Sixit Bhatta, CEO and co-founder of Tootle, has played a crucial part in changing the way people commute through the introduction of the Tootle app. Tootle is a smart-phone app that provides platform to connect the bikers and the passengers who are travelling the same route. Mr. Bhatta says, “Tootle was born out of boredom when our previous plans didn’t work out.” Although born of boredom, it surely took a lot of hard work and dedication to make it what it has become today.
Academically, Mr. Bhatta has an engineering degree majoring in electronics and communication and a MBA certificate. Similarly, work-wise before Tootle he gathered experience from telecom industry for 7 years and banking industry for 4 years. Tootle hasn’t reached financial maturity yet, but as Mr. Bhatta says, it’s not about earning profits right away rather it’s about introducing and establishing a behavioral change in the way people commute. Once that is achieved, other things will follow. In this backdrop, Aakriti Thakali and Puskar Shrestha from Sharesansar caught up with Mr. Sixit Bhatta. The excerpts of the interview are:
You might have been asked a lot about how Tootle came to be and by now we know it too. But what I'd rather ask you is what kept you going? Obviously, there were a lot of hassles regarding financials and market acceptance, what kept you moving ahead?
We are a part of disruptive technology and we have changed the way mobility happens based on what mobility was yesterday but at the same time, it also means that this technology will be disrupted by something else in the future. So, the idea behind technology enabled start up is how we solve today’s problems using the latest technology and efficient methods available. We must keep our ears and eyes open for what it might be in the future.
What we’re trying to do today is solve the mobility problem. Tomorrow the approach to this issue might be different but today what we feel is that ride-sharing can help significantly solve this issue. Having said that the whole idea or the premise of Tootle is built on the fact that what humans need is not vehicle but mobility, to reach from point A to point B. The reason people prefer their own vehicle is because it facilitates their mobility in any given time of their choice. So, our motive is how we can enable other people to have the same level of freedom of mobility without owning a vehicle of their own.
So the fact that we’re part of the change enablers helps us keep moving ahead despite the hurdles.
From the start of Tootle till now, how has your experience been? How easy/hard is it to be an entrepreneur in Nepal?
Being an entrepreneur is kind of a roller-coaster ride. It’s not very simple, not very easy and there is no one point of success. I came across different points in this journey as an entrepreneur where there was an eminent threat of not surviving. And the only consolation was that it happens with everyone. It happened with companies like facebook, with entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, everyone.
Throughout the journey as an entrepreneur, you feel like you’re always on a cliff and you can fall down any time. Nonetheless, despite the hardships and challenges, the journey is also equally rewarding. It’s always fun and exciting. To sum up, it’s everyday filled with reward and retribution.
How has you experience in the telecommunication sector and banking sector helped you here?
People many times have asked me why I started my venture so late in my life when most would be settled but the point is if I hadn’t had those experiences I wouldn’t be where I’m today. Surely, I could have caught myself in hindsight that I could have started at 22 but there’s no guarantee that I would have reached at this point if I had started with no experience what-so-ever. So, everything that I do right now is the result of the journey that I’ve taken and because of that I’m really grateful to the work that I’ve done, the experiences that I’ve gathered and the expertise that I’ve had.
In your opinion, how important is experience in entrepreneurship?
Very important. There’s something called “The Illusion of Knowledge”. Daniel J. Boorstin had said, “The greatest danger for human being is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge”. It is a psychological bias where the humans believe that they know more than they actually do. If I ask you do you know how the motorcycle works, you’ll say yes you do. But if I ask you to state step-by-step procedure than you’ll realize that you don’t. Most often what happens is people think that they know based on partial information they have when in fact they don’t. Many people create start-ups based on this illusion of knowledge and the mentality of “Others have done it, why can’t I” just like making coffee or learning about a bike. And because of that most start-ups fail so fast.
Therefore, I think it’s very important for people to have experience so that they can break this illusion of knowledge. Along with that, you also must get into research and development to understand the underlying factors of the subject matter in concern.
Talking about Tootle, we definitely started with some kind of illusion of knowledge thinking it’s just a simple app that connects the biker and the client but when we dived into the details of it, there was a lot more than that. So, starting an enterprise or a business is not just about putting up a product, it’s about delving deeper into the subject matter and breaking/uncovering that illusion.
Since the motorbikes are red-plated private vehicles, didn't you have to face any legal problems?
The story of red-plated and black-plated vehicle was written around 1993, when internet wasn’t even there. So, when people wrote those laws, they didn’t envision something of this kind could or would happen. Black plates were there to protect the consumers, so that the consumers could get rides. However, the world has changed and if we base our argument on laws written in 1993, we couldn’t have republic government today. Laws need to change and evolve with time. Innovation always precedes policies.
Through some informal research, I came to find out that some of the riders are taking advantage of some loop holes. Like they ask the passenger to cancel the order after meeting. You probably are already aware, so how are you thinking of tackling this problem?
We already have the technology to tackle that problem, it’s just that we don’t want to implement it right away. Our goal right now is to get them into the behavior of sharing rides. So, even if a few riders are doing so to save Rs 4 or 10, it doesn’t matter as long as we’ve got this momentum where people are sharing rides. As time passes by and ride-sharing becomes a habit, then we can think of these issues.
How is Tootle performing financially now?
We’re still a loss making company and even to reach breakeven we have to reach massive scale.
How are you taking the new competition in the market? What are your strategies?
Whenever there is a competition from outside most of the people ask me, how are you going to handle it, but I think it’s not us handling them rather them trying to get to us. So, you should actually ask them how they’re facing the competition from Tootle and how are they planning to reach this level of customers and number of rides.
The second thing is, if there is a football match between Bangladesh and Nepal, would we not have the benefit of Home support? So, I think we also have the benefit of being a Nepal-based start-up along with the fact that we’ve been in the market for longer. To be honest, we’re very excited about the competition and as long as they are second to us, a distant second, it’s alright. It was getting pretty boring to run the race alone, now we have someone to beat and it’s going to be interesting.
In China, when Uber entered it couldn't compete with the local company called DIDI and finally moved out. Do you think this is also a single player industry or you both can co-exist?
Of course, we can co-exist. The tech-industry is more of a duo-poly or an oligopolistic industry rather than monopoly. Like when Uber came in US, it gradually pushed out Yellow cabs but other companies like Lyft, Grab and Ola came and they’re co-existing. So, it’s good to have two or three players and it just about technology-based industry. When the demand is huge a single player won’t be able to cater to all and when there is competition it is good for the customers and the industry itself too. Therefore, if you look at the global, technology market there are always at least two players.
Today through Tootle people are earning up-to Rs. 60-70 thousand. So, when you started out, had you imagined that it would create such huge employment opportunities?
Yeah, yeah of course and that was the basic thing. One part of the goal was ride-sharing and the other part was to create employment opportunities. And we still rest our goal on the fact that it’s about our bikers. The more income they make, it’s better for us. So, we want tens of thousands of bikers to earn, sustain their livelihood and not leave for middle-east and abroad in search of employment and we have many such examples. There are a lot of people who decided to stay back. There are also some who returned from abroad and are making more money than they were making abroad.
What are the future plans for Tootle?
We are currently testing at Pokhara and we’ll also expand to other cities too. So, in the recent future we are planning to launch and establish ourselves outside Kathmandu. We’ll also be working on enhancing our product.
Regarding our brand, I think most people know about us and we are doing well against the competitors. So, we’re more of a lifestyle brand and we’re going to build on that. The youth of Nepal is more aspirational in Nature because we’ve always been part of a rich society. Kathmandu is very rich in culture and we’re tapping into this aspirational value of the youngsters.
I don’t know if you use Tootle, but if you do you’ll meet many doctors and engineers giving ride. So, that the goal – to create an aspirational brand based on research and development and to build a business capable of creating socio-economic impact and lasting change in the lives of the people by enabling them with the freedom of mobility.
Although a lot of employment opportunities are emerging in Nepal, we can still see thousands of Graduates/skilled work-force leaving country for work. What message would you like to convey to them?
If you’re a graduate and you’re thinking of leaving the country, then you’re thinking that this isn’t your home. You believe that this is your parents’ home, parents being the government, politicians and the leaders. But once you believe that this is your home too and you have a special obligation towards my country, then the way you see things will be different. I feel this is my home. I have every right to try and do things that I wish to do as long as it is benefitting the society at large. And I wouldn’t be phased by anyone. I would fight for what I believe in.
So, my foundations are based on that. and if you believe that this country belongs to you too and you have an obligation towards this country then this is what will drive the change. So, I want to appeal to all the youngsters to stay back or even if you’re outside come to Nepal. It’s a wonderful country and if you don’t do anything right now, no one is going to do it for us.