Online ticketing is big. It’s clearly leading the ecommerce industry in India. IRCTC (online railway ticketing) is the biggest player followed by air tickets. Not surprising that there are so many travel portals funded by the biggest VC’s in India. A quick look on Google Trends proves that search volume for tickets is quite significant in India (relative to other countries)
We had a chat with the three co-founders (Phanindra Sama, Charan Padmaraju and Sudhakar Pasupunuri) of India’s first vertical for online bus tickets called redBus.in. They launched the site just a couple of months back in August 2006 and have already partnered with 30 bus operators in India and are doing great in terms of sales. Below we share their experiences, insights and our thoughts on their business, industry and consumer trends.
1. What inspired you to start this venture?
This venture has come out as a result of a necessity. Last Diwali one of the co-founders was looking for bus tickets to travel home and missed the bus because of getting too late in buying the ticket. Thats when the idea struck that it would be really useful to have a service where people can buy bus tickets online.
iLeher: May sound clichéd but is still very true: “Necessity is the mother of invention”
2. Overview about how the company evolved from idea to “live” state?
Started off with talking to travel operators to understand how the industry works. Surveyed the bus operators and travel agents to figure out the logistics. Convinced the bus operators about advantages of online tickets sales. Provided the software needed to maintain their tickets inventory. While some operators signed up for real time tickets inventory update to redBus, most of them agreed for providing tickets to redBus on a quota basis.
iLeher: Market research, partnerships, logistics. Most important factors in ecommerce.
3. How does your team look like?
3 business dev and marketing people, 2 software people and 3 customer support agents. All currently based in Bangalore.
iLeher: Proves that writing code is easy, but evangelizing, selling and keeping customers happy is more challenging, especially in emerging markets. Makes sense to invest in resources that will help in changing the mentality of the people about ecommerce in India.
4. How is your company funded so for? Any plans of raise more funding?
Pitched the idea at a TIE Bangalore event and got $25,000 seed funding and mentoring from 3 TIE members.
iLeher: Just as important as money is networking and good mentoring to stay focused in the right direction.
5. What is your business model?
Commission from booking tickets and ads on the site.
iLeher: Easy question for an ecommerce site. Try asking this to the latest Web2.0 Social media startup.
6. How is redBus doing so far? Any feedback from customers?
There has been a growth rate of 100% every month since inception. Ticket sales for this month as of today (Oct 17) is already more than double the sales from the complete month of September. Customers have given very positive feedback and they have questions mostly around security of credit card payments over the web.
iLeher: Reassures the fact that people in India are really getting more and more comfortable with doing online transactions.
7. What are some of the key challenges in your business?
Making sure that assigned seat (during e-booking) remains when passengers board the bus. There is a lot of travel on weekends, but on other days occupancy is less.
iLeher: Shows that tech savvy are buying more tickets (since they tend to travel more on weekends). Need for more distribution channels for the people without Internet access?
8. What are the marketing strategies that you have been using?
Email distribution lists, pamphlets on bus stations, posters inside the busses. Google adwords (surprisingly number of clicks resulting from that is not very significant)
iLeher: Although Search Engine Marketing is small right now, its coming.
9. What do you have to say about competitors like Yatra Bus ticket service?
redBus has a big early mover advantage. Yatra started their bus ticketing service only recently. redBus already has partnership with 30 bus operators and are expanding fast. Yatra has very less partners compared to redBus.
iLeher: Big player doesn’t necessarily has big advantage. I don’t particularly like comparisons, but still just to illustrate: Google video v/s YouTube.
10. What is the payment method most used by users?
There is a 50-50 split between credit and debit card. Plan to introduce mobile payment soon.
iLeher: Good to see more usage of credit cards. Mobile interface can work wonders in India, considering the subscriber base.
11. What are the challenges of running a business in India?
Other than the obvious issues of Internet penetration and customers being hesitant of doing credit card transactions online, evangelizing and educating the customers is a big task. Working with different service providers such as lawyers, CA’s is not always a breeze. Things do not always get done as fast as you would like. Coding gets done fast, but there are lot of other variables and things can get delayed to them.
iLeher: We hope that as the markets become mature, other processes to support online business will start getting more and more streamlined in India.
12. How has TIE-EAP program helped you?
TIE was really helpful from day one. It was a source of continuous mentorship and direction. It provides a great network of relevant and useful people in the industry.
iLeher: Network, network, network