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Startup Story: Phanindra Sama, Co-founder of redBus

By PN Team Posted on Jul, 12 2017, a rapidly growing India startup, is revolutionizing the way people book bus tickets. And, it all started when the co-founder & the CEO of redBus, Phanindra Sama could  not meet his family on a festival.


In just few years of it’s launch, Phanindra & his team scaled redBus to a level where it’s revenue is above $12M. And presently, it is considered to be one of the fastest growing Indian web startup – thanks to its great service to bus travelers.

With an aim of $100M in revenues by 2012, Phanindra and team is busy expanding and growing their business. However, in spite of having a hectic schedule, Phani agreed to take some time out for an interview on Foundora and shared the story behind redBus, how he quit his day job, Indian startup scenes, and a lot more.


The entrepreneurial journey and background before he started redBus?

Before starting redBus, He was working for Texas Instruments, Bangalore. He was a Sr. Design Engineer there. As a child I was always fascinated with electronics – the way electrons flow in a wire and make a fan rotate etc., were very interesting to me. After studying electronics Engineering from BITS-Pilani, He was happily settled with electronics job at Texas Instruments.

During Diwali of 2005, He wanted to spend the festival in his home town, Hyderabad. Since he didn’t know his schedule till the end, taking a bus was the only option.

He ran around town hunting for a ticket, but they were all sold out before he reached the travel agents. Bangalore traffic is notorious and can grip you at the wrong time. That’s exactly what happened that day. Also, he realized some key issues with the then-existing model:

1- Travel agents don’t have all the information regarding all the possible bus operators. This lead to a gap and customers had to take decisions based on limited information.

2- Most of the agents were not able to sell return bus tickets.

That’s when we thought of the possibility of solving these issues by putting together information on a platform where customers could access it easily and take better decisions. The internet was the best medium to deliver all this information and make possible e-commerce to purchase return bus tickets.


This was the beginning of redBus.

The initial hurdle was to move out of our comfort zone. We were very pampered at our respective jobs and we were shielded from the tough world outside. Once we were on our own, we started to face the world outside – standing in front of the gates of companies to market our product, take beating from customers who had problems, work very hard to convince bus operators about our idea and how it could help them etc., It was a big mental hazel to sail through them. I am glad we had a good set of Co-Founders and we could sail it together lending one’s shoulder to the other in the hour of need.

Sudhakar, Charan and He studied together at BITS-Pilani. In Bangalore, They were sharing an apartment. Before starting redBus, Charan was working for Honeywell and Sudhakar was working for IBM. Sudhakar had some technology patents on his name too.

In the year 2006, finding a new job was not that difficult. Especially for people with experience. That was one of the strong confidence boosters for us. They thought if they didn’t do then, maybe they will have to wait for many years to try our hands on entrepreneurship.

However, major push for the decision was when they were selected by TiE. When we were selected ( 1 month before we launched our service), they were very confident of our decision.

One of the biggest challenge was the payment gateways. It’s sad to see about ¼ transactions resulting in failures due to PG issues. All e-commerce companies would have been a quarter larger if only PGs were good.

He would say that don’t be very focused on e-service alone. Look at your customer and ask how best you can serve him. For, an offline, phone based channel could well be a bigger opportunity than e-service. Eg., (China’s largest travel company, with market cap of about 12 Billion USD, has 85% of its transactions on phone)!

(Inputs from foundora, Pics: Youtube)


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