Yourstory in tête-à-tête with Neeraj Gupta of Meru cabs
June 30, 2008 11:26 AM
A garage not just repairs your vehicle but kick-start your dreams too. Lock, stock and business. Neeraj Gupta will tell you as he toyed with various career choices before starting a garage in 1998. Today, his company V-Link Group steers 3000 vehicles daily across four metros to provide world class taxi services and employs more than 700 people
What better way to interview Neeraj than to hire a Meru cab-brand under which V-Link operates taxi service- to reach his office. A call to their board number and five minutes later, a green taxi rolled in to our location. Dashboard looked straight out of Knight Rider, a popular western TV series of 80s'. GPS, Mobile Dispatch Terminal (MDT), touch screen showing distance and destinations...chauffeur tried his best to explain various services to us as we drove towards the destination.
YourStory Team walked into his swanky office in suburban Mumbai and saw scores of people with their ears plugged in to requests for cab service coming from different parts of the city. "We ensure round the clock availability of cabs backed by a location tracking GPS-based dispatch technology and a 24x7 customer service center. This means a quicker pickup and faster response time to your call for a cab," explains Neeraj.
It is hard to believe that this company had its humble origins in a ramshackle garage in Oshiwara, Mumbai. "There were 50 other garages lining the road," says Neeraj in his soft, affable voice. "I partnered with my friend, who had good technical knowledge and started offering annual maintenance contract to individuals and corporates." Elite Class, his garage service caught fancy of corporates as he started offering free services on break-down, maintenance, and annual servicing of vehicles. "Within 8-9 months, I had corporates clients such as Blue Dart, Sony availing my services," says Neeraj.
This was just the beginning. Soon, he came to know about Tata InfoTech giving contract for bus service for transportation of their employees. "I put in Rs14 lakh, bought a bus and started the shuttle service for 5 offices of the company," Neeraj reminisces. As luck would have it, employee strength increased as Tata tied-up with Sitel to start a BPO. "The travel time for shuttle services increased and i introduced small vehicles in 2002," says Neeraj. In next four years, company put in 1300 vehicles on the road, providing transportation services to various corporate companies.
However, the real break came in August 2006, when Neeraj applied for taxi service license offered by the Maharashtra govt. "The main challenge was capital. India Value Fund, a PE firm came on board as a partner and I started with 30 taxis in March 2007."
However it wasn't a smooth ride initially. Private companies were not allowed to get new taxi permit and had to convince the existing the 'black and yellow' taxi-owners to join their company. "We invested heavily in chauffeurs and the latest technologies," says Neeraj. The company started its own Meru Driving Academy to educate chauffeurs in traffic rules, hygiene, topography, latest technologies, handling of emergency situations etc. It paid dividends as chauffeurs started approaching them and company has expanded its taxi fleet to 2000 vehicles now. The balance 1000 vehicles are used by corporate companies for shuttle service.
All the vehicles have tamper-proof digital cab meters, integrated
with the GPS-system to ensure every fare is tracked, thereby ruling out
any possibility of over charging by the chauffeur. It also gives a
printed receipt for every fare, providing details of distance traveled
and total amount payable
"Our target is to have a fleet of 10,000 taxis in next three years. Expansion plans will need capital infusion of Rs500 crore and we will consider both debt and equity route for funding," says Neeraj.
Neeraj has plans to develop his company V-Link into an end-to-end transportation company as he mulls over entering into bus rapid transit system and looks forward to a private-public partnership in Indian Railways too.