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Yulu pedals in the change in India

Aug 10, 2018 by Meeta Ramnani
Yulu pedals in the change in India

It has been two months since Akashdeep Singh, a 23-year-old chartered accountant has been renting bicycles for as cheap as Rs. 20 to travel in the city. Although he has a bicycle of his own, the hassle-free parking that this home-grown bicycle-renting company Yulu offers is why Singh prefers to rent it out.

There are at least four such bicycle-renting companies in India and if Yulu CEO, Amit Gupta is to be believed the market is underserved and has the potential for more such players to co-exist. “The bike renting trend is new in India but seeing the need for it in metro cities, the market will be huge,” said Amit Gupta, CEO, Yulu.

Although, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) report indicates a sharp decline in the use of cycles as a transportation option in Indian cities, major bicycle-renting players from the country and abroad seem unfazed by the statistical pointer.

“People don’t travel more than six to seven kilometres in Bangalore. It’s really irritating for the person who has to wait for 20 minutes for a cab and on top of it the cab would take almost an hour due to traffic,” said Gupta, who is also the co-founder of InMobi, an advertising firm that became India’s first unicorn.

In fact, Singh says he had to move to a new area because he couldn’t find cabs near his old house. “Even after changing houses I don’t get cabs unless I wait for half hour,” Singh says. He has since then found a better alternative by renting out Yulu bicycles which he picks up and parks at Yulu can zone— a dedicated parking space that the company has made across the city.

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Made for a cause

Started in 2017, Yulu operates in only Pune and Bangalore. Gupta says Yulu is his way of solving Bangalore’s traffic issue, which according to him “is the need of the hour.”

Going by global trends, Gupta figured out that a city like Bangalore needs 5 lakh bicycles. “Considering the population and the density, there has to be three to four bicycles per 100 people. With so many existing motorised two-wheelers, even if there are 5 lakh bicycles in the city, it will solve a major issue.” The number of Yulu bikes in Bangalore will jump to 25,000 by the year-end from the current 3,000.

Mobycy, Pedl, Mobike and Yulu, as well as several smaller players, believe that India is a gold mine for the business. Gupta stresses that India is a price-sensitive market and the right pricing is the key to survival. Almost all such companies charge Rs.10 for 30 minutes which users can rent using the mobile app. Making its service free was one of the biggest mistakes that Ofo, a Chinese unicorn and arguably the most famous of all bicycle-renting startup made in India. It had to wrap up its India business in June this year.

“Bike-sharing is not just tech-enabled, but needs on-ground operations team that has a cost involved. I believe that it is important to charge for the service one provides. Mobike is currently a little expensive for the pockets with Rs 10 for 20 minutes,” said Gupta.

He believes that Rs 10 for 30 minutes and Rs 5 for every subsequent 30 minutes tariff that his company offers is the perfect price for the Indian market.

Yulu CEO Amit Gupta believes the secret lies in the very convenience that prompts the likes of Akashdeep Singh to pedal away instead of hailing a cab.

Others in the fray

A year-old Mobycy, that is based in Gurgaon is currently operational in seven cities and plans to expand to four more cities including Pune, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. Seeing the bicycle-renting demand, Zoomcar launched its trademark green rides, PEDL, in 2017. The company has been operational in nine cities such as Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Varanasi, Kolkata, Lucknow and Udaipur. The Chinese unicorn Mobike also operates its 2,000 bikes in Pune.

In comparison to these players, Yulu operates 3000 and 800 bicycles in Bangalore and Pune, respectively. Yulu plans to expand to over 20 cities including tier II and III cities.

The Chinese unicorn Mobike also operates its 2,000 bikes in Pune.

Troubleshooting

Gupta says that theft of bikes is one of the biggest problems faced by these companies in India. However, he claims that his company has figured out a solution.

His company realised that most of the times the bikes were stolen by children who just wanted to play and have fun and did not have mobile phones to unlock the bikes. “Whenever any lock was tampered, we would get a message and the on-ground team would immediately go to the spot. Using the inbuilt GPS tracking system, we would find the bike with kids who had just taken them to have fun,” said Gupta. Since such cases of “harmless” thefts started happening on a daily basis, Yulu decided to stop servicing in such areas for now and since then it says theft cases have reduced a lot.

Using tubeless tyres solved the problem of filling the air. However, the one problem that they are still battling is cleaning the cycles. “The on-ground team has to clean cycles every 5-7 days as there is a lot of mud and dust in the country,” said Gupta.

The way forward

Yulu plans to expand to over 20 cities that include tier II and III cities.

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Amit Gupta, CEO, Yulu.

According to Gupta, for bicycle-renting companies to work in India, they must work with the local municipal corporations. Facilities like parking spaces and better connectivity can result only from a symbiotic relationship between the bicycle companies and the civic bodies. Yulu too works with Pune and Bangalore municipal corporations.

Gupta believes that India needs to learn from China’s bicycle parking woes, where people were parking their rented bicycles randomly anywhere, sometimes creating traffic jams. “What must be made sure that in need of providing parking for dockless bike sharing companies, the feature of dockless should not go away. So, in Bangalore for 3,000 bikes, there are not 200 docks but 1,000 parking stations. In Pune too, we have identified 800 parking stations,” he said.

“Having a dock-less system for a bicycle-renting company like ours is integral to the business. So to ensure we don’t have a China like situation here, we have created several ‘Yulu zones’ in the city where users are required to park the bicycles after ending their ride,” Gupta explains. There are 1,000 and 800 such Yulu zones in Bangalore and Pune, respectively.

If a user doesn’t find a Yulu zone he/she can self-create. These are later identified by the Yulu team and once the municipal corporation gives its affirmation a permanent Yulu zone is created.. The team has also made sure that these locations are near bus-stops and metro stations so that it becomes easier for last mile connectivity. More than tech-savvy people, it was the helpful civic bodies in the two cities that prompted Gupta to start services from Pune and Bangalore.

Gupta believes the secret of bicycle-renting business will lie in the very convenience that prompts the likes of Akashdeep Singh to pedal away instead of hailing a cab.

Meeta Ramnani

Meeta Ramnani is a Bangalore-based tech reporter. She focuses on emerging startups in the fintech, edutech and healthcare space. She can be reached at  Meeta@thepassage.cc.

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