Interview with Phanindra Sama–founder of redbus.in

Redbus LogoRedbus.in, a unique concept in providing bus tickets is a famous thing now. Around 2005, some professionals from Bangalore thought about starting a venture where people could book buses, not railways or planes. The most compelling reason behind starting this venture was that no body in India had done this!

Now, as you read this, redBus has come a very long way from days of struggle to days of growth. It has the largest number of tie-ups (and growing) with bus operators and a large and satisfied customer base.

We had an email interview with Phanindra.

Q1. Redbus was a daring concept given the unorganized operation of buses across India. Tell us how it all started?

redBus.in commenced operations in 2006.

Phanindra SamaIt was started by 3 of us, classmates at BITS-Pilani. We were working in Bangalore at different companies like Texas Instruments, IBM and Honeywell. redBus as a concept was born out of a need. I was trying to book a bus ticket during Diwali 2005 and couldn’t get a ticket. On exploring options, I discovered that the operations in the industry were unsophisticated and unorganized.

I discussed this with my friends and on further research, we saw a huge opportunity infront of us. Together, we met a lot of bus operators to understand in detail their operations and created the first version of our s/w. The s/w was intended to provide tools to the bus operator to manage his inventory efficiently.

During that time, TiE, Bangalore Chapter, where I was a member, had called for business plans for mentoring. We presented our plan and got selected. The mentoring from TiE Mentors helped us further refine our plan and strategy and we focused on customer centric travel brand, redBus.in

redBus.in, today offers services in over 10000 routes in 15 states. With offices and local call centers in 10 locations in the country, we have over 1 million page views on our website everyday. Besides this, we have large distribution with our channel point of sales adding upto 30,000 across the country.

Like any typical bus agent, our revenue model is based on commissions from bus operators

Q2. How was the response in the beginning?

We got slow response because the concept was new. Before we started redBus, customers were not used to booking tickets on internet. As expected, there was skepticism amongst customers, bus operators and agents. The problem also aggravated because we were a new company and a young team.

Q3. Four years ago, when nobody knew that such potential existed, did people doubt that you have entered into a danger zone of jeopardizing your career by stumbling onto entrepreneurship?

The bus operators, agents, and our team managers at our respective offices were worried. However, our parents were not as worried. Either they had faith in us or they didn’t understand what we were up to.

Q4. What was the market size in your sight when you started this venture, and how much it has scaled now?

When we started, there was only very rough estimate of the market. And the first no# we were very confident of was 100 Crore. We thought 100 Cr. is big enough market for us to venture into. Now we realize that it’s a 15000 Crore market!!! This is certainly a very very big market for one work put ones heart and soul.

Phanindra SamaQ5. Tell us about your business strategy. Has it changed fundamentally or just the improvement due to continuous demands?

Our strategy is driven by customer need. We can say it’s taking shape as we cater to the continuous demands.

Q6. What uniqueness you bring to your customers to make it a memorable experience? Do you feel any pressure of competition?

The website experience is very good it’s simple, performance driven and has largest inventory. These are simple things to write, but take a lot of effort in the backend.

Yes. We have competition. However, it’s healthy.

Q7. Tell us about the redBus team. How you guys gel together?

We are a very closely knit team. For all of us the inspiration is to build something respectable and useful. Since we have a common agenda, it’s easier to work together.

Q8. What you feel is the value of innovation in your business?

There’s huge value of innovation in our business. The whole concept of selling on internet is an innovation. The next big thing now is mobile. We have to innovate to participate in this next big wave.

Q9. What is the scope of expansion and what is your vision about it?

We plan to scale up and expand the business by understanding customers better and creating products/processes to serve them better. I believe that having greater emphasis on consumer is a foundation for scaling up a business like ours.

Q10. Talking about your personal growth, how has been the journey as an entrepreneur?

It’s been a great learning. There is so much to be done, always. I have become more sober and responsible after taking up entrepreneurship.

Q11. Any hard lesson that you learnt as an entrepreneur?

One tough lesson that I leant is that as an entrepreneur one has to battle with oneself. Entrepreneurs need to be psychologists at times. And the battle with self it the hardest realization one can have.

Q12. Any advice for future entrepreneurs from your personal and professional experience?

I would caution youth not to enter in the entrepreneurship fresh out of college. My advice is that they work for about 3 to 4 years in any company before getting in to entrepreneurship. There’s a lot of learning when one works. He’ll learn about various departments in an organization, their roles & responsibilities, people issues and the way they have been solved etc.,

I would say that entrepreneurship is all about building BIG companies VERY FAST. And has nothing to do with when the entrepreneur starts building the company. e. g., Google is considered a huge success because it crossed $100 billion in turnover in the shortest period of time and not because it’s started by young guys, just out of college. Business is all about real money and no emotion.

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