Simple Solutions Done RightThe start-up ecosystem in Nepal has never been better. With a new generation of entrepreneurs looking to change the olden ways, innovative ideas are flooding the market, providing services that once didn’t seem viable at all.
The start-up ecosystem in Nepal has never been better. With a new generation of entrepreneurs looking to change the olden ways, innovative ideas are flooding the market, providing services that once didn’t seem viable at all. This year’s new entrant to the market—Sarathi Cabs—has already managed to shake up the old order by providing a fair, convenient and safe platform that connects taxi cabs with commuters seeking rides. Since its launch in August 2017, Sarathi has already catered to 25,000 passengers and that pool is only growing by the week. Ravi Singhal and Prakash Neupane, who both come from technical backgrounds, are the co-founders of Sarathi Cabs, and profess that they came up with the idea for the cab-hailing service after growing tired of being duped by Kathmandu’s cab drivers once too often. In this interview with The Post’s Alisha Sijapati, the co-founders talk about their business and share a few tips on becoming better entrepreneurs. Excerpts:
How did the idea of Sarathi come about?
Singhal: There have been more than 10 companies who have started but failed trying to come up with a taxi service that makes public transportation in Kathmandu convenient and cheap. These taxi services have been inspired by Uber, Ola and other international companies that have gone on to be massively successful. In Nepal, however, people came up with services that did not resonate with the local market. We, on the other hand, both frequently hailed taxis. We were tired of taxi drivers refusing to provide fair service that was free of bargaining and hassles. So, we decided to come up with Sarathi that provided a solution for a persistent but overlooked problem here in Kathmandu.
We should so not forget to mention that Sarathi is inspired by Uber, there is nothing innovative here, but the innovation in our context is the implementation. We tailored Sarathi for the Kathmandu market after a lot of research and shaped our business module according to localised needs.
How different is Sarathi from international brands such as Uber?
Neupane: Sarathi doesn’t own anything. We merely give a platform to people who already own the resources. Sarathi is for those drivers and cab owners who are interested in having rides channelled to them and provides a business solution to a well-documented problem. Our objective is to help people while creating employment opportunities for others.
Taxi services and their drivers are known to charge exorbitant amount of money to riders. In this context, how does Sarathi ensure fair services?
Singhal: Sarathi has a very simple payment modality. We follow fare tariffs on our metres that are based on government guidelines. In Nepal, most taxi drivers are notorious for charging exorbitant fares for both short and long distance rides and oftentimes without turning the metre on. In this context, we don’t charge extra money; we just follow government guidelines. In fact, Sarathi feels reasonable due to its offered facilities—its fair price, ease of access and power to choice. We have trained drivers who are thorough professionals. They understand the value of business and customer service. Today Sarathi is successful because of its drivers; we have customers because of them.
What sort of characteristics does Sarathi value when hiring a driver?
Singhal: We follow stern rules and guidelines when we look for a potential driver. Any driver can have a driving license and the experience but what we really look into a candidate is their attitude towards work and towards their customers, and their ability to learn. After we learn about their values, we give them thorough trainings and repeated trial tests.
Sarathi drivers are professional; they are well behaved, they keep their cars clean and they go out of their way to provide proper customer service. At Sarathi, there is no room for mistakes. We have a Driver Performance Index and the candidates know that if they slack off, it will be they who are at a loss. Our main objective is to not only ensure a convenient and affordable taxi service but also help our drivers upgrade their quality of lives.
While most companies have gravitated towards mobile apps, why is Sarathi still lagging behind? Wouldn’t an app make things simpler and more convenient for both the customers and the organisation?
Neupane: Before we started Sarathi, we did a lot of research and surveys about going online. However, we realised that a lot of people still prefer the traditional way of booking everything—via the telephone. People will take time to fully trust the online method of booking. For instance, if a person has booked a cab online, they’ll still call the company for confirmation. Another reason is that because some of our frequent customers are middle-aged or even the elderly, most of them would take time to understand and use the app, regardless of how simple the methods are. There is no doubt that we will launch an app but that will take time, we are still new to the market. To get in to the app culture, we must have a strong demand chain, otherwise, if we cannot cater to the customers’ needs, it will be a failure from our side to evolve as a successful organisation. Hence, we want to take it a step at a time. There is no point in doing everything at once and risking the goodwill we have earned.
Can you share some tips on becoming a better entrepreneur?
Singhal: To become a successful entrepreneur, two key characteristics needed are patience and persistence. Entrepreneurship is a natural process—you cannot force yourself for the heck of it or for its glamorous side. With success comes failure. You should be able to handle failure as much as success. Nepal has many profitable opportunities for entrepreneurs. Many ideas can be inspired from other international companies. However, your ideas need to be innovative and original in order to be sustainable in your own local market. Come with passion and work your way through. You’re either in or you’re out.