Dhruvam Thaker (Founder)

The SMART Taxi

Dhruvam Thaker (Founder)

India

I believed in my idea and moved forward with self funding. You can bootstrap to build a cash positive business.

Questions & Answers

Praveen

In the current age of Uber and Ola, what was your WHY to set up a taxi business - The SMART Taxi?

Dhruvam

My earlier tenure was with corporate companies, where my travelling was majorly with cabs. I'm talking about 2010 to 2013. I always faced the drivers’ behavior is not well and they are not trained to drive properly. At the time companies like Uber and Ola were coming up and gaining popularity. However, they all were on focusing on the mass market, but there was nobody to focus on a quality platform.

Secondly, I came across much better hospitality offered by airlines and the hotel industry. So I thought in 2012 that why can't I merge these together and offer a cab service with quality of services like in airlines or hotels. That became a bottom line for The SMART Taxi. This is the core purpose of why we started, it was purely on a quality-centric concept. Whatever we do, we do it very specially.

We also noticed that the personalized concept and human touch were missing. That is why we kept it as our core focus for each and every ride we offer: starting from Wi-Fi, water, fruit basket and cold drinks to magazines, newspapers... there is n number of customizations you can ask for when booking the SMART Taxi. We wanted to offer a professional service without any compromise, and a different level of car rental experience.

Praveen

What three USPs are associated with The SMART Taxi?

Dhruvam

Number one is a personalized touch - you can customize your ride completely the way you want. Second is quality. And third are our user-friendly policies such as if the riding experience is not well, we have provision to refund the partial or full amount to the customer, after investigating about matter.

Praveen

What is the SMART Taxi doing for customer satisfaction?

Dhruvam

What we clearly believe and want to achieve is customer delight, because nothing else matters for The SMART Taxi other than the customer experience. With each and every ride, we actually focus on a personalized ride. We are not big on any technological background.

As of now, we process all our things on a manual basis, like we call up the driver in advance to make sure that he has prepared everything according to the customer requirements; whether he has cleaned the car and we ask him for photographs. And then one hour prior, we send a message to the customer that yes, we have checked each and everything.

We have a policy that every car we send out , must reach the customer pickup location 15 minutes prior to the time. So whatever things are happening in you know, on the app, where you are instantly unable to get messaged the same thing we are doing on a manual side as a back end. Secondly, in terms of a customer delight, we have never left our customers in chat mode. We readily give them human assistance 24x7. You dial a number and without pressing any further number to categorize your query, straight away get connected to our customer care executives. So we save your time.

We are fortunate enough to target people who genuinely value our service, and in turn, refer us to their inner circles… and that is how we grew.

Praveen

Did you have a fear of failure when you started?

Dhruvam

When I left my corporate tenure and jumped into the startup industry, I had the fear of managing certain liabilities towards my family. It actually took me around four years to get that resolved and finally decide to launch my startup. I decided that whatever failures may come up, I'll again stand up and start working again. So, until and unless people are not ready till this level, I believe, it is not good to jump into startups. And once you have made up your mind, you will always make yourself accountable.

When we started, until the first 90 days, we had no orders. There was pressure from society; I was blamed for taking a wrong step. We went through a period of financial instability as a family. But this taught me that fear of failure is something that is a part and parcel of business, but you always have to overcome that, and you have to move ahead. Once you own that accountability, I don't think that any fear of failure will exist.

Praveen

How was has The SMART Taxi grown since its inception?

Dhruvam

We started on September 5, 2016. I converted my car license to commercial and since I was not in a position to hire a driver, I started driving by myself. As I said, in the first 90 days, there was no revenue. From 91st day we got our first revenue that was just worth of 600 rupees ($8), with which slowly and steadily built the business. I also got in contact with many of the local cab aggregators, companies and operators, those who are ready to match the standards of service I wanted to offer to my customers. To be precise, we have 682 cabs as of yesterday, on our platform, starting from basic sedans to premium luxury sedans and presence in 29 cities in India.

Praveen

Fantastic. That's very good progress. Did you bootstrap your business via self-funding or did you raise any capital?

Dhruvam

We have not yet raised any capital. I approached multiple places but they were not seeing much potential in this concept. I spoke to different startups, incubations and accelerators, but they all told us that they did not find anything different in our concept. This has been the reason we are not funded.

Our funding is purely our customer revenue. By targeting a very specific segment, we are able to extract a better price from our customers with slightly better margins. And that is the reason our cash flow is also in a very good shape. So, we are able to survive ourselves in a completely bootstrapped venture until now for the past four years. We are also planning to move ahead with global expansion.

Praveen: I think this will be a great story about bootstrapping. In the startup industry, a lot of people see success as to how much capital they can raise. There is a lot of focus on how much money has been raised as compared to the profitability of the operation. So I think what you've done is phenomenal. And I think if you can do that, that’s the best way of doing it.

Praveen

Please tell us more about your global ambitions.

Dhruvam

We are in 29 Indian cities now, and will add another 11 by end of 2020. Once we complete these 40 cities we have planned to enter into a global market. We have initiated the discussion with some countries and the responses are good. At its core, The SMART Taxi will represent Indian hospitality in the global level as well. We are already into a discussion with a few Gulf countries and some around India. I'm sure by ending of this financial year, you will surely see some announcement about global expansion.

Praveen

What advice will you give to somebody who is just going to start their entrepreneurial journey?

Dhruvam

Firstly, due to the pandemic, many people they have been laid off from their jobs and people are actively looking for opportunities. So, this is actually a time to jump out from your comfort zone and take up the next opportunity.

Secondly, never jump into a startup for gaining of fame or gaining a valuation. You have to make your business centered towards the customer or you have to solve a real-life problem, then only you will be able to gain a sustainable business model and you will survive.

Thirdly, many people plan to scale it super-fast so the investors can look at the numbers. But those models are hardly sustainable for a longer time. Sell your product at right value , instead of selling them with heavy discounts.

Further, expenses actually play a very important role in the startup industry. Always keep an eye on your expenses. It is better to focus on long term sustainability, what you're offering the customer, and make it strong so that your customers keep coming back to you.

Lastly, whatever resources you have, respect them and give them the atmosphere that allows them to perform well.

 

Praveen

How to overcome failure and resume one’s entrepreneurial journey?

Dhruvam

 Life is full of failures. So whenever you come across any failure in your life, never get disappointed by yourself. Just see what mistakes you have made, then try to analyze that in the next step. Always implement whatever you have learned from your failures or mistakes. Yes, mistakes may repeat but this time it may not cause major damage to your business.

Praveen

What would you call a success for The SMART Taxi?

Dhruvam

Our Customer delight is our ultimate success. We always measure that delight, so we never miss any of the revenue because this is the excellence what we want to achieve. We have always wanted to become a world-renowned brand ,representing India in terms of customer delight, and we never chased to achieve a target , a valuation or becoming a unicorn.

 

Praveen