Long road ahead

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Published: June 1, 2015 12:11:42 AM

Under Singhal, TFS is looking to increase its customer base to 20 million users by the end of the fiscal from the current 2 million. Recently it had slashed its pricing in a bid to capture the mass market. It is also stepping up driver training and cab availability

A man who did his aerospace engineering from IIT Mumbai, though his parents wanted him to become an IAS officer, is today the CEO of one of India’s biggest taxi aggregator services.  Arvind Singhal—currently driving the fortunes of TaxiForSure is still only 39 years old—feels his best is yet to come in what he believes is one of India’s most exciting business lanes.

Though TaxiForSure (TFS) was acquired by rival Ola in March in a $200 million deal, the two firms are functioning as separate entities. Singhal works in close association with the top rung of both the firms, and strategies are woven keeping in mind the good health of both Ola and TFS.

Under Singhal, TFS is looking to increase its customer base to 20 million users by the end of the fiscal from the current 2 million. Recently it had slashed its pricing in a bid to capture the mass market. It is also stepping up driver training and cab availability.

“It was a great moment for me when the TaxiForSure founders told me to take over as CEO, following the acquisition by Ola. I was a COO then, quite happy doing what I was doing. But the elevation was a dream come true. I am known to set high targets for my team and I do the same for myself as well,” he says.

Arvind was enjoying a typical management career with the traditionally strong and safe set of companies when his neighbour, a recruiter, asked him whether he would consider an opportunity with TaxiForSure. “This sounded like a good challenge for me, and my experience in the industry later proved my choice was right. My drivers today thank the company for having changed their lives. Sometimes I do visit the homes of some of these drivers to assess their experience with us and I can see how their lives are changing for the better.”

TFS takes as commission 8-12% of the driver’s revenues which is on the lower side compared to some of its rivals.

The company is trying to keep the drivers happy, who Arvind says are well trained not just on technology but also behaviour and etiquette. The company has intensified its background checks on drivers. TFS usually depends on a referral system apart from police verifications before bringing a driver on board.

Arvind refers to himself as someone with a keen interest in people. He had joined TFS from McDonald’s, where he was director (south). He has also worked in companies like Marico, Nokia, Reliance and Asian Paints. Of all the jobs he has done, he considers the TaxiForSure stint as the one where he has been able to utilise all his people skills.
At TFS one of his goals is to help the company become an economical brand. Keeping the fares down is the buzzword  at TFS, in an attempt to cater to all sections of society.

The company’s co-founders Aprameya Radhakrishnan and Raghunandan G don’t any longer play active roles in the company after selling out to Ola, but Arvind is in touch with them.

Recently it launched  a new one touch mobile app through which customers can book a cab in five seconds. It has also tied-up with Paytm, the mobile payment services provider.  The founders, according to Arvind, have built the technology platform quite strongly. Leveraging technology in the best possible way, has been the differentiator for both Ola and TFS.

“How do you make that tech work for a particular problem statement is what we looked at. TFS found the sweet spot of getting the customer and the operators (supply network) onto the platform very quickly and adoption of technology becomes crucial. They were able to build that much faster.  A whole lot of training was given to make the drivers familiar with the technology, so that was part one. The second part is from the consumer’s point of view. Something in the ecosystem that was helpful was the usage of smart phones. These were some of the things that were leveraged by TFS. That helped us accelerate,” explains Arvind.

At TFS the attempt has been to help customers enjoy a seamless booking experience, whereby customers could book a taxi using the app on Android, iOS and Windows phones. The app booking process that relies on Google Maps has been intuitive and user-friendly, the company  feels. TFS has its services in 53 cities across the country now and in just over three years, it has clocked 10 million transactions.

Arvind believes that in this line of business, communication has to be right. “We educate our drivers on the technology side and we help them to grow the business together.“  But there is always scope for improvement. “Yes, there is. For example, we look at the navigation part of it, the quality of maps and the ability to read them can improve. It is critical  because it will better the customer’s experience. If navigation tools are better, they can reach the pick-up point without even calling the customer even once, that’s one thing that will be very interesting.

“Currently we are using Google maps and I think it can be more refined and for that we will have to work with Google. There might be some architectural changes that can improve this,” he says. “Also, we can improve the device quality of our driver’s devices. The other thing is our app—the customer interface—that is very important from the customer’s point of view,” he adds.

TFS has been ear-marked $100 million for expansion this year. And technology will be the focal point of its spend. It’s a long drive ahead for TaxiForSure but the start has been good.

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