Mobility trends & learnings from redBus's journey
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TARUN DAVDA
MANAGING DIRECTOR

Tarun is an intrapreneur turned VC who has had the unique opportunity to build and lead two successful Internet businesses in India.

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1st Sep, 2020

In an episode focused on the mobility sector, Tarun Davda, MD, Matrix India & Prakash Sangam, CEO, redBus decode the bus ticketing ecosystem, they talk about COVID recovery patterns, changing consumer behavior, and learnings from redBus’ journey in the international markets.

Salonie:          

Hi, and welcome to Matrix Moments. This is Salonie, and joining us in today's episode is Prakash Sangam, the CEO of redBus, a leading global online bus ticketing platform. This episode will be moderated by Tarun Davda, Managing Director at Matrix Partners India. Today's discussion is focused in the mobility sector and more specifically on the bus ticketing ecosystem. We talk about the COVID recovery patterns and changing consumer behavior, learning from redBus's journey, especially their journey in international markets, and lastly, takeaways from Prakash's personal experience as a leader of one of the largest bus ticketing platforms of the world. Tune in.

Tarun:

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Matrix Moments. We have a very special guest with us on this episode today. For those of you listening in, we have Prakash from redBus. Prakash is the CEO of redBus and has previously spent time at both Unilever and InfoEdge. Prakash, thank you so much for joining us today.

Prakash:         

My pleasure. Happy to be here.

Tarun:

So Prakash, I'm going to just dive in directly with my first question, and this is something that a lot of people have on top of mind question. Obviously, everybody sitting at home always wondering when the current state of affairs will change, and all of us will hopefully get back to some version of our previous lives. As I was thinking about redBus, in some ways, it's an index of sort of mobility and travel within our country, right, at least for what real India represents. So I thought the first question, which will be interesting for people to hear about, is how are you seeing early COVID recovery patterns? And maybe also talk a little bit about any change in consumer behavior that you have seen.

Prakash:         

Yeah, Tarun. We are part of MakeMyTrip group, which is a publicly listed company. So I won't be divulging exact numbers because as we speak, we have put out results announcement scheduled for later this week and that is for Q1, but we already in the middle of Q2. But talking about trends, I think the recovery has been admittedly a bit slow. If you asked me this question about four weeks back, I would have said that look, things are looking a bit dire, but we have seen, to use a very clichéd term, there are definitely green shoots now. There has been a clear recovery in demand and in transactions and daily travel that we're witnessing over the last three weeks or so. One of the fundamental reasons why the recovery has been slow is because there are three large states. Two of them are quite large, Maharashtra, M.P and Kerala. These three states accounted for about 42% of our pre-COVID numbers. These three states have not yet resumed any kind of travel. So there is no interstate travel or even within state travel happening there. So as a result, this 42% is practically zero. The other states have indeed allowed travel to happen. There are some states that don't allow interstate travel, but then a lot of interstate travel happens, it comes to the boundaries of multiple states. So if one state in the middle is not allowing free movement of transportation vehicles, then that causes a hindrance. So the number of operational routes are lower. There have been a whole bunch of unlock guidelines that have been put out to the central government and while most of them do call for unhindered movement of both goods and people, again different states have chosen to tighten those regulations, so you would be aware as many people think it would be that the quarantine rules are different in different states. Different states have different requirements in terms of taking preapproval for travel. So all of that is also causing uncertainty, and hence demand is further suppressed. Having said that, over the last two, three weeks, very clearly we are seeing a reversal of the trend. Things are picking up. Traffic has come back. Conversion rates are improving. We are seeing travel happening now. It, in a way, coincided with a couple of festivals that happened, Raksha Bandhan, EID happened close to each other, I think that triggered it. But if I look at the root composition and if I were to understand what is happening and derive some numbers from there, a lot of it is happening because of migration. Migration has now comeback viewer in the initial part of COVID talking about reverse migration, but now we are seeing migration again. So a lot of the movement that we're seeing is from tier three towns coming to tier one metro towns, and that is what is driving the demand right now. And that is good news because that indicates that economic activity is going to pick up. I think the economic engine is all interconnected, right? So, one part of the economy starts, if economy were to recover, I think there are cascading effects and different parts start firing at different times. But the good part is that there is movement happening, right? Once this were to happen, then over time, it is good for all sectors, including ours. The other thing, which is very anecdotal, very early days yet, but if you look at the number of daily active cases over the last two, three days, since August 1st, the growth rate of active cases have dramatically declined. From 15th and 16th August, there were two consecutive days where it went negative for the first time or negative growth as in absolute numbers that redused. That also gives some confidence that if we're able to get a hold on the spread of the virus, that should lead to confidence in traveling. You also asked about what has been some of the consumer behavior changes. So we do see changes in both preferences as well as business niche very clearly. One kind of significant shift has been that if you take the stop seven, eight metros and if you just look at travel happening between these metros, they contributed to about 10% of sales for us pre-COVID, the travel between these metros, the large metros, the seven, eight, large metros. Given that these are the most impacted by COVID, that number is down to about one and a half percent. So that is where the demand has been hit. Now, if you further expand it to at about 41 cities, which are more than a million plus in the country, and if we were to look at travel happening within these cities, it was 25% pre-COVID was happening between these cities, and 75% with street travel to or from the smaller towns. So 25-75, that has become now 10-90. So 90% of travel is actually now originating or terminating in smaller towns.

Tarun:

Smaller towns.

Prakash:         

Yeah. So that is just a niche change. As a result of it, what we have also seen happening is that there is very clearly the percentage of transactions that come to us from new customers on our platform, that is nearly doubled, which means that a lot of those customers who were earlier probably more comfortable just booking offline, there seems to be a greater tendency towards making booking online. And even the supply side, like we have seen with, especially with larger road transport corporations in the country, which would hold large amount of inventory, only a fraction of that was initially available for online booking. So to give you an example of  example of APSRTC, we had about 70,000, 80,000 seats being available on a daily basis for booking online, or the number of people who travel on APSRTC buses on a daily basis pre-COVID was about 60 lakhs. So a lot of that inventory is actually offline. But now, not all of it has come online but the significance is everybody is now pushing towards getting a lot of the inventory just available, not available online to bring them online because nobody wants crowding up of bus terminals or queuing happening there. Everybody's looking for online ticketing, contactless. So we are seeing that the inventory addition also is going up with the supply side. So these are some really good signs on the migration routes that I talked about, buses originating from towns like Azamgarh, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Muzaffarnagar, Patna, all of them going to Delhi. The occupancy is nearly 100% there very clearly. There is very clearly people are making one-time travel. So the one-way travel has gone up. So if you were to look at pre-COVID, 30% of our bookings, of our transactions were --

Tarun:

Are all one-way.

Prakash:         

-- return trips. Now that 30 has become 20. So one-way has gone up. So these are some of the kind of changes that we have seen in terms of consumer behavior. The sensitivity towards the safety has gone up, for sure. The kind of reviews and ratings that we get on the platform, we are starting to see many more comments about people commenting on the safety aspects of a bus. So these things are the ones that have changed.

Tarun:

That’s fascinating. I have actually two follow-up questions. This was was really insightful. Thank you, Prakash. Two questions you mentioned about how people are focused much more on safety, right? Just talk a little bit about on the actual supply side. Given that you run a marketplace model, on the supply side, how have your suppliers adapted to this in terms of change in configuration, change in the way the route is run, etc., etc.? And also talk a little bit about, it's been a very difficult time from a financial sort of perspective because while you are a marketplace, each of these actual operators, how have they navigated this?

Prakash:         

Yeah. Good question. So if you look at on the safety aspect, I think every bus operator I've spoken to,  from which part of the country, from just the larger towns, even from some of the kind of mid-tier town such as Jaipur or Coimbatore. I think the sensitivity towards taking care of safety has been very-very high. Everyone wants to ensure that they put their best foot forward. There was a feeling at least now it is spread so much that it is very difficult to figure out from where people have caught the infection now. It's almost like a community transmission. But in the early days, operators were very sure they didn't want to be associated, didn't want to be mentioned that somebody traveled on this bus and that is where they caught the infection or somebody who was already infected and traveled on this bus, etc. So people were very, very conscious and they continue to be. So in terms of the guidelines to be followed, there has been some fairly detailed guidelines that have come out in many states around how to treat and sanitize buses. They have done a lot of work in terms of equipping bus operators with information with respect to sanitization and deep cleaning, especially cleaning up the high-contact surfaces like handles, armrests, luggage racks, and stuff like that. As far as social distancing is concerned, people have gone by what a different state governments have regulated. So in South, there has been a clear mandate of 50% kind of social distancing. So given that in this market a lot of the inventory hosting is also done on our platforms, we have to quickly gear up. So we had kind of static social distancing where every alternate seat is blocked and also dynamic. In dynamic, you allow people who are in the same family to book seats next to each other. But if a single person were to book, then the seat next to that would get automatically blocked. So that people can travel. Simply operators have a slightly higher chance of getting more occupancy, right?

Tarun:

Do the economics work for them? Like if I were to follow this, what people say 50% in social distancing, like does the route of economics actually make sense for these operators?

Prakash:         

Look, the prices have gone up, so wherever the occupancy has been kind of artificially been reduced to say 50%, the prices have gone up by nearly -- it's not doubled, but it has gone up by 150% or 160% in all those routes. But the larger impact on is overall occupancy. At 150%, 160%, it's okay if I'm able to fill up 50% of the bus. But if I'm not able to do that, then that becomes a challenge.

Tarun:

Yeah, then that's an issue. Yeah, got it. Got it.

Prakash:         

And then ensuring that the crew sensitized -- look, bus travel has some advantage, interesting advantages, right? First, it's a mode in which there are fewer people traveling as opposed to a train or flight where there are many more people inside an enclosed space. Here there are far fewer. Two, if you find that somebody has got caught symptoms, even along the way, you can stop and offboard that passenger in the most convenient place, etc. So sensitivity of the crew in terms of ensuring that they are not ill, they are being scanned for their temperature, ensuring that passengers are scanned, all of these things ensure that luggage’s are sanitized before they're loaded in the compartment, all of that has been done by people and people have been quite -- what we have done as a marketplace to ensure that people follow these rules is that we have put like a three-point checks. So the first point check is by our own supply teams, kind of working with operators to ensure that people are sufficiently equipped. They've got the right information, that they're following these processes. Second, we have tied up with a third-party audit firm which goes and audits bus operators for their processes to ensure that do they have the -- like, for example, are they maintaining a log of the crew's temperatures? So they would go and they cannot fake it. It's either there or not there. Do they have the sufficient cleaning material in their godowns to ensure that the process of being sanitized. And then they also do operational checks to ensure that when the boarding is happening, is there adequate social distancing maintained, whether a scan of passengers are happening. This audit report, we can have a very comprehensive audit report along with pictures, etc., some of that, along with a certificate that is given to the operator. There's a validity of this process before they repeat it. The third check that we have written is basically from user-generated contact itself. So we have grouped in our frequent travelers, people who have done more than one transaction. We send them a notification asking them that would they be okay to audit the bus on which they're traveling? And they participate and there's a checkbox. It's very visual. So they check it up. And if they find something is not as per what is mentioned, then we encourage they take pictures and submit it to us so that we have proof and evidence and we go and talk to our bus operators about it. We incentivize them with some amount of money to the request wallet. So this is a third level of check. So we are ensuring that, one, things are available. One, information is available before the process is in place, that is audited, and ongoing check being done the passengers themselves.

Tarun:

Excellent. That's actually really, really interesting. The other topic I want to touch upon is I think you mentioned about online inventory going up as a result of this, right? And we're obviously hearing this across multiple sectors where, if you look out maybe in the short term, things aren't looking as good. But if I were to look out six months, 12 months, and hopefully when all this is behind us overall digital adoption  is on a massive sort of upswing, is that your forecast as well for your segment?

Prakash:         

Yeah, Tarun. So like I told you, the percentage of daily transactions, which are conducted by new users, has doubled for us. Now, in the past, I mean, for us as a market leader, the only way that we will grow is by -- there is very little opportunity as we're sharing from other online business concern. We are going to grow by making people move away from the more traditional modes of booking to come online, right?

Tarun:

Yes, yes.

Prakash:         

And we have done multiple campaigns over the past many years, different kinds of activities. Nowhere have we seen this kind of flip. Our new user percentages have not doubled like the way it is happening now. While other travel comes up, I think this is the delta that we will see. I think, once people -- and we see that once people start adopting online, the sheer convenience of it will make them keep coming back. I have no doubts at these delta is going to be there with us, and we will reap the benefits of this going forward too. Just before I conclude, you had asked me another question earlier, which was about while we are a marketplace, our suppliers are holding inventory, how are they managing during this tough time? I think it's been brutal, to put it mildly, and some things have helped. So for example, this EMI moratorium has really helped because look at for bus operator, he has two or three big cost elements. One is the people cost, staff cost. Second is the cost of his infrastructure, which are the vehicles that he owns. So this EMI moratorium has really helped because that is make sure that they are not having a cash outflow when they don't have an inflow. As far as people cost and staff and salary cost is concerned, depending on the capacity of operators, there has been a slew of things that have happened. I think the larger operators have still managed to keep their staff at some levels of salary cuts, etc. But some of the medium terms, once people didn't have enough resources, they have lost the staff. The staff has migrated back to where they came from. So that is what it is. When it comes to revival, I think there are some states which have announced some good policies like making sure that the road taxes that have to be paid can be deferred. Those kind of things will also help. But it's been tough. I think bus operators are just waiting. Right now everybody has kind of thrown down their shutters wherever things have not opened up and really conserving capital, conserving cash. I think once things open up, we will see people coming in, reopening, I'm sure. While there will be some people who will move out, I also see other people from other, you know, people are coming in. Because the entire ecosystem is very SME focused. So we do see typically a big churn in this segment. So we do have operators coming and going out. That will possibly get accelerated.

Tarun:

Got it, that's great, Prakash. I'm actually going to segue into another question, and then I want to get into the international journey as well after that. One last topic on COVID and sort of managing through this crisis for you all. Talk a little bit about, obviously, redBus has been known as a great place to work. I know you've won several awards in that respect as well. As a leader, managing the organization through this crisis, I'm sure it's not been an easy task, right? Can you talk a little bit about a) just overall from org building perspective, what principles do u’ll follow? And through this crisis, any specific things that you have done to kind of make sure that the team is motivated? Because over all travel, it is all been about gloom and doom, right? Oh, this isn't coming back. One year the industry is kind of lost out and stuff like that, right? Talk a little bit about as a leader what you do to kind of keep the organization motivated through this phase.

Prakash:         

Look, I think, yes, it has been tough for everyone. But to reemphasize that point, I think everyone has seen that in this case, when it came to this crisis, the impact of it is far more broad based than anything else, right? I mean, you had the past crisis in 2008, and perhaps that impacted the banking sector a lot more. I mean, consumer goods companies should not get impacted. Consumer demand did not get impacted through that exchange. It was only some sectors like banking and some export-oriented sales and etc. But in this case, I think people have all seen that this is far more broad based, and people are  mature enough to realize that this is something that is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime event and it's impacted everyone. So from our side specifically, I think it basically boils down to two things. One is that what did we do today or when this crisis hit? Second, what have we done in the past?

Tarun:

It's also the equity you've built up with the team.

Prakash:         

Exactly. Right. So what we have done today is in terms of not just communication, so one thing is that we got this trend early in the sense that this is going to be the impact of this on travelers is very extreme. We moved pretty early not just at redBus but even at a group level, where in convened as early as towards the middle part of March itself to think through know what is going to happen and what is going to impact, and thereby what are the steps that we need to take? So we were able to take cost-cutting measures far earlier than many other companies did so. One of that was also about pay cuts for employees. But we communicated that quite early. We told people what is the rationale for it. And as I said, people all understood the reasons why we are doing it. And through the crisis, what we have done is to just -- because especially when people working from home as well, it is not that you have the opportunity to connect with people on the floor as formally or informally. So we upped our communication intensity and frequency. So usually, we would have a quarterly town hall. We would have one quarterly all-hands meet where we would talk about the previous quarter, and talk about what we're doing going forward and take Q&A from people. Here we were, in the initial part, we started doing it every month, then we got feedback in one of our such Zoom all hands, that thing that we should be doing this more often. We appreciate this, but we should be communicating even more often. So then we doubled the frequency, we got different formats to have communication going in from people. It was just not me talking. It was the entire leadership team who got involved as well. We have different ways, different formats in which we were communicating with people and talking them through and keeping them informed about what is happening, what are some of the trends. We got some lift because we started seeing that some of the international markets started doing, came back much faster. So that brought up people's mood. All this was widely shared. So everybody understood. So it was really about communication. But I think, this I'm pretty sure everybody would have done. I'm sure that all leaders would have done. But really, to my mind, it is about some of these hard decisions. People take it based on the investment that has been made earlier, what kind of culture has been created. I think credit to the team, we are very -- it's been a very different journey for us at redBus. I mean, it's a young organization, but the founding team had moved out seven years ago. So I always tell the team that, look, we are still as young organization as many organizations out there, but we don't have a founder or owner, etc. now. So it is something that is that we collectively own. There is collective ownership. I think that, more than anything, is the glue that binds everyone together. So we have had the strong bond that exists because of this. There is a classic how do you try to understand culture a little bit? because it's a soft word, right? But there are some hard papers on how do you measure culture, etc. There's a classic two by two. We had done this exercise once and the top right-hand corner is something called a clan kind of culture. So we kind of fall there. It's not that one is better than the other. I'm just saying that there is that box is what the current culture that we fall into. So it's a bit of I have your back kind of attitude and supportive. And the other part is, if you look at the team that works with me, everybody has been on the organization for good part of four years, five years, six years, even one level below. So people have been around for a while, so there will be a lot of people with age in the system. So all of that has built a lot of trust and credibility, and I think that has stood us in good stead during this tough time.

Tarun:

Excellent. I'm going to just segue into another topic that I think you touched upon, which is around your international journey, right? I don't know if too many people know, but, obviously, you all are in multiple markets other than just India. I think most people still think redBus is an India-only company, but you guys are one of the first few people to actually go outside India and have done a great job. So can you talk a little bit about just again for the founders on this call, several of them, think about expanding outside India market? If you can maybe just touch upon a little bit about, in your mind, when is the right time for a founder to think about going outside India? If they were to choose to do that, any learnings from your experience on identifying the market, any learnings from talking about how did you all analyze and research customer behavior in these markets? Because India you know, you've been living here. Everybody has enough understanding of what the market is, but how do you all do customer research in these countries before your launch? What kind of product changes those influence and how did that change how you operate redBus India, redBus in some of these other countries? And any learnings, anything that you can share that you think would be helpful for sort of founders as they are thinking on their decision?

Prakash:         

Yeah. Look, I think whether somebody should think about international expansion or not, it is really a decision about capital allocation. And if people feel that the opportunity for capital to generate more returns continues to be in India, then obviously it's time to just double down here before expanding, right? For us, there were two, three considerations. One is that our core India bus business did not require too much of capital. I mean, even when we started thinking about going out, we didn't need too much of capital for the India bus business. Of course, pre-COVID, it was a cash-generating business. So it was also about deploying that capital as well. So for us, the options were so what more do we do in India apart from our bus business? What are the other opportunities that we can look to tap versus taking our current business model and going to international market? So those were the choices. It was not about saying that can I do more with my bus business? because that business was generating -- was not needing capital earlier and was generating capital or generating cash going forward. So we said we will -- and we were getting a lot of inbound inquiries as well because if you look at redBus, it's kind of a pioneering company in this space. So when it came to a lot of these other emerging markets, in each startup, we would look to do something in the road transportation intercity bus space. We would look at redBus as an example. We would get a lot of inbound interest from people asking for advice, asking for licensing our tech, etc. So we had this in mind. Our earlier investor, when we started on this journey, was Naspers. They were our primary shareholders. Naspers's model also is to take some assets and then the take it around the globe.

Tarun:

Replicate it out, yeah.

Prakash:         

Yeah. So it all kind of gelled in. When we looked to do it, we essentially had like four-filtering criteria. Then we looked at market attractiveness. The first thing was return on effort, right? We figured that it is as tough to open out operations in, say, Sri Lanka, as it is in Indonesia. I mean, you have to go and set up a legal entity. There are some local, legal hurdles that you have to overcome. You have to open a bank account. You have to appoint people locally. You have to manage statutory compliances, multiple things. So it makes sense to put in an effort where the absolute size of the market is high. So given a choice, I would rather enter markets which are big size markets rather than entering small size markets because one effort is the same. So we didn't enter into Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and all, although we had the new people there, etc., because we said that this will take effort. Let's identify the bigger markets to go after. The second one that we looked at was we were a two-sided marketplace, a classic two-sided marketplace, and two-sided marketplaces work when there is enough supply fragmentation. So we said we need to look at markets where there is supply fragmentation. So if you look at a market like Mexico, it's a huge intercity bus market, bigger than India, much bigger, but we didn't enter Mexico because the supply was very, very consolidated. It was concentrated in the hands of a few players who dominated various parts of the country and you couldn't operate without them. They wouldn't want to go out with you etc etc, so lot of problems there. The third criteria that we had was what is the e-commerce evolution of that country? Because, ultimately, when you're building out a category and if you look at the India internet story as well, I mean, a lot of things happened simultaneously, from 2014, 2015 onwards when the big bucks start flowing into the Indian internet space because everybody works with each other. If Amazon is driving penetration, it impacts all other companies that's trying something else.

Tarun:

No big payments on logistics. I mean, you need their infrastructure to --

Prakash:         

Yeah, infrastructure to happen and it benefits everyone. So we said e-commerce penetration in terms of e-commerce, evolution of the economy, and how many people have good payments infrastructure, how many of them are transacting online? Those become very important because you can be very early otherwise in the country and then spend a lot of time just burning and not growing because the market is not ready. There's no point being too early into a market as well. So Nigeria is a classic example of that where Nigeria, large population, low per capita income, a lot of dependence on bus as a transport medium. But like in India, we are scared of Nigerian fraudsters. So just imagine what the situation is in Nigeria. Nobody transacts online because frauds are very, very high. So the e-commerce evolution in Nigeria is very poor. The last one was regulations, how friendly are the regulations of a country because when we go into the markets, we are FDI into that country. So how friendly are they for FDI? So that is the fourth kind of filter that we kept in mind. Then we narrowed down countries and that is how we look at it to enter. In terms of understanding --

Tarun:

Just out of curiosity, which will be the top three markets? I mean, assuming the regulations and all were too constrained, which will be the top three markets outside India for bus?

Prakash:         

So Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, Vietnam.

Tarun:

Interesting.

Prakash:         

Yeah. It would not consider e-commerce. Even Nigeria is a big market.

Tarun:

It is a big market. And which ones of these are you all sort of currently in now?

Prakash:         

So we are in Malaysia, Singapore, which is one market. We are in Indonesia, and we are in Peru and Colombia because even they are large markets, small population but very few airports because this is Andes, a mountainous country, very few airports and no railway. So bus travel is --

Tarun:

So that is a big travel.

Prakash:         

Yeah, it's close to -- between the two put together, they're equivalent to the India bus market size in terms of the overall market size.

Tarun:

Interesting.

Prakash:         

Yeah, so we are in these markets. And to answer your question about how do we get to know and get to understand the market before we enter? To my mind, a two-day intensive trip into any of these countries is the best way to learn about it. I have figured out contacts. Like I said, we still look inbound, or sometimes we sort of reach out through LinkedIn to other internet company founders in those markets and tell them that, hey, we are going to be traveling. Would it be okay to meet up with us? Like Mass processor investors, so they had connection in some of these countries, so they would connect us to people. So look at contacts that your investors may have. We can reach out to people on LinkedIn to since check the market, but then travel there, understand it, figure things out. A two-day trip is good enough to meet some suppliers. Just in a place like Brazil, we appointed a formal market research company like the EC Nielsen to do some work for us, but that is typically expensive. The best way to get real conviction is to --

Tarun:

Just firsthand.

Prakash:         

Just firsthand quick even a -- and earlier I think that will take like 3, 4, 5 days, but I figured that even a two-day intense visit where you just do back-to-back meetings and you line that up if you go there gives a very good perspective about the market and what opportunities clears all of that. In terms of the product, it's quite funny because when we -- so it more came out as a bet saying that one of our conferences, quarterly reviews is something we said, okay, what will it take to launch our first international market next quarter? Okay. So we just took this up as a challenge. Okay, let's do this. A couple of people then traveled to -- we went to Singapore because we already had an existing -- our holding company had an entity in Singapore. So we could just start off from there. Opening up a bank account just took one day. So had new bus operators. Buses go from Singapore to Malaysia. It actually feels that that's a big market, but it is so accessible and as a POC, it was so quick to do. That somebody has landed up there, spoke to a couple of operators. They were interested to sign up. They said okay. And then we just took an instance of our India site, put that up separately, just made some changes and just launched it in Singapore. After about seven, eight days, we start seeing some transactions as well. We did some basic SEM, SEO. So that gave us a quick sense that it can work, and seeing it in front of your eyes gives you some more confidence and comfort that it's possible to do, right?

Tarun:

Absolutely.

Prakash:         

Finally, we started off on the work of, since that point in time, like any startup, we were very monolithic in architecture because we had built it up as in when the market requirements came in, as in then we thought of feature additions. It was built on the same codebase, and we couldn't have expanded internationally with that kind of an architecture. So our tech team then focused on converting that monolithic codebase into more microservices-based, one modular microservices-based architecture. So that really helped us then to be able to then support multiple -- apart from this, it could support multiple time zones. It could support multiple currencies. It could support multiple languages too. And because it's modularized, we are able to quickly kind of take into account if there are some nuances which are different in a particular country and quickly adapt it just in that module and make changes in that module to suit a particular requirement of a particular country without it impacting what is happening in India. There are various such such things. For example, the first country that we launched, Singapore, Malaysia, we realized that people actually search from bus terminal to bus terminal. They would search from, say, Little India in Singapore, to TBS Terminal in Kuala Lumpur. They would not do a Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, but that was alien in India because there are no bus terminals. It was Banalore - Chennai  So that was a -- so we needed to not take into account that in a country like Indonesia, online payments are poor, so people would have to make offline payments. They have to go and consume the transaction either in Alfamart or an Indomaret Store, or they would have to go to an ATM to control the transaction. So to support offline payments, the amount of time that you block the seat, India block a seat only for 10 minutes, here you have to block a seat for 45 minutes because you are given time to go out of his house, go to an ATM, do the transaction and come back. So these are some nuances and changes that you see which can be easily incorporated when on, say, a more modular architecture. Then you make the changes depending on what the country wants. Some features which are very early for a country then can be turned off. You don't have to have them. So that is the kind of work that we did on the international side on the product to be able to launch.

Tarun:

Excellent. This is very good. I think we are almost out of time. But I think it would be remiss on my part to not ask you two questions, which I know have been top of mind for some people as I spoke to them about this podcast. We could keep it quick, right? So one is any memorable incident or any early experience from your childhood days or younger days that have helped shape you into who you are today? Anything that you can think of or share with the audience?

Prakash:         

Look, some of my core thinking has come by reading, reading books. So two of the earliest books that influenced my thought process as I got into adult life, and I don't even know how I got on these books. It's just serendipity. I don't know what it is. One was you know these writings by Ayn Rand, Fountainhead?

Tarun:

Yes.

Prakash:         

So that built some foundational beliefs around the power of rational thinking, why capitalism is a better system. Those things have stayed with me all this while. So a lot of my approach or thinking is based on this book. The other one in terms of what it did for my career and what influenced me, and this is specifically when I see, I don't even know how I chanced upon that book, is an autobiography by a gentleman called Lee Iacocca. He was the president of Ford Motor Company, and then he went on to become the chairman of Chrysler. And Chrysler was in bankruptcy, and he nursed it back to health. He got a bailout from the federal government. That's a story about him. I mean, there are so many figures in modern business. I don't know what is about Lee Iacocca, but somehow I chanced on that book.

Tarun:

I've read that one as well. It's a fascinating read. I read that when I was in school as well.

Prakash:         

Yeah, read and reread it so many times and that developed a fascination for business and marketing and all of that. So yeah, I think these books have been quite influential in terms of making me the person I am.

Tarun:

Excellent. Last question before we conclude. I think you're one of the fortunate people to have worked with someone we all consider a legend when it comes to Indian internet, Mr. Sanjeev Bikhchandani. Can you narrate any one incident that -- or any one leadership trait that you would have picked up from him having seen him operate?

Prakash:         

Yeah. I think, so one is I should definitely talk about my first meeting with Sanjeev. It was quite hilarious. So I was in Airtel then. I had joined Airtel from FMCG wanting to learn about value-added services and mobile extranet, which made me realize that, look, all the innovation excitement is on the internet side. Mobile is going to be just the carrier of the internet, the pipe, and then internet is where all the action is going to be. So I was fortunate to be introduced to Sanjeev and then I met Sanjeev was gracious enough to give me a meeting. I thought I'll just go there and take some advice on career. Within like 10 minutes of that conversation, Sanjeev calls Amrish the CFO then of InfoEdge --

Tarun:

I remember you telling me this, but please share it with the audience.

Prakash:         

And then the HR head came in, Sharmeen. And I was wondering what is happening here because I want to just meet Sanjeev for some career advice. Why are all these people in the room? Hitesh would want to be my boss, was travelling that day, he wasn't there. And then it all just ended and the next day Sanjeev called and said, "Look, we really like you. I want to recommend to join Naukri as a product head." I was like, "Absolutely." I don't know what emotions. I felt thoroughly unprepared because I had gone to Airtel to learn from FMCG, how things worked and I had no clue, frankly. So I told Sanjeev that "Look, Sanjeev, I don't think I'll be able to do a good job with this. I'm not confident. I will let this pass." I think that was there, but then two months later, he called again and he remembered a nugget of our conversation that I told him something about education. I think I mentioned to him that one of the things I've seen in Airtel was how people consumed educational content, especially learning to speak English and all that.

Tarun:

This was the vas days.

Prakash:

Yeah, vas days and all. This is value-added service. He said, "Look, you had mentioned about the fact that you like education as a space, and I want to see our future there. So we're just about launching this new product called Shiksha in education space. Would you like to come and run  that for us?" That seemed like something that I could do a business role. I jumped at it. I worked with him. The other thing, so then I think he wanted me to meet him and Hitesh once before I formally joined. My past experience before getting into InfoEdge was with large companies. I got with Airtel, which was not that big, though, at that point and then before that HUL. There, as a manager, you're really prided, people look up to you if you know your facts. You are supposed to have answers to all the questions. So I went to this meeting with Sanjeev and Hitesh. I asked Sanjeev and Hitesh that "Look, you're asking me about this Shiksha. What do you think is the business potential, or how much do you think we should be doing in the next four, five years, in the next year? What are the some of the goals? Sanjeev looks at me and said, Boss "We would want you to tell that to us. We don't know. We just came to the opportunity here, and we want to try this out." To my mind, that was like a 180-degree flip on whatever I had considered sacrosanct in my career and life so far, which is that we needed to a higher view. We need to have like, if somebody asked you, okay, what is the number that you will -- what's the forecast for the next 12 months? You should develop an answer, and you should have like an innovation pipeline that, you know, and if you got that, look, here, then it's about new things, new opportunities. It's going to be far more ambiguous. It's far more undefined. It's about just discovering those pieces as you go along. That was very, very interesting for me.

Tarun:

That's really interesting. I think you're fortunate to have got to work with some of these leaders. So anyways, Prakash, thank you so much. I think this has been an enriching episode. I think just the learnings from, obviously, early days at InfoEdge and Naukri and the rest of the brands but also seeing redBus, seeing all the good times over the last few years, and then how you've navigated this crisis and also being able to keep the team together. Honestly, it's been a lot of learning for everybody. So thank you so much. Personally, I've learned a lot through this conversation, and I've loved the offline interaction as well. So thank you so much for taking out the time. I look forward to being more of this in the future.

Prakash:         

Thank you, Tarun. I enjoyed my time too. Thanks.

Tarun:

Thank you so much.

Salonie:

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