Somewhere in 2006 when Phanindra Sama and his friends approached The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) for support to incubate their raw business solution as a venture, it introduced them to their first mentor, Anand Rajaram, himself a successful entrepreneur and a seed investor. The first advice he gave to Sama and his teammates made a lasting impression on the minds of these aspiring entrepreneurs and led them to build one of the most successful ecommerce ventures in the country. Rajaram told them he often felt surprised and laughed at people who spend a lot of money on T-shirts with logos of well-known brand to earn respect from others. Instead, they should buy clothes that give comfort. The moral of the story for the team was to be careful about their spending habits. It should be need-based, instead of massaging egos and earning respect. Till date, not just Sama but most of the team management prefer to travel by buses when going to neighbouring cities to do jobs that can wait for the time spent on a night’s travel.
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But it never clicked, as not many were ready to take it even as free. At this juncture, someone suggested they approach TiE. As advised by their mentor, Sama and his team had to first identify the market opportunities for their venture. They decided to start with Karnataka. There was no study done to evaluate this industry. At that stage, they did not have funds to appoint anybody to do it. So, they decided to do it themselves. “We went to Kalasipalyam (a place in Bangalore from where most private buses operate) and checked shop by shop. They gave some information but that was based more on guess. So, we tried to find the most repetitive number. That’s how we did the survey,” recalls Sama. Thus, the team gave shape to a company known for its flagship redBus platform. Sama virtually built a sector that was almost non-existent and created the market and the demand. “redBus created a huge market for online bus ticketing, not even seen as a market by the big players, and helped create several other companies along the way,” said Dasharatham Bitla, founder and chief executive of Bitla Software, which also develops bus travel management software. “redBus created a huge market for online bus ticketing, which was not even seen as a market by the big players and helped create several other companies along the way,” he added. redBus and Sama never looked back since then. With an initial funding of just Rs 2.5 crore from Seedfund in 2007 and a subsequent round by Inventus of around Rs 8 crore, the company started growing at a scorching pace from the first year. From just Rs 50 lakh of GMV in the first year (it’s for six months as the company started in August) to Rs 5 crore in the second year and Rs 30 crore in the third year. The GMV had hit Rs 600 crore in 2012, when the company last publicly disclosed the figure. Apart from giving birth to the online bus ticketing industry, redBus engine today runs on most of the competing online bus ticketing platforms. The bus ticketing platforms of the competitions such as MakeMyTrip, Expedia and via.com share the revenues with it for every ticket booked using its platform. And that is what Sama believes in. “In internet, there is space for only one company in every field of internet. For example, we only have one popular search engine, one popular social platform. So there is always a big race to become that large company because all of them know that unless they become large, they will become smaller and smaller and die one day,” concludes Sama.