Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rendezvous with CEO of

Redbus is one of the renowned ticketing site for inter city bus services of private operators. Started in 2006 with three people on-board in a small office in Domlur the company is already in a break-even stage and is looking forward to setup offices in other major cities of India. In a interview  to Eblues team the CEO of the company Phanindra Sama shared his remarkable journey of last 3 years.

Eureka moment
It was vacation time during Diwali in 2005 and many of Phani's friends were already left to their hometown. Initially not being sure about taking off from work Phani postponed his decision to book tickets. Finally when he decided to go to his hometown Hyderabad and the ticket booking saga took him no where. First he contacted his usual travel agent, later he contacted each and every known travel agent for a single ticket to Hyderabad. The series of unsuccessful attempts for booking tickers made him realize massiveness of the unorganized industry involving operators and travel agents. 40 buses from Bangalore to Hyderabad everyday! Being alone in Bangalore a golden idea struck him. Eureka! Eureka! why not organize this bus industry with help of a software so that it turns out to be win-win-win for bus operators, travel agents and of course for passengers. He discussed about the idea with his pals of BITS Pilani - Sudhakar and Charan. They started with a plan of making a software which maintains the inventory of the bus routes and assists the travel agents in booking tickets.

Key moment and the USP
Being member of TIE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) forum, Phani along with his friends submitted the idea to one of the competitions of the forum. Phani still believes the major reason for the project to get selected was the way it was presented. The allotted duration for presentation was 30 minutes, therefore they planned presentation for only for 15 minutes(rest for Q&A) with only 7-8 slides. 1- slide about the team, 1-slide about the unorganized industry and 1-slide about their solution and so on.

Godfather's insights
After the project was shortlisted in TiE competition, the team was alloted three mentors for further progress, one of them was Sanjay Anatharam. He helped the team getting the right VC and added some valuable inputs to the project. According to Sanjay, deploying the software for each and every travel agent all over India won't be practical, a lot of effort will be needed to make it work without any issues. Target city customer with a website to book the tickets online. Anyways in future Internet connection will be as ubiquitous as mobile phone connection.

Testing times
The venture went thru a lot of testing times. First of all convincing bus operators that the new medium will work took a lot of effort. The high pressure phase was the first two weeks after launch of the site in Auguest 2006. They had to show the sales to the operators. The team went all out as for publicising about the ticketing site. They went in front of software companies during lunch hours for distributing the pamphlets and simultaneously explaining about the site.

The breakthrough moment
It was indeed the moment when the first ticket was booked by a software engineer of Infosys. It really was an auspicious beginning as the ticket booked was from Bangalore to Tirupathi! For the first customer the team ensured the safe travel by assisting the passenger for boarding the bus!

Engineers turned Travel agents
The way of earning changed completely. For every ticket booked the commission was about Rs.20. The expected amount of sales needed were very high to compensate for the salaries they used earn in their last jobs. There were slight thoughts of giving up, but the persistence of Sudhakar(co-founder) kept the team focused for achieving the goals. Also, when one starts a business even the minute details/rules can't be ignored like maintaining a attendance register, having a Kannada in sign boards etc.

Role Model & Inspiration
The major inspiration for Phani has been Richard Branson and his autobiography 'Losing my Virginity'. Branson's thoughts on colour red has been the major influence for naming the company 'Red'bus.

Meeting different kinds of people
Being a CEO at such an young age has been challenging. As part of work he has handle people with twice/thrice as his experience. Every person is unique, some people pamper him even not doing anything great and some blast him for not doing any mistake. These things one never faces being an employee of a big company.

Expansion plans
The main interaction with customer happens thru customer care operators. The company hires operators as employees, instead of outsourcing the work to a third party. The long term plan is to open offices all over India which includes even North-East Indian cities. But the expansion is planned/done in a organic way. When the one office breaks even with respect to investment the other office in a different city will be set up.

The edited video of the interview is embedded below.