22 August 2017 10:46:17 IST

(M)apping the mechanics

Apart from roadside assistance, GoBumpr will take care of most of your vehicle upkeep needs

Start-ups come into being when entrepreneurs either personally experience a pain-point or they realise there is a need for a product or a service in the market.

In Karthik Venkateswaran’s case, it was the former. He was all set to take his car to his office when he noticed a flat tyre. A call to the manufacturer’s authorised service centre got him an immediate response, but he was told they don’t fix flat tyres. To make it worse, the spare tyre too was flat, the punctures having been marked by the service centre when he gave the car for routine service, but the service centre did not think it necessary to inform him. Karthik scoured around in Triplicane in Chennai, where he lives, and found a shop that fixed the problem for him.

His classmate from IIM Shillong, Nandakumar Ravi, who is also a co-founder of his venture, had a 12-year-old motorcycle. Its engine had developed a snag and the company’s authorised service centre informed Nandakumar that it would cost him up to ₹15,000 to get it fixed. A roadside mechanic he turned to, got the bike back in shape in no time, for just ₹500.

The two had been contemplating doing something on their own. During their MBA programme they had done a market study on the automobile aftermarket industry, for an automobile manufacturer. With the problems they faced fresh in their mind, the duo wondered whether it would be possible to bring on board the hundreds of roadside mechanics and multi-brand service workshops and provide a service to the thousands of vehicle owners who needed them.

Thus was born Northerly Automotive Solutions Pvt Ltd, which operates under the brand name GoBumpr. Karthik roped in his childhood friend Sundar Natesan as the third partner in this venture, which they formed in August 2015 and launched the app on the Playstore in October.

The idea, says Karthik, is to pool together unorganised mechanics and service centres and whoever needs their service can avail of them using their smartphone. Prior to launching the app, Karthik and his partners visited close to 1,000 mechanics in Chennai to find out if their idea would work. They told the mechanics that they wanted to provide a service that would be like an Ola for mechanics – where the mechanics would earn more money and customers would also not have to search for a mechanic. “Everybody was quite interested,” says Karthik.

According to him, they collected details – names, photographs, what kind of service they provide, whether they deal in vehicles of all makes and how much they charge – of about 1,200 mechanics in Chennai and put together in the app. There was immediate traction and customers started using the app. Mechanics too, as the founders had hoped, started seeing an increase in their business. GoBumpr does an audit of the mechanics who want to come on board.

The founders invested about ₹20 lakh of their own funds and raised about ₹2.7 crore from The Chennai Angels and the Keiretsu Forum, two angel network groups, and a couple of other investors in December 2016.

Digital drive

For the customers, GoBumpr is a free download app. The company gets its money from the mechanics and workshops. GoBumpr has about 2,100 mechanics on its platform and the service is available in Chennai, Coimbatore, Tiruchi, Madurai and Bengaluru. Thanks to the advice of the angel investors and mentors, GoBumpr built an additional feature on its app – a workshop management software for the mechanics, helping them digitise their operations. This, according to Karthik, is greatly transforming the unorganised mechanics sector. “Ultimately,” says Karthik, “we want to digitise the automobile aftermarket.”

According to him, over 1.50 lakh customers have downloaded their app and availed of services through the platform.

The mechanics have seen a huge jump in the number of customers they handle; nearly 250 vehicles, of which almost 200 cars, use GoBumpr for various works.

Apart from on-road emergency services, the platform now has other facilities for its customers – routine air-conditioner maintenance, regular car wash or with shampooing of the seats at the customer’s doorstep. The app, says Karthik, also offers customers real-time tracking of their vehicles.

A few months after they launched their operations, the December 2015 floods in Chennai threw GoBumpr’s operations out of gear. There were hundreds of stranded vehicles, but as telephone lines were affected, customers could not use their app. Once the mobile networks were fully restored, Karthik and his co-founders made use of the opportunity and tied up with IT companies along Old Mahabalipuram Road and ensured that the vehicles were attended to on a priority basis.

Revenue models

GoBumpr has three revenue streams: one, a 5-10 per cent charge on the bill amount; a flat ₹100 a month for sending a customer to a workshop; and, third, a monthly subscription for the workshop management software.

Starting with just three people, GoBumpr is now a 40-strong team. Karthik and his co-founders would like to stabilise operations in the five cities they are now present in, especially in Bengaluru as it is a vast market, before expanding to other cities. They would also need to raise more funds, about ₹35-40 crore in 10 months.

GoBumpr’s revenues, says Karthik, are increasing every month, as also the number of customers who use the app. More than 30 per cent of the customers are repeat customers.

According to him, GoBumpr has built not just a technology moat around it to face competition, but also a strong service network with mechanics.

For the workshop management software, they have built in local language capability so that those in smaller towns, with little or no knowledge of English, can still use it in their language.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)