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Startup Circle: How IntrCity SmartBus is shaping the future of mobility

Speaking to CIOL, Manish Rathi, CEO and CoFounder, IntrCity SmartBus, has shared his views on how InterCity SmartBus is shaping the future of mobility. 

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Manisha Sharma
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Manish Rathi Cofounder CEO IntrCity

IntrCity SmartBus, is a tech-enabled fleet of inter-city buses. Its flagship brand IntrCity SmartBus provides safe, trusted, and standardised travel options around India’s long-distance routes, operating across 630+ routes in 16 states. Since its inception, IntrCity has been empowering small and medium bus operators strengthening its presence, to have 5000+ buses on its mobility platform.

Manish Rathi co-founded IntrCity in 2014 to offer holistic solutions that ameliorate the real-time issues of Indian masses travelling inter-city in India. Over the last decade, his efforts have enabled the organization to provide a uniform, high-quality road-travel experience.  Manish spearheads IntrCity's technology division and promotes innovation and research as part of the company's regular business ethics and procedures. He is actively engaged in building the company’s dominance in the field of inter-city travel with a strong focus on expanding the brand in terms of technology and geography.

Speaking to CIOL, Manish Rathi, CEO and CoFounder, IntrCity SmartBushas shared his views on how IntrCity SmartBus is shaping the future of mobility. He talked about his startup journey and also, and he speaks about the growth plans he has for IntrCity.

Please tell us about the journey of the inception of IntrCity. Why did you feel there was a need for such a startup in the travel industry?

The whole idea of launching IntrCity happened due to a clear insight that intercity mobility can only be solved through intercity bus since trains are limited in capacity while travellers did not prefer intercity bus due to non standardised experience.

Through our first product RailYatri, we wanted to make the lives of the Indian train traveller easier, and most of all save them from getting stuck in the purgatory called the ‘Waiting List’. However, over the course of time, we realised that this was just not enough. No matter how much smarter our algorithms become, our goal of making sure every travellers gets to their destination seemed like a moving goalpost. To tackle this, we introduced buses on our platform as alternatives to trains.

That is when another important fact came to light. While most trains are overbooked, buses at best were operating at 65% at best. Therefore, we started asking questions, to our friends and our families trying to figure out why they were so averse to using a bus as an alternative. The consensus was the same, the buses lacked comfort, punctuality and most importantly lavatories, something that is quite common in every train.

We realised this has to change; we need to provide comfort, punctuality and washrooms on buses too. We worked and planned to convert a standard bus into a SmartBus where we offer a secure and enjoyable bus ride. IntrCity SmartBus used advanced technologies to enhance the experience of travellers that unifies all aspects of the intercity bus service under one platform and allows for better fleet tracking, data collection, and management. This choice undoubtedly contributed to the development of our current integrated multi-modal transportation system by providing a practical alternative to trains.

Tell us about the product and services of IntrCity SmartBus.

IntrCity SmartBus being a technology-based inter-city mobility platform, it employs an asset-less business model that offers travellers a safe, on-time, and reliable journey experience. We provide a mobility platform to the bus operators while the operators employ a driver and add the bus to the SmartBus fleet.

IntrCity SmartBus offers never-seen-before facilities that will make one think it's actually not a bus. Innovative features, such as special seat options for extra-tall passengers, pregnant ladies, or women with infants, private cabins, and extra spacious seating areas for plus-size travellers provide both safety and extra comfort. Apart from this, the brand pioneered the concept of convenient and comfortable air-conditioned SmartBus boarding lounges where travellers can wait for their bus and spend time indoors in a safe environment. Each of the lounges has a waiting area with comfortable seating space and recliners for power naps, besides free Wi-Fi capability, mobile charging points ,as well as laptop workstations for working professionals. The well-lit lounges also provide clean drinking water, coffee, and toilet. Furthermore, every SmartBus has a Bus Captain to look after passenger convenience and security during the journey. In addition to these features, the consumer app provides travellers with LIVE bus tracking updates and the Track My Boarding Points System, which notifies customers of the boarding stop or the nearest bus stop.

IntrCity SmartBus offers unmatched comfort and best in class features to the inter-city travellers. We also pioneered the concept of washrooms in buses and was the first brand to provide washrooms onboard. The brand chose disruption and innovation as the path for delivering a superior value proposition to inter-city travellers.

What kind of technology is adopted and how does it benefit consumers?

IntrCity SmartBus has adopted an asset-less aggregator model wherein it provides the technology platform that creates the travel experience while bus owners/operators handle on-ground operations. The company has built technology and set up a tech-enabled operations team, including local managers for handling operations in different cities and the bus crew, which includes a Bus captain and a driver. To implement a network of "connected buses" for seamless, on-the-go monitoring and smooth operations, it uses IoT fleet analytics, which enables monitoring in real-time the performance of each vehicle and analytics of the same for smooth performance.

Our operating system includes a suite of applications, namely the Operator Dashboard, Crew App, Consumer Platform, and IOT-based Fleet Analytics. Our consumer platform, through app and website, helps users get all functions for planning a journey at their fingertip - from booking a ticket to post-booking experience, everything is on the Consumer App

Here are multiple use cases:

  1.   ‘Track My Boarding Points System’- its a tracking system which enables a customer to track the boarding point where one should go and stand. Further, so that a customer can easily track the bus, there is a feature called ‘Where Is My Bus’/ ‘My Bus’ option within the consumer app.
  2.     Real-time tracking, booking of food and advanced tracking, rating the bus as a service, raising a customer complaint, putting in their requirement about what time they need to be woken up - which is a Wake Up Alarm Service
  3.     Within that third component of IoT, the other thing which comes out as a result of this is 24x7 Command Center. So, what the Command Center gets the help from IoT is that it gets real time feed of the bus, it gets the real time feed of the driving speed of the bus, it gets the real time feed of the CCTV which is there on the bus.
  4.     Further, to ensure that travellers feel both safe and secure throughout their journey, all buses are tracked and monitored continuously from a central command centre. So, through a mix of CCTV and the bus position and the driving speed it is able to do a complete 24x7 surveillance on the bus in terms of behaviour of the bus driver and captain inside the bus.

Explain to us about the IntrCity Mobility Operating Ecosystem?

IntrCity SmartBus has adopted an asset-light aggregator model wherein it provides the technology platform that creates the travel experience while bus owners/operators handle on-ground operations. The company has built technology and set up a tech-enabled operations team, including local managers for handling operations in different cities and the bus crew, which includes a Bus captain and a driver. To implement a network of "connected buses" for seamless, on-the-go monitoring and smooth operations, it also uses IoT fleet analytics, which enables monitoring in real-time the performance of each vehicle and analytics of the same for smooth performance.

On the convenience side, the company provides private cabin facilities with flat beds, Wi-Fi-enabled AC lounges at boarding points and most importantly, a ‘connected bus’ where it is always connected to a 24x7 command centre. IntrCity SmartBus is radically improving the road travel and rider experience by moving travellers from trains to buses.

IntrCity SmartBus is a technology-based mobility brand, and we operate on an asset-less model. We partner with bus operators to provide consumers with a safe, punctual, and reliable travel experience every time. Our operating system includes a suite of applications, namely the Operator Dashboard, Crew App, Consumer Platform, and IOT-based Fleet Analytics. The company provides a consumer IntrCity SmartBus app for real-time tracking, ETA of destinations, and convenient sleeper bed buses, Wi-Fi-enabled lounges at boarding points, and trained "SmartBus Captains." Aside from that, we have a command centre that creates real-time bus feeds, driving speeds, and CCTV footage 24X7.

All our buses have been connected to our command centre. There is an onboard device that uses multi-sim technology. Data is saved in the OBD offline. We have 100% connected buses. It stores CCTV footage, it stores scans of driver behaviour, fuel in and out, it stores bus speed, etc. Passengers can do KYC on the app. All this information is sent to the information centre. We note any unscheduled halts or whether unauthorised people are getting onboard. On our consumer platform, you can track the bus, get an expected time of arrival, pre-order snacks that you want inside the bus, and get a wake-up call. All of that is powered by the consumer app. On our IOT, you can see which bus is running late, and the "where is my bus" tracker tells the exact time when the bus will come. We also take alcohol tests for drivers.

The company has established IntrCity SmartBus Lounges, an industry-first effort, to provide consumers with a safe and convenient boarding experience. Air-conditioned waiting areas with Wi-Fi connectivity, charging outlets, ample clean lounging space, recliners, tea/coffee, and clean toilets, as well as laptop desks for working professionals, are all available at the Smart Bus Lounges.

Five unique things about your startup that people should know?

IntrCity SmartBus is the only branded and organised player with 360 degree full stack mobility technology platform. We are determined to bring about a digital transformation in the mobility sector by utilising cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). Comfort, punctuality and safety are utmost important for any traveller today, especially for regular bus travellers, hence, we’ve inculcated every feature in our SmartBus catering to the needs of our travellers:-

Safe and Streamlined Online Bus Booking

Safety and Security:

The platform simulates the user experience of a "connected vehicle." The buses are tracked 24X7 using big data analytics, and the data is made available to users via a command centre. The same command centre can monitor the bus's real-time status, speed, and arrival time, among other things. The system monitors a driver's level of alertness, and there is a mechanism to measure intoxication, as alcohol consumption on the job is not permitted to ensure passenger safety. It is able to provide coverage in even the most remote locations in India by utilising a high-end fault-tolerant data system.

Punctuality: 

IntrCity SmartBus provides a live-tracking feature in which passengers, their families, and friends can view the vehicle's live location and status before and during the journey. Travellers can also look up the designated stops on predefined routes. Travellers have a better sense of predictability during their journey because buses do not allow unauthorised pit stops.

Reliability: 

Reliability and comfort are essential, especially during long-distance inter-city travel. IntrCity SmartBus provides a variety of amenities. Currently, the company has 51+ boarding lounges where travellers can wait for the bus and safely board it. These lounges all have air conditioning and Wi-Fi connectivity. Similarly, SmarBus are outfitted with Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and an entertainment unit for each seat, allowing passengers to watch movies or listen to music. There are also sleeper berths and cabins for a more comfortable trip. Furthermore, each bus has an onboard restroom to reduce the number of stops.

Convenience: Washrooms onboard and extra tall travellers seat arrangements

What sets you apart from your competitors?

IntrCity is a mobility platform empowering branded fleet of inter-city buses and providing standardised experience to travellers across the country. IntrCity SmartBus aims to standardise India's intercity bus travel, providing travellers with a comfortable, safe and secure journey while ensuring that they arrive on time. The brand identified the pain points of travellers and was able to build a mobility platform that directly addressed those pain points, which has been the most important factor in IntrCity's growth. IntrCity differentiation and being a leader can be understood from following factors:

  • Mobility Technology platform powers its proprietary GDS platform, Partner Platform, Crew App for Captains, Agent Platform, IoT based telematics and Consumer App. It is a comprehensive platform which covers every aspect of inter-city bus operations and ensures smooth journey experience for travellers besides ensuring efficient & profitable running of buses.
  • Safety aspects like providing CCTV, Wifi Connected buses, real-time bus tracking, safe  lounges for boarding.
  • Personalised assistance– Our staff manages the entire service experience. We have Bus Captains on the bus, boarding staff for pre-boarding assistance and booking desks at lounges if you decide to walk-in directly.
  • We also provide accidental and hospitalisation insurance covers for travellers worth Rs. 5 lac for every seat.
  • We have in-bus washrooms for safe, smooth and hygienic experience.
  • We also  provides Wi-Fi  connectivity  and  an  automated  traveller information system to notify the travellers about their journey
  • All the Buses are constantly monitored from a 24X7 central command centre.

The pandemic has affected the mobility industry heavily. Where does IntrCity stand today?

Pandemic definitely brought a drastic change in the overall travel sector. In order to understand the changing expectations and changed travel preferences, we conducted an intensive consumer survey to measure consumer feelings and preferences around travel and moved quickly to the implementation. We implemented strict safety rules and safeguards and crafted the Safe+ initiative, which has been successful across routes.

As a result of our quick action in the downtime, IntrCity SmartBus has grown at 1.8x in the first half of 2022, with revenues nearing $45 million annualised run rate and business achieving operational profitability. We established the brand as a clear category leader in terms of size, coverage, revenue, earnings and all of this with healthy margins. IntrCity SmartBus recorded over 2 lakhs monthly seat capacity and 80% increase in revenue. The growing consumer love is reflected in a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 59, which has consistently been the best in the industry. We are more confident than ever in changing the way India travels intercity.

What advice would you like to give the younger generation who are coming into the tech industry?

As the technology industry achieves new heights of success and popularity, career prospects in this field become more and more lucrative. Without a doubt, the technology sector can provide young aspirants with some of the most rewarding and record-breaking job opportunities. Besides, practice is the ultimate key to success. Practice always makes perfect when it comes to honing your skills. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to keep creating projects over and over. That way, you can brush up on any mistakes you keep making. Spend a few hours in your spare time to create apps, codes, or websites to help you develop your tech skills.

What are your growth priorities for 2023?

Our next goal is to reach $100 million in annualised revenue and maintain EBITDA level profitability. Over the next five years, the company plans to convert 5000+ regular buses to 'Connected SmartBus Network' by leveraging Mobility Platform's technological capabilities. IntrCity SmartBus has served nearly 2 million travellers so far and we are thankful to travellers for making us the largest fleet in India. We are committed to continuously improving our state-of-the-art tech platform & making IntrCity SmartBus amongst the best in the world.

Details on the funding?

IntrCity have firmly established themselves in the inter-city mobility market by raisingnin upwards of $30 Million. We obtained our first round of institutional funding in November 2014, which was coordinated by Blume Ventures and a US-based angel investor. We received pre-series funding in June 2015 from Helion Venture Partners, Omidyar Network, Blume Ventures, and Ujama in addition to our previous backers.

With our last funding round, led by Nandan Nilekani and adding Samsung Venture Investment as a strategic partner, we raised INR 100Cr+ to bolster our intercity mobility leadership and declared our intention to lead the inter-city mobility industry in February 2020. Since then, we have welcomed a number of leading operators from North, South, and West India onto our platform. When combined with our inherent capacity to attract intercity travelers, these additions have fueled growth on a fundamentally sound economic basis.

Our IntrCity SmartBus network has been expanded and our technological infrastructure has been improved with the help of our most recent investments. In the intercity transportation market, we want to maintain our leadership position and the highest customer satisfaction rates in the business.