An alumnus of IIIT, Hyderabad, Prasanth Garapati ventured out to start a company of his own. A simple, sweet idea of a bus-shuttle service app. This was back in 2015. Little did he know that three years from then, his startup, the cleverly titled ‘Commut’, would be acquired by a multinational transportation company.
E-Cell recently organised a talk on campus by Prasanth so that the current students could hear his story. We, along with other members of the Alumni Cell, were privileged to interact with Prasanth and get to know about his journey from being a IIIT student like all of us to building a successful startup. For the first ten minutes or so, he spoke about his life when he left college and started working on Commut. And soon, he was taking questions and interacting with everyone. Here are some of the key takeaways from the session.
The Early Days
Prasanth spoke about the early days of Commut; how when it had just started, the founders never looked for investors. Instead, they used their own money with the support of their parents and went on to create a minimum viable product (MVP) within 20 days! At first, they offered free rides for people from various hotspots to the Hitech city. They used this to gain feedback which shaped the way they approached the further development of the project. The mini buses started with 12, 18 and eventually moved to being a 22-seater.
The first pitch they had ever done for a startup ended up failing miserably as the team was unprepared when it came to market potential and other key components. But it was not so this time. They were well prepared and knew how to handle all the obstacles in their way.
This startup was unique compared to several other transportation services due to their emphasis on customer feedback. They had a dedicated customer experience team from the start unlike companies that start these teams quite late into their operations. They relied on free rides and word of mouth for success.
To all the startup enthusiasts reading this article, here is what Prasanth had to say:
“If you have an idea and feel it has a decent amount of potential, dive right into it instead of spending time thinking about all the ‘what ifs’ and ‘buts’. The startup field is a risky business and overthinking never helps. But be careful.”
Commut almost went broke and failed multiple times but due to their constant alertness and dedication, it worked out in the end.
On the Role that IIIT Played
This question was inevitable, of course!
Prasanth said that his experience here at this college helped to a great extent. The courses and the books were frequent go to’s. ‘Lean Startup’ was one such book recommended by Prof. Sathi Sadhra that helped him and the co-founders significantly. Other technical courses helped them with the skills required to develop the app. (Yes, we’re talking SSAD here. )
He felt that apart from academics, life at IIIT taught them valuable lessons about organising stuff in general. Prasanth was the General Secretary of the Students’ Parliament and the head organiser of our massive annual fest Felicity. He said that during his startup journey, all the coding and technical skills he learnt from IIIT were essential. But it was his interactions as FC and GC that really made the difference. He said coding was important, but NOT the only thing required.
After all, technical skills can only get you so far…
He stated that it is also important to co-ordinate and organise events. That’s how you learn and develop lots of essential skills, especially for startups. One should not miss opportunities that help improve organizational skills.
Commut and the Government
Commut did not receive support from the Government, but there was a chance that there could be objections. Because it’s not common for government to support private buses when public transportation exists! The Commut founders framed the policies of their company in a way that would be least objectionable to politicians. They got around this by making them realise that as long as public trends for mass transit increases, all parties benefit. Commut only encourages bus culture and can only seek to benefit public transportation.
On the Acquisition by Careem
“Its about purpose. Not role. It’s no secret that more funding you get, the more you can do. We felt that by going to Careem, we had an opportunity to learn a lot more while appealing to entirely new markets.” says Prasanth.
Commut didnt give up on their local partners though; Commut’s local operations were sold to their competitor in Hyderabad for the benefit of all those who trusted them!
On Parents’ Support
The one thing that young entrepreneurs are afraid of. What would their parents say if their son/ daughter would leave a well-paid job for a start up? Every kid dreads the “Beta, log kya kahenge?” (What will other people say?).
Prasanth and the other co-founder’s parents had mixed feelings about it. They initially were reluctant to support them, but they did so anyway. After years of doubt, things changed when Commut got recognised by BBC and other major groups.
Once Prasanth’s dad’s friend told him that his daughter used an online bus service to travel to work.