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My Business: Ticket to ride on India’s buses

The redBus website started with three co-founders and grew into a team of 50 within 9 months. It currently employs more than 4000 people all over India.

What makes an entrepreneur? The BBC’s Parul Agrawal and Tom Santorelli spoke to Charan Padmaraju about how he and his friends set up India’s first organised bus ticket booking service after one of them struggled to secure a ticket home for the festival of Diwali.

In 2005 Phanindra Sama was frantically running around Bangalore hunting for a last-minute bus ticket to take him back home for the festival of Diwali.

Despite calling travel agents and weaving through the city’s notorious traffic, he failed to secure a ride and, admitting defeat, sloped back to his flat.

He wondered why there was no centralised booking system for bus tickets in India when plane and train bookings were so well catered for.

The redBus website covers over 4500 routes across India

It sounded obvious to him.

He talked to his friends from the BITS Pilani engineering college, Sudhakar Pasupunuri and Charan Padamraju, and they brainstormed an idea.

Their website,, would be a way of providing consumers the convenience of booking a bus ticket over the internet without having to leave the confines of their own homes.

The team of three all resigned from their well-paid and secure jobs and by August 2006 the website was up and running.

Internet penetration was spreading in urban areas and inroads were being made in rural India too. Charan knew this would be vital tool for them but he had to get the bus companies on board as online facilities were still considered to be unreliable and cumbersome: “The internet was new and especially for many of the bus operators they never felt could actually work, there would be a lot of loop-holes in it and they didn’t really want to try it.” With hundreds of bus operators of various degrees of computerisation and automation, the challenge was to integrate their schedules into one centralised system. Charan started writing the code: “We created software for the bus drivers so they can log in and create their schedules and make it available for distribution”, he says.

Next the co-founders had to change the mindset of a public used to traditional bricks and mortars travel agents. They distributed pamphlets for redBus at busy traffic intersections and bus stations. Slowly but surely word of mouth grew and traffic to the site started to increase.

Customers can chose from a range of travel options, even down to where they want to sit

What started as a team of three grew into a team of 50 within 9 months and currently they have more than 4000 employees all over India, dealing with 10,000 bus schedules a day.

Customers can chose from an option of over 4500 routes across India, picking their tickets up from thousands of outlets across the land or having them delivered to their home. “For a passenger that wants to travel from A to B, he can choose the right bus, the right time, right pick-up point and then make his choice even to the extent of picking his seat. He can do all this through his mobile, through his computer, he needn’t go out into the market searching for a travel agent.”

Even though the co-founders are keen to adopt the latest technological developments such as cloud -computing, they understand that not everyone in India has access to the internet – and some people feel uncomfortable making financial transactions online: “We have other sales channels, one is cash on delivery, where any customer can call a given number and we book a ticket and deliver it to his home and collect cash on delivery.”

What does it take to build your own business from scratch?

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BBC World Service reporters speak to entrepreneurs around the world about their inspiration, struggles and successes.

Co-founder Phanindra Sama thinks India is the ideal place for entrepreneurs right now: “I was recently touring some of the South-Asian countries and I see a big, big difference between the start-ups there and the start-ups here…the start-up founders are made heroes here, which actually exhilarates more and more people to get into entrepreneurship”.

Other online bus ticketing sites have sprung up in redBus’s wake, like Ticketvala and Travel Yaari, but Charan is proud that his company was the first to come up with the idea five years ago: “Five years is a long time. We never know where we’ll be in the next five years. But we would definitely want to take our services deeper into the country, cover the complete geography – and also look at similar markets internationally where we can add value and create new markets.”


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