thing. CHANGE. I was constantly looking for opportunities where I can try an alternate. Many times, I caused troubles which stopped entire production lines! On the other hand, successful efforts have proven as head turner too, for the organization. My Superior was giving me good support and area to explore. By considering my curiosity to learn new things, he started enrolling me into activities related to process improvements, production re-engineering, 5s, Poka Yoke, Kaizen, ISO, etc. I was enjoying as I was an agent of CHANGE for my organization.

In the year 2010, I got married to a girl who was my school friend and she joined me on my journey in Bangaluru. Being an architect, she prefers to presume her carrier after marriage too and got an opportunity to work with one of the reputed architecture company. In the year 2012, it was the first time I started feeling that I need to do something on my own. But due to lack of courage, I kept on neglecting that thought. In 2013, I got an opportunity from a well-known tower infrastructure company for a position related to my past experience. The placement was in Ahmedabad. It was a family need too, from me to stay along with parents. Hence I grab it and shifted to Ahmedabad.

I was not aware that this shifting is going to shift my entire life motive. I joined the company and got aligned with the culture and pace after initially spending a few hard days. During those days, my inner voice for starting something of my own was rising day by day. However, I kept on neglecting it with other thoughts or by focusing on the job. I discussed it with my family, but they have encouraged me to focus on my job and generate regular income, rather than taking risk of starting something. But from inside, I was gearing up myself to go for It! Finally, one day my inner voice superseded my fear of failure, other mindset barriers, and all other voices. I resigned from the Job, without informing anyone! When there were 15 days of notice period left, I informed about it to my wife and 1 week before, to my parents.

There was again a disaster because of me in the family! I was bombarded with questions about future plans and goals. I was not having any clear answer except saying a single line "I want to have my own startup". As usual, few of my friends, society members, colleagues started making fun out of my decision, but this time I was getting even more strong and passionate with their negative comments. Despite heavy resistance from all the directions, I started it!  

What does The Smart taxi Do?

Future is all about delivering a unique experience, rather than just delivering a service. We understand this very well! The SMART Taxi, a call based taxi service, is all about creating the best in class cab riding experience, specially crafted for business class people and corporate companies.

We achieve this by providing well-maintained cabs, loaded with state of the art features and driven by well trained and courteous professionals. We have observed an upward trend in demand of Indian consumers for the best quality services. There is the class of people who are ready to pay a bit premium charges to avail such service, and they are our targeted audience. All our cabs welcome customers with a defined welcome speech, followed with soothing music for a relaxing feel. In addition to it, we offer water bottles, cookies, snacks packet, chocolates to our customers which are part of their package.

Our cabbies (drivers) are trained and tested in terms of behavioral skills and driving skills, to add value to the overall customer experience. With us, One can customize the experience by making it more richer and premium, as per need, with the addition of WiFi connections, amazon kindle, cold drinks, magazine and many more. We do constant market research for adding more and more features in our list, as per market demand, for the betterment of customer experience.

We offer cabs for hourly rental and outstation. Hourly rental is best suited for within city roaming which starts from hiring cabs for 8 hours /80 KM. Outstation journeys are traveling outside cities for one or more days. The SMART Taxi was started at Ahmedabad with one cab, on Sep 16, which I was driving myself. Today we are an aggregation company having 60+ best-performing cabs, with a mixed portfolio of a sedan (Dezire, Etios, Xcent, Amaze) and MUV ( Innova/ Eartiga and others). We are present in 7 cities including Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, Jaipur, Pune, Indore, and Bhopal and have a strategic time-bound plan already in place to expand in other cities of India.

When and How did you come up with this idea of your startup?

It all started in 2012, where I was associated with an MNC and used to travel a lot in taxis. I was noticing every aspect and it was definitely not up to the service standard, for what they were getting paid. Bad car condition, bad behavior of drivers, etc. were few of the common experiences which I had during that time. On another side, traveling in flight and staying in hotels were fantastic experiences for me. One day while traveling back from Bangaluru via flight, I got the first strike of this idea as a single liner that what if “A taxi offers hospitality like airways and facilities like a good hotel”. I started analyzing things and gathering the courage to start this, which took 4 years for me to finally go for it and we started The Smart Taxi.

How did you come up with the name and logo of your Startup?

As the whole concept was surrounded by a single line i.e. "A cab offering hospitality like airways and features like a well-stared hotel", I was clear that our logo must have all the elements. Secondly, it was all about a cab which is smart enough to understand customers’ expectations.

To make a perfect combination of above two key requirements, I along with my brother (who is a graphic designer), made around 22 rough sketches, with various design combinations, fonts, colours, and styles. We selected smart taxi as a name, however it was very common when we googled. To make it distinguished we mentioned "smart" all in CAPS to highlight and applied "The" as the prefix to name, as it reflects supremacy and uniqueness. Finally, It all comes to the last and the most important word i.e. "Taxi". We wanted to keep the taxi flavour alive in the logo, as a reason we selected yellow and black as colour combination, with a badge on both the side. Finally, we wanted our brand to appeal for the comfort and hospitality of airways, as a reason we applied bird wings vector on both sides.

Tell us about your business model?

We are a cab aggregation company, mainly targeting to B2B customers. We onboard cabs of individuals or fleet owners like other companies do. The only thing which differentiates us from them is our processes. We do not keep any hatchbacks in our portfolio! Sedans and MUVs are the two segments of cars we welcome on board for initial screening.

All individual cab owners and fleet owners have to cross five steps of the selection process, to get on board with us and ride for us! It includes every minute step including verifying vehicle, training the cabbies (driving skill, behavior with the customer, their capabilities to handle physically challenged, senior citizen and pregnant lady.) and taking their telephonic interviews to taste their understandings. Without clearing it, no one can ride for us! It’s a clear process, which we are following from day one of inception with a zero compromise policy. To say precisely, after completing all formalities, only 1 or 2 out of 5 cab applicants finally gets on board with us.

Secondly, we keep an optimum number of cabs according to city load and distribute sufficient amount of business within them, to keep them motivated! We also monitor cab occupation ratio constantly and hunt for the new cabs (from a database of cab owners collected from campaigns) and start inviting new applications only if there is a rising trend in demand. We have kept us on-boarding processes short, crisp and fast enough that it takes only 3 hours to get a cab on board with us, without skipping any steps!

Being a bootstrapped startup, we take help of online platform, like google form for cab registration application and Whatsapp for communication. Coming to profit sharing, we pay to all our partners according to market rates, derived from deep research. We apply our margin over to it and charge to the customer, for providing a qualitative, safe and unique cab riding experience. We form an agreement with validity about understanding on prices, service and payment terms, cancellation terms, penalties etc. with cab owners and fleet owners. Moreover, we make sure that we pay inline with agreed rates and time frame (which is paid within 30 days of trip completion, at most), without a single miss, directly into their bank accounts.

To maintain transparency, we provide fortnight computer-generated statement, to all associated partners including executed trip details, Payable balance, and Payment made. On request, we also provide them a crisp summary of how much business they have done with us, how much rides we have assigned to them, how much they have accepted out of it and how much they have completed out of it. The customer can book our cabs by calling on 8238883335. We have a centralized customer booking center, and from here we pass bookings to local cab partner or fleet owners associated with us. Currently, all this process happens over call. Post finding vehicle, we communicate cab details to customers (at least 10 hours in advance). Same way, we communicate trip details to our cab partners. Both these communication happens over Whatsapp.

What other options do your customers have? And how are you different from them?

We compete with all cab companies who operate in the corporate domain but mainly we compete with Corporate car rental companies like a Car club, Avis and Orix etc. We differentiate our service in terms of features as well as prices. Some of the features and options for customization what we offer to our customers are not offered by other players. In terms of price, we have positioned our self a bit lower compared to them, which gives us added advantage in capturing market share faster. Many people have a misconception about us that we are another platform like Ola or Uber, which we are not. I do not blame them to have it coz both of these companies are dominating the Indian market currently. However, there are fundamental differences between us. To say few like,

  • Their core business is for traveling from point A to point B within the city, whereas we operate outstation journeys majorly.
  • They have hatchbacks, sedan and MUV as vehicle category to offer, whereas we operate only with sedans and MUVs.
  • They are app-based service, whereas we are a call based.
  • Their major business comes from individual customers, whereas ours come from corporate.
  • They target masses, whereas we operate for a selected

How did you acquire your initial customers?

We started with one cab which I was driving by myself for the initial few months. Being a creator of the concept, it was easy for me to explain to the audience and give them actual feelings. We got our first customer through Just Dial. During initial days, I was picking up customer inquiry calls, responding to them and driving them to their destinations. Our core focus on customer experience, helps us making our customer beliefs to pay slightly higher compared to the market. From there on referrals started floating through word of mouth. In parallel, I started hunting for the right cab partners who can join with me in this venture. From one we became 3, then 7, then 12 and likewise our cab numbers also got increased, which gave us confidence to enter into the corporate segment (B2B).

What are the revenue Model and sources?

Coming to revenue generation, we pay to all our partners according to market rates, derived from deep research. We apply our margin over to it and charge to the customer (which are mainly B2B), for providing the best in class, safe and unique cab riding experience. For business, we mainly pitch to corporate companies (from small scale to large scale organization), hotels, tour operators etc. to cater their cab requirements. We do it via direct walk-ins, referrals, social media, or sending promotional emails and messages. We are a bootstrapped startup. On mentor part, I would like to mention three names especially i.e. Late Mr. Himanshu Chudasama, Mr. Gagan Gupta and Dr. Anu Gupta for their kind support in guiding me at some of the toughest turns.

How did you meet your team(co-founders) and what is their background?

Our company is a proprietorship firm. As a team, there is two individual (management graduates) who support me as business consultants in different core areas of business, mainly for strategic planning, marketing, accounting, cab onboarding and business expansion, customer help desk and booking center. Mainly our core strength is our ground team i.e. fleet owners and cab owners associated with us. They are the people whom we have taken utmost care while selecting and are delivering an experience as per our set standards, 24X7.

What are the challenges you faced in your journey till now and how did you overcome it?

Leaving a well-paid job after serving well-known organizations for a total 8 years, to start a startup was the first challenge. It was followed by social pressure from family, society, friends, relatives to join the job again. The second challenge was to make cab partners agreed to deliver a richer experience, rather than just a service. I have walked down on streets and selected vital few who were able to understand the concept. And then, trained them.

On financial aspect, after starting the startup in 2016, it was extremely tough as being a married guy having 9 months old kid, 2 siblings with disabilities and family to take care. There were lots of responsibilities and liabilities I was surrounded by.

I remember a day when it was Diwali next day and I was holding only 400 Rs in my purse, no balance in the account. I literally have to drive 23 hours on that day to earn sufficient enough and we managed to get sweet and crackers for my son and family. Post entering into the corporate segment, there was a large sum of the amount was delayed for payment by 2 months, by a company. On another side, to continue a hassle-free operation on the ground, we have paid to our partners on time. It created a situation where we were left with zero balance in the account. Self-belief, patience, and persistence helped us keeping alive, despite every obstacle.

Where do you want to see your startup in the upcoming years?

Our vision is to become "India's no. 1 cab company in customer satisfaction by 2025". All our further plans are related to Team building, marketing, product innovations, investment, and expansion, which are in accordance with it.

What Technology Stack/entrepreneurial hacks/online tools/ services/ apps do you use in your startup?

We use Google Form for Cab partner Registration, Conducting a market survey and customer satisfaction survey. We use LinkedIn, facebook, and Instagram for brand awareness and hiring. Moreover, we are a confirmed business account on WhatsApp, which we use to communicate with customers and cab partners across all the cities where we have a presence. We use MailChimp for email campaigns. And for professional emails, we use office 365. We also let our customers share their residential locations, via Whatsapp and forward same to our cab partner along with other customer details and trip details so that they can reach to customer's place without making a single call to them. To track our cab partners live location, we have experimented with a free app called Life360, which allows us to view real-time locations of individuals. For accounting, keeping track of trips, invoice generation, etc. we use a subscription-based mobile app call "Vyapar".

What do you look for in a candidate who aspires to join your company?

  • Passion to do something new.
  • Ability to present the correct picture, rather than presenting a manipulative one.
  • Accepting mistakes and the ability to learn from it and to develop a future course of preventive actions.
  • Appreciating others for their contribution.
  • His / her openness to
  • Time management.
  • Value for commitment.
  • Brand loyalty.

What are your strategies to build an awesome work culture in your company?

I personally believe in creating a workplace which is safe and where everyone has the freedom to speak. Secondly, appreciation for doing something good is required, so that people do feel motivated. Let appreciation be small or big, depending on impact, but you should appreciate. We are in a plan to introduce "thank you" card, which will be of a small piece of paper displaying "thank you" word over it. The main motive behind this was to thank somebody who has helped you in your work or maybe in some other way. The Person who is giving and the person who is receiving, both will gain some point. The person with maximum points will be rewarded.

What did you wish become when you were 15?

When I was 15, I wished to become a renowned engineer, who creates an innovation which changes the history!

Any Quote/advice that you would like to share with budding entrepreneurs?

  • There is no substitute for hard work.
  • Success comes after failures and failures come after success. The only thing which keeps you going ahead is your passion for not giving up and your faith in you.
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About Lakshya Singh

I am a visionary content creator and internet researcher.
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