Chennai-based online portal covers 10,000 routes, books 4,000 tickets/day

We are scheduled to meet over lunch in a popular vegetarian restaurant in Chennai. But, following a last minute change, the interaction happens in a small conference room in their office on the south-western outskirts of the city.

The restaurant will be too noisy and it will be difficult to have conversation, I explain to the trio – friends and co-founders of online bus ticket booking site TicketGoose.com – on wanting the venue to be changed. We will go for lunch nearby after the interaction, they insist.

I start off a bit provocatively. How are you different from redBus, I ask them. redBus is an online bus ticketing company, whose promoters recently sold out to ibibo.com, a company owned by Naspers of South Africa.

“I don’t know if you have seen our site. It is totally different from any other player, leave alone redBus, or even probably air ticket players or anyone who is in the ticketing market. What we have tried to do in our site is to make sure that all the decision-making points are visually represented,” says Arun Athiappan, the soft-spoken co-founder and CEO of TicketGoose.com, who at 44 is the oldest of the trio.

With more options

He explains: “When someone reads through a list the processing that has to happen by the brain is much more. You need just 10 per cent of that effort to do it when things are presented visually.”

TicketGoose’s site, he adds, presents details such as the timings, seat availability and seat positioning when a customer opens the site and keys in the journey details. That is a major differentiator; the other being the 24/7 customer service, adds Arun.

For instance, he says, their firm does not believe in leaving a customer in the lurch in case a service for which the customer has booked ticket on their site gets cancelled at the last minute.

“We try and see how best we can get an alternative ticket,” he adds.

Karthi Easwaramoorthy, President and co-founder, recalls an instance when a family that had booked bus tickets to travel from Bangalore to Tiruchi on Diwali eve, found to their dismay that the service had been cancelled.

TicketGoose arranged a vehicle at its expense for the family to travel to their destination.

Insurance package

Another differentiator, Karthi says, is that TicketGoose provides travel insurance as an option while customers book their tickets.

For an additional Rs 20, travellers are insured up to Rs 2 lakh for any tragedy, up to Rs 15,000 for loss of baggage and up to Rs 5,000 for consequential loss. That is, if the bus has got delayed and the passenger misses the connection for the next leg of the journey, then he or she gets some compensation.

Vasu Ramasamy, COO and co-founder, says TicketGoose has tied up with United India Insurance for a customised insurance package. “Around 20 per cent of our customers prefer insurance right now. We are working with United India to enhance the product,” adds Vasu.

As in most such entrepreneurial ventures, there is a personal experience for the idea to originate. Karthi, who was working in the US, had come to India in 2007. He was in his native village of Sivagiri, near Erode, and wanted to visit Arun in Chennai.

He had to travel 30 km to Erode to try and book a bus ticket. After which he exclaimed, if only there is a website on which he could have booked the tickets. This set the friends thinking. They met and discussed the idea, after which it was Vasu who got the venture up and running. A couple of years later, both Arun and Karthi quit their jobs and got involved in TicketGoose full time.

TicketGoose was set up in 2007, but the real business kicked off only in 2009. They started off with one engineer in a single-room office, and now have 130 employees with offices in Bangalore and Hyderabad also.

The company has tied up with 700 bus operators, 20,000 buses, 10,000 routes.

Turnover target

In the first year, its turnover was Rs 60 lakh, which increased to Rs 7 crore the next year and Rs 52 crore last year. This financial year they hope to end with Rs 80 crore.

About 3,500-4,000 tickets are booked on the site every day and the firm gets 10 per cent of the value of the ticket as its share.

TicketGoose has also developed a software called Vahana, for which it gets usage fees from bus operators.

Apart from the Rs 30 lakh invested by the three, they have raised about Rs 24 crore, including from an angel investor, R. Narayanan of Chennai Angels, who is also their mentor, and two rounds of institutional fund-raising.

Karthi attributes the growth of their venture to three factors – the team; their mentor R. Narayanan, whom they met at a The Indus Entrepreneurs event and who helped them organise their business, value it and opened their eyes to the huge market potential that the business had; and, finally, the fact that the three stayed focussed.

To raise funds

According to them, they do not expect to break even in the immediate term. They are looking to raise another round of funds in the latter part of 2014. “Whatever it takes, we want to bring about that disruptive change in the industry,” says Karthi.

They admit that it is a touch challenge, as the bus industry, more so in the North, is largely unorganised. They have also not tied up with any State Government undertaking, but hope to do so shortly.

Huge opportunity

The opportunity is huge, says Vasu. The average value of a ticket is increasing and better road infrastructure is encouraging more bus travel. Longer routes are coming up. Two-three years ago, the maximum distance of a journey was 700-800 km. Now it is up to 1,500 km, 36 hours.

There are bus services from Bangalore to Jodhpur, a 1,500-km, 36-hour journey. More luxury buses are coming on road. TicketGoose hopes to be a part of their journey.

ramakrishnan.n@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 29, 2013)
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