Traffline provides real-time traffic updates in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. As it plans to extend the service to more cities, it has to figure how to monetise the user base
In May, Aaj Tak's Vikrant Gupta wrote on social networking site Twitter, "Have to say @TrafflineDEL is doing a wonderful job. I always make it a point to scan it before deciding on routes." Ashish Bali tweeted he had saved an hour, thanks to @TrafflineMUM. "Link road was the best idea. Reached Goregaon east from Dahisar in 30 minutes," he wrote.
TrafflineMUM and TrafflineDEL are Delhi and Mumbai Twitter handles of Traffline, a digital traffic information firm.
Traffline, which allows commuters to check traffic conditions in their cities at any time, was launched in 2012 through its parent firm Bird's Eye Technology, founded by Brijraj Vaghani and Ravi Khemani in 2011.
Vaghani, co-founder and chief executive, manages product and business development. Khemani takes care of finance, daily operations, project management and recruitment.
Initial drags for the company included no concrete help in sourcing data, lack of capital and talent and the fact that Traffline wasn't a consumer-centric company. Vaghani says, the primary concern is "to get people used to checking traffic news before travelling". He adds the company is shifting from a premium model to an all-free one.
How it works
One can visit the Traffline website, allow it to access her/his location or feed this in and get the traffic details. One can also look around a location in a map for information along a certain route and find the estimated travel time, based on traffic conditions. Or, look for traffic jams in a city or parking space. Vaghani says the service can be accessed across platforms - email, SMS, mobile phones and a call centre.
Area of business : Digital traffic information firm
Started operations: 2012 via its parent company Bird's Eye Technology in Mumbai
Revenues: Rs 2.5-3 crore (2013-14, estimated)
Break-even : In 2017
Funding: Promoters = Rs 35-40 lakh
IIM-A's Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship = Rs 20 lakh
Indian Angel Network = Rs 2 crore
Matrix Partners = Undisclosed
Traffline serves customers in the National Capital Region, Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad. Next year, it aims to reach 10 more cities, including Chennai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad. It also plans to offer services for national highways and tier-II and -III cities.
"We don't have any competition, apart from sporadic traffic information provided by radio stations, sourced manually from limited junctions," Vaghani says.
Waze, Sabka Traffic and Happy Paths also provide traffic information but only through mobile applications.
Traffline sources data from taxis, public transport vehicles, etc, which have GPS installed. Accident and event-related information is collected from people on the field, as well as Traffline's followers on Twitter. "We track this network of probes meticulously; a patented algorithm collates the data and gives it to users," says Vaghani.
Taveesh Pandey, chief executive and director, Black Diamond PE Advisors, says, "Sourcing data from Twitter may keep expenses low and allow it to focus on service but after a point, users' expectations will soar. Using Twitter data is a short cut. To be able to take the big leap, Traffline will need investment of $3-5 million."
He feels it should focus on securing commercial clients like logistics firms or pizza chains and tie up with mobile firms to leverage their client base.
For Traffline, the initial capital of Rs 35-40 lakh came from the founders' personal savings and funds from other small projects. Then, it received funding from the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship, Indian Angel Network and Matrix Partners. Vaghani says the turning point was the fact that the company was selected as a finalist in the 10-day 'Power of Ideas' contest and incubation at Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad.
Before the funding by Matrix Partners, India Angels Network had infused Rs 2 crore in Bird's Eye.
On the current financial position, Vaghani says, "We don't need any more funds."
Vikram Vaidyanatha, director at Matrix Partners, says, "Today, the business model is unclear; we're single-mindedly focused on serving users in a unique and differentiated way and becoming part of their daily lives. In time, we will experiment and evolve a business model."
Traffline has grown from a four-employee entity in 2012 to 20-strong. Its mobile app has already seen 100,000 downloads since its launch early this year. Currently, it receives 3,500,000 data points a day for traffic monitoring and 1,000,000 traffic requests a week. A user base of about 500,000 is accounted for by the mobile, web and call centre media. On a month-on-month basis, this has been growing 30-40 per cent in the monsoon and 20 per cent in summer. The monthly active user base stands at 40 per cent of the total.
The company's services have been endorsed by the Mumbai, Thane, Bangalore and Pune traffic police departments.
It aims to break even in three years. For the past financial year, the revenue wasn't significant. "We clocked only a few million rupees. We are still finalising our business plan post the latest funding. So, there is no revenue target," says Vaghani. Estimates suggest the company earned revenue of Rs 2.5-3 crore last year. Revenue comes from value-added services, location-based advertising, through call centres and app purchases.
"The good part is we don't invest directly in hardware. That happens mostly through partnerships. Therefore, ours is a low-cost model. Our expense is on software development and maintenance. Of the operation costs, 10 per cent goes towards maintaining the Twitter handles and taking calls," says Vaghani. There are no marketing costs; Traffline acquires customers organically and through social media.
What gives Traffline an edge over Google Maps is it works closely with the traffic police and social media users. "We aspire to push traffic alerts to users on a real-time basis in the next two years," says Vaghani. He expects government authorities to approach Traffline for data through the next two to five years.
As the market matures, competitors are inevitable. "The key challenge for Traffline is paid-customer acquisition and keeping its accuracy better than Google's. In business-to-business markets where the company offers services to taxi companies and others, developing barriers to entry is equally important," says Sushanto Mitra, founder & chief executive officer, Lead Angels Network.
The company also plans to integrate its system with other sectors such as automobile, travel and telecommunication, which can use traffic information to improve their operations.
The Traffline application (app) is the same as Google Maps; all Traffline features are present in Google Maps. The report section of the Traffline app is very useful, as it tells end-users about the root cause of the traffic. And, the data can be used by traffic police for rapid action. But the timeline needs a filter section for updates. Most of the time, people share their thoughts about traffic on Twitter, and such information isn't relevant.
As a revenue model, advertising will not help the company unless user-generated data cannot become advertisement. As far as value-added service is concerned, if users are generating data, all features of the app should be free. No one has the time to call a support centre or call centre for traffic updates.
Traffline will be a scalable business if the data generated by end-users can be utilised in a more effective manner, rather than only by the auto and travel sectors, as 'Android Auto' will be launched soon. Integrating live traffic feed with industries in the auto and travel sectors is not a valid point. So, once Android Auto is available in cars, people can download the Traffline app directly and use it. The auto sector will not have to depend on Traffline.
Rajkumar Mundel, is founder of Letsride.in, a community driven ride-sharing social platform
A Mumbai company has released a smartphone app that maps the traffic condition in cities in real time
If you live in metropolitan cities like Delhi or Mumbai, getting stuck in traffic is a part of commuters' daily woes. If there's incessant rain or VIP movement or a public rally, then traffic troubles only worsen. To help drivers get prior information about traffic, around a year ago Mumbai-based startup Birds Eye Systems (BES) came up with an app called Traffline to give instant live updates. Brijraj Vaghnani and Ravi Khemani, co-founders of BES, had earlier started a portal by the same name.
But first, how does Traffline work and what is it all about? Traffline functions on a network of GPS trackers across the city - it's currently in place in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore - and provides continuous updates on several routes across these cities. For instance, if a commuter wants to know about the traffic condition between Saket and Connaught Place in New Delhi, the app will inform him or her about traffic density using colour codes for heavy, moderate or smooth drives.
BES started collating raw traffic data from various sources like call centres and traffic police and then developed an algorithm to convert the raw data into meaningful information. Khemani says the challenge was to pass on the data to consumers in a user-friendly way. "So we started off with our website first, and when smart phone penetration started to increase, we took it to the mobile platform," he says.
Available on iPhone, Android and Blackberry platforms, the company claims that it has received over 40,000 plus downloads. It also has an active presence on Twitter, with a considerably low number of 6,000 followers, but there the updates are provided between 8 am and 9 pm from Monday to Saturday. The concept is being marketed using social media campaigns only and the company has no plans to use any other medium as of now.
There's also an SMS alert and email alert subscription package available at Rs 849 per year and Rs 549 per year, respectively. To use the SMS and email alerts, users can choose source and destination location for which they want to receive updates. They can either opt for a fixed time to receive an update or for an on-demand alert. For the latter, sending an SMS gets you information on current traffic conditions. "I use the app daily while going to work from Andheri to Dadar, and it works most of the times," says Akshat Shukla, a banker in Mumbai.
The company received angel funding of Rs 2 crore last year and aims to handle 10 million traffic requests per day. There are plans to launch the service in 15 cities - among them, Pune, Kolkata, Chandigarh and Ahmedabad - in the next two years. On the BES website, there's also a sidebar which constantly gives updates about traffic jams or any accident which might disrupt traffic on particular routes in the city. But is the app accurate enough?
We tried the app in Delhi from Vasant Kunj to Greater Kailash II. At the time we drove through the city, the app showed traffic to be smooth, which it was. Mumbai Traffic Police has now tied up with Traffline to provide information on their official website as well.
So how does the company plan to generate revenue? Plans are on to create revenues from the value-added-services, location-based advertising, subscribers and through call centres. Currently, Traffline has around 10,000 subscribed users and is looking to grow the number "substantially" in the next few months as they plan to go to other cities. Overall across platforms, Traffline has a user base of close to 300,000 users.
The association of Khemani and Vaghnani goes back years when they were both techies in the US. "Traffic monitoring systems are quite common in West but there was nothing as such in India," says Khemani, which is why they decided to tap the potential in the space. As of now, there aren't many competitors to Traffline. Although Nokia Navigation does provide real-time traffic updates on its Windows smartphones. Even Google Maps and Mapmyindia give traffic updates in Delhi and Mumbai. As smartphone users in the country grow each passing month, Traffline is a concept that has the potential to grow bigger.