Help is at Hand for India’s Beleaguered Bus-riders

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The website is a simple affair: a distinctive logo sits above a lean-looking booking system that allows users to enter their journey start and end destination, date and then click for available buses and prices. Its simplicity is deceptive: redBus is a smart technological solution to a very complicated problem in India: booking and buying a bus ticket. The service it offers – relief from a chaotic, frustrating and time-consuming task – is transforming the experience of travel in India.

Based in India’s technology hub of Bangalore (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangalore), redBus (redbus.in) is a web start-up begun by young whizzes from technology companies who decided to take a risk and venture out and do something new.

Back in 2005, redBus’ three founders, all graduates of one of India’s top engineering schools, were working in Bangalore for well-known information technology companies such as IBM, Texas Instruments and Honeywell.

As they tell the story on their website, it was the difficulty of getting a bus home during the Hindu religious festival of Diwali that prompted the inspiration. The trip was a last-minute decision, and buying bus tickets proved far from easy. On top of failing to get a ticket from various travel agents, journeying around Bangalore meant encountering the city’s traffic gridlock.

This experience led to the idea of developing a service to book bus tickets over the Internet.

RedBus quickly evolved into an innovative service offering multiple options to customers. They can call a phone number and speak to a customer service representative or use a mobile phone to book a ticket. RedBus claims to have sold more than 8,000,000 tickets to date.

Tickets are also delivered to customers in major cities in advance of their travel. Even more conveniently, redBus developed a service called mTicket. It sends the ticket by SMS (mobile phone text message) straight away when a customer makes a booking. The mTicket appears on the display screen of the mobile phone and the customer just has to show their mTicket to the driver to board the bus.

RedBus uses partnerships to expand their distribution network, and this means redBus tickets can be purchased at more than 75,000 outlets. The company now works with more than 350 bus operators, allowing customers to book tickets on more than 4,500 routes across India.

The service set out to achieve two goals: create a one-stop shop for ticket purchases, and to make it possible for customers to get tickets when they needed them and not be told they have been sold out.

Indians were already having success with booking airline tickets online. But nobody else had thought of doing central, online sales for bus tickets before.

Research was behind redBus’ success. The founders interviewed bus operators, consumers and venture capitalists before setting up the business.

They then set about writing the code for the Internet service and put together a business plan and presented it to The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) (tie.org) – a network of mentors who help young entrepreneurs. With the support in place, they were able to leave their well-paying, secure jobs to start redBus.

Among the many challenges they faced was changing the mindset of bus operators used to dealing only with travel agents working out of sales offices.

It also took time for the concept to take off. But as word-of-mouth got around, more people started to use the website. The young team grew from just three to 50 within nine months.

Their business success, as they describe it, is the result of listening to, and soliciting feedback from their customers. They say it has helped them identify what is going wrong and fix it, and describe their business culture as “learn, implement, grow.” They also have a culture of sharing ideas and mistakes to encourage learning. It seems it is this buzzy, youthful and always-learning business culture that is behind redBus’ success.

Resources

1) IDiscoverIndia: A website detailing how to explore India’s vast bus network.Website: http://www.idiscoverindia.com/Travel_Info/india_travel_bus.html

2) TiE: Fostering Entrepreneurship Globally: The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE),was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley by a group of successful entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and senior professionals with roots in the Indus region. TiE’s mission is to foster entrepreneurship globally through mentoring, networking, and education. Dedicated to the virtuous cycle of wealth creation and giving back to the community, TiE’s focus is on generating and nurturing our next generation of entrepreneurs. Website: tie.org

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