The economy has seen a big blow in the past year, owing to the pandemic and the lockdowns that followed. Businesses of all sizes took a hit in India, especially the small ones. During such times, a story of growth is welcoming — something like TruckBhejo. Express Mobility, in a conversation with Nilesh Ghule, the Co-founder and CEO of TruckBhejo, learns how the business was formed, having been the son of a truck driver to a successful entrepreneur.
Journey of the CEO from being a son of a truck driver to a successful entrepreneur
A truck used to get parked in the veranda after every few days when my father would return from the long-haul trips. Yes, my father was a truck driver and not a logistician. Throughout my growing-up days, I have seen the challenges a truck driver faces whether it’s the road or the load. In those days, no technology would tell them that there is someone from the drop location wanting to send goods to the location nearby or on his way back home. 15 million such commercial vehicles are running on the Indian roads, most of them unorganized and unstructured. This was also one of the reasons for the unstable income my dad would earn a month on month.
Social taboo, income uncertainty, and of course the hardships on the roads were enough for me to decide that I will never be a part of the logistics sector. However, as they say, “what you resist you persist”. I did my MBA from IIM Bangalore and joined one of the largest and fastest-growing organizations – Reliance Jio. and that’s where I understood the problems a customer faces. The major 3 challenges that we saw were: – multivendor interface, geographical dependencies, and lack of technology adoption. That’s where I felt that I should leverage this comprehensive understanding of the logistics sector and begin the journey of starting TruckBhejo.
Journey of TruckBhejo, how it combines the agility and fast growth of a start-up with profitable business typical of a traditional player
We had a very simple vision as to what TruckBhejo will be – a technology-led logistics company that would have a focus on providing reliable, efficient, and capacity agnostic trucking solutions to the customers. It’s been almost 5 years in the operations. We have stuck to this core strategy of providing a pure-play trucking network and it has reaped us benefits, also given us a competitive advantage in terms of customer stickiness. Because once you start addressing the end-to-end problems of the customers, they stay with you and we grow as their requirements go up.
On the other side, we have ~3000+ truck drivers associated with us right now. 99% of them have collaborated with us just through the word of mouth and more are joining our network. Our contractual engagement with customers translates into certainty and a higher frequency of load allocation to the truck owner-driver, our technology platform ensures return loads for them leading to income visibility and financial sustainability. This provides a good vicious circle of demand and supply supporting each other. A relatively stronger level of ‘stickiness’ of drivers enables quick mobilization of vehicles consistently for customer needs and customer delight ensures regular business and certainty of income for the truck drivers.
This is how our business model generates sustainable impact. All our value propositions are established with returns delivered to all our partners. This makes TruckBhejo, a unique start-up that is unlike a start-up – focused on fast-paced growth and delivering positive returns to all the stakeholders. I can proudly share that since its inception, TruckBhejo has generated positive returns and has scaled the business maintaining the margins.
How TruckBhejo is leveraging on technology to redefine rules of logistics in India
To unleash the power of technology, we need to 1) the scale at which technology can be implemented, and 2) the unorganized nature of the redundancies prevailing in the network. And both these elements existed in the logistics sector.
The idea of TruckBhejo germinated from the very fact that technology was either missing or remotely present in the industry. To integrate the demand and supply side of logistics, we leveraged technology. TruckBhejo’s robust technology platform facilitates real-time tracking, an end-to-end interface for all stakeholders, flexibility in the truckloads to the shippers, visibility in the business, and thus better capacity planning for the truck drivers. At TruckBhejo, all stakeholders (customers, vendors, and internal teams) have their respective mobile apps which empowers them to leverage the power of this smart, sustainable and scalable network. All these ultimately culminate into greater convenience, improved operational efficiencies, cost optimization, transparency, and certainty. We have seen 95% of the contract renewal rate which speaks about our effectiveness.
The digitization in the sector started happening in just the last 5-6 years. The ecosystem has now started moving in the right direction but reach is still limited. TruckBhejo’s data & analytics-led approach to business and smart deployment of the available tools have facilitated geographic expansion. In just 5 years, we have reached 40+ cities and growing. Extensive use of technology has reduced people dependency making scaling up easy. TruckBhejo has thus attempted to simplify and amplify the reach through tech-enabled smart solutions.
How TruckBhejo is creating a tangible positive change in the lives of the truck drivers and their families
The trucking community has around 15 million commercial vehicles, of which ~2.5 – 3 million vehicles have been run by people who are micro-entrepreneurs i.e. people who own and drive the vehicles. The size of micro-entrepreneurs is huge. As a company strategy, we target and bring in change or revolution in the lives of these micro-entrepreneurs rather than working with fleet owners. 85% of the truck drivers impanelled with TruckBhejo are the owner-drivers.
As a founding team, we have extensive experience of dealing with truck drivers as my dad himself was a truck driver. It has helped me understand their challenges not just from a business perspective but also from an emotional perspective. At TruckBhejo, hence, all of us are extremely sensitive about everything related to the truck owner-drivers. Starting from making the payment on time to ensuring their life insurances, everything takes priority.
We ensure regular long-term business with secured and timely payment and also eliminate the middlemen. It has empowered owner-drivers to scale up their business. Certainty of contracts and presence across the supply chain of customers give them visibility of assured income. It then allows them to plan their family and other expenses with better clarity. By improving their income cycle, TruckBhejo has contributed to enhancing their social quotient. Even while distributing festival gifts, we give sustainable gifts like clothes instead of sweets which is their actual need. TruckBhejo has instilled a sense of dignity and belongingness with its drivers.
Learnings from 2020 and the role of Technology in bringing fundamental shifts in the logistics industry
2020 brought many “new”s. Some were heart-breaking and some came with crucial learnings. For the logistics industry, the pandemic was a boon as it acted as a catalyst in establishing the real significance of the sector. Without a robust and agile logistics network, no business would have survived the pandemic environment.
Truck drivers were the unsung champions of 2020. Without their commitment and hard work, the logistics network wouldn’t have performed. Right through the pandemic, drivers have been at the forefront who have taken up the responsibility and challenge to deliver goods amid a highly risky environment. A lot of drivers had contracted the virus and suffered also but never gave up. And honestly, this was the biggest learning as to how we take responsibility and ownership of the job that we have chosen irrespective of the situation. Their relentless run on the road was more contagious than the virus.
Technology plays a crucial role to manage operations at scale and reduce cost overruns. It helps to drive up utilisation of trucks on road and reduce idle time by aggregating demand from various sources. Digitizing the paperwork involved in all the dispatches makes it easy to access and transfer information. It brings transparency to the entire network which can be useful for even the government agencies. The regulators are coming up with various online platforms to smoothen the crossing of state borders and such. If both industry players and the regulators work jointly on implementing technology at every possible place, we will see a huge transformation within the sector.
Organizing the logistics sector using technology
Supply chain and logistics are the backbones of every industry. Growth in any sector leads to expansion in the logistics opportunity. Due to Covid-19, some sectors have seen a leap of 3-5 years in just one year. The change in consumer buying behaviour has significantly influenced the supply chain of every sector. To add to it, with various drives like Make in India, Vocal for Local, even PLI schemes, there is a strong push for manufacturing activities within India. And this will ultimately demand a robust supply chain infrastructure.
For the logistics sector to match the pace of the mainline industries, technology will have to be adopted at a faster pace. Technology helps in tracing and tracking both. Eliminating redundancies, avoiding duplications, demand-supply convergence, all these are possible using technology. And the outcome is – efficient, accurate, and organized mobilization of resources. Additionally, with all the payments happening online, truck drivers can easily produce their financial records while approaching financial institutions for taking any personal or vehicle loans.
At TruckBhejo, starting from truck loading to the last mile of delivery, everything is allocated and executed using the system/ tech platforms. From the moment the truck is allocated, every change of hands is logged through the process flow in the system. This is helping in bringing more accountability. It accelerates the process of spotting the area of concern and in turn timely fixing of the issues, and over the period, it will facilitate more data analytics which can be used for further developments and improvements.
Deeper internet penetration, increasing online shopping, more demanding consumers, and constantly advancing technology – all these are providing the necessary speed and agility to the logistics sector.