DriveU is a unique mobility solution provider in India which connects drivers directly with car owners by offering a technology-driven, affordable, private driver application. The startup founded in 2015 leads in India when it comes to the on-demand driver app category. It raised about $3 million from Unitus Ventures and Singhal Foundation.
The company went on to acquire rival companies like CallAtHome in May 2016, Driverkart in May 2017, and Zuver in July 2017. Today, DriveU is growing strong under the leadership of CEO and co-founder Rahm Shastry, who was an early investor at cab aggregator- TaxiForSure a cab aggregator which later acquired by Ola for whopping $200 million.
During a recent episode of Simulated Reality podcast (stream here) by Analytics India Magazine, Rahm Shastry shared his story from working as an engineer in electronic design automation to becoming a big serial entrepreneur. Rahm gave his thoughts on what it takes to run a scalable platform in India that can compete with the likes of Ola, Uber and other cab aggregator apps. He also elaborates on the different ways DriveU constantly discovers and solves customer pain points using data insights, along with the technical skills he looks for to build his team at DriveU.
Here are the edited excerpts from the interaction:
What was the idea behind starting DriveU given you had already invested in a cab aggregator service like TaxiForSure?
I returned to India having lived in the US for many years and running my own startups there. After the success of my previous company TaxiForSure, I realised 80% of the time, drivers are sleeping in the cars or waiting for you to go somewhere. I asked myself what if I can aggregate those drivers so that drivers can be shared with other car owners in an area. I think of that as a sharing economy and that’s how the idea of DriveU came about. We looked around and nobody was doing tech-based stuff that we were doing and that’s how we got into DriveU.
What kind of customers are you targeting for your services? Also, tell us your B2B strategy?
There are a quarter-million customers using the platform all the time when they need drivers for all kinds of purposes. Across India, we are the only app to provide drivers on-demand to drive you back home after you have had a few drinks. You can also use the platform for running errands for all kinds of work, intercity travel and hiring drivers in general.
There are also business partners and clients who use us for certain needs. We are a logistics partner and driving partners registered on DriveU move assets from point A to point B, working with Uber, Ola, Zoomcar Cars24, CarDekho, etc for use cases where they need our services. Uber uses us to augment their driver supply, especially during peak times. Ola started a company called Ola Drive and our drivers are hired for picking up and delivering the vehicles.
Can you share with us how automation and data insights help you at DriveU?
We want to automate everything using intelligence, and whatever can be made smarter, we don’t want to hire people to do it. For example, we are doing close to one lakh trips a month with less than 100 employees in the company, and a lot of things are automated. The second thing is we get the intelligence through the journey of the drivers and customers. We take intelligence from the data and use it to get the best value to both sides. In the sense, we know that if you like the driver and you didn’t like some other driver, we will try to match with drivers similar to that.
We do a lot of data analytics in the back end and we make sure that intelligence is built into every part of the service. The third thing we do is constant supply-demand prediction, for example how much supply we have at the moment in any part of a city and what’s the demand and then we need more drivers to make sure the supply is there to give the best experience to users. Our intelligence also tries to find another ride for a drive back home on a one way trip in a particular area. We are also working on reducing the number of steps to get a driver as in how quickly you can get the diver by using data intelligence.
Are there expansion plans for the DriveU platform for other services also?
We are going beyond driver services and doing other things. We want to be on the car journey from the womb to the tomb of a car. From the time you buy a car to the time you sell it, drivers services can be used. There are curated partners on the platform for things like car maintenance where drivers can pick up the car and bring it back after the service. Then there is insurance and users can purchase it from our platform. The buzz word is super app, doing everything, something other companies like Grab, Gojek in Asia are doing, which do everything right from delivering medicines to making money as a business platform. DriveU wallet, closed wallet to buy something else. At some point, we can open it up for making electric payments for example like Ola.
There are also third-party integrations where APIs are used. The first integration we did was with ZoomCar. So, if you go to ZoomCar platform and say I want to rent a car and they will have an option saying whether you want the car to be dropped off and picked up and if you say yes, then automatically the API shoots and comes to DriveU which will assign a driver. That integration has been done with many partners.
What are the skills that you look for in your team at DriveU?
If you are applying at DriveU, you need to have a tech background and be able to program. Now the skills could be Android programming, IoS programming, and at the back end be able to figure out how to pull the systems together we are building. AI/ML is very important to us what is that you can infer from customer and driver behaviour on a daily basis.
What advice would you have for other tech entrepreneurs?
Make sure you don’t get seduced by your idea or software product; it has to have a product-market fit. Instead, I have seen entrepreneurs do the opposite and try to find a market for their product. That’s where they waste a lot of money and time. Apart from that, the most important thing is the team. You have to build a team that is able to handle the scale. You need to also understand that you are now going against the Goliath, and you are just a small guy and the Goliath has huge resources.
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Vishal Chawla is a senior tech journalist at Analytics India Magazine and writes about AI, data analytics, cybersecurity, cloud computing, and blockchain. Vishal also hosts AIM's video podcast called Simulated Reality- featuring tech leaders, AI experts, and innovative startups of India.