In Conversation with Sixit Bhatta, Founder, CEO of Tootle, a ride sharing startup that matches travelers with motorcycle riders in Kathmandu

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In Conversation with Sixit Bhatta, Founder, CEO of Tootle, a ride sharing startup that matches travelers with motorcycle riders in Kathmandu

Sixit Bhatta is the man behind Tootle, Nepal’s first ride-sharing app based on motorcycles as the medium. Needless to say, Bhatta was one of the talk of the town in the startup circle after the release of one of the most innovative products of Katmandu. In his attempt to emulate the ongoing trend of the world looking forward to resource sharing, Bhatta has rightly made adjustments to tap into the Nepali market, taking Tootle step by step to ensure safe, secure and seamless ride to any “tootler”. In this interview, with the man behind Tootle, Sharad K.C. of StartupsNepal talks about different aspects of Bhatta’s entrepreneurial journey.



Did you ever think of becoming an entrepreneur while growing up?


Honestly, I never thought of becoming an entrepreneur. I have almost always gone where life has taken me. But I always have had a fondness for building something from scratch. I graduated as an Electrical and Electronics engineer from Kathmandu University back in 2002, and like any Engineer, I was looking for a job. I was one of the few fortunate people to get into United Telecom (UTL), the first private sector telecommunications network of the country. From there, we started the first CDMA service in the country. In more than 6 years there, I was fortunate to be part of something new, something different. I completed my MBA from Pokhara University in 2009, after which I wanted to shift somewhere rather than continuing in my old job.

 I got a job in Nepal Investment Bank. I was part of something new here too. I worked for establishment of M. Nepal, a subsidiary of Nepal Investment Bank that worked for the development of Mobile Financial Services as an entirely new market opportunity. After working for some time to establish the service to reach out to the un-banked, I wanted to do something new again. That’s how I ended up cofounding Three60 Consulting Pvt. Ltd. in 2013, which has been working new kind of products.



What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

For me, entrepreneurship is a way of expressing myself. I have so many things I want to express and for some reason, I ended up being an entrepreneur seeking this freedom to express myself in my products. Since, day one, different products at Three60 consulting have all been our medium of expression. From EdCrayon (Our Education and Classroom Management System), to the location tracking system for Sajha to Tootle, everything we have tried are simply our ways of expression.

 

So, you have been an employee for big corporates as well as an entrepreneur. Would you say you are more happy as an entrepreneur?

Well, I have enjoyed everything that came to me. I enjoyed working for the two companies that I mentioned. I really did. And I am enjoying being an entrepreneur too. Happiness probably comes more from being able to love your work, whatever that be, rather than being one thing or the other. For me being an entrepreneur or working for others made little difference in terms of happiness.



If, I have to rephrase the same question? What’s do you think is the difference between an entrepreneur and a job holder?

Well, the basic difference is the mindset I guess. Entrepreneurs believe in a world of abundance, while an employee thinks from savings perspective. As such, an employee, whatever his/her salary, may not be able to go to the most expensive coffee shop in the town as often as does an entrepreneur with less earning than him. Entrepreneurs are hopeful and live with a mindset that makes things possible, that’s why they can solve problems.



One of the products, you are known for is tootle. It sent ripples around the market, when it got released. Many were excited to know, how tootle came into being?

Tootle, you will realize, if you have gone through our blog, came out of sheer boredom and our deeper interest in trying something new. After EdCrayon could not pick up despite being an innovative product in its own right, we were working on a location tracking system with intentions to make Sajha busses more efficient. But, Sajha rejected our proposal. And, we had to move on. Ayush, another cofounder of Tootle found out the technological viability for a ride sharing app. We used our initial idea of Location Tracking System, added the new learning and thus tootle was born.



What does tootle mean to you?

Tootle, for me, goes beyond a ride-sharing application for getting a vehicle to reach on time, although, that’s what we primarily do. For us, tootle has been a way to employ the youth with bikes, who otherwise would be killing time doing something else. For instance, an engineering student, who came for a vacation from India, told us how he had been tootling people to places in his vacation time to earn a some pocket money. It is efforts like these that get us excited about our work. On ride-hailers side, we found out that majority of our customers are women who use our service over and over again. The reason, we later found out, was that women found our service safe and easy compared to the public transport.

 

How has the experience of running tootle been so far?

It’s been pretty interesting so far. We are excited by the impact that we have been able to make. There are people who contact us and share their happiness regarding the ease that tootle has brought into their lives and it makes us happy. On the other hand, tootle partners (riders) say they have found ways to make more money doing what they like using our platform. So, I must admit, we are really happy so far.



Despite overwhelming initial response, tootle didn’t grow as many of us expected. Was it a measured step?

Well, we are really happy with the way we are growing. In January, we released our product to see how the market responds. As you said, we did find an overwhelming response but had limited our rides, on average, to around 80 rides per day to make our system more robust. Back then, our platform could not serve more than 100 rides even if we wanted. Hence, we didn’t make much marketing effort. Also, we really don’t want to grow too fast in the wrong direction. We were rather working everyday to create a more robust system that ensures safe, secure and seamless ride. Now, our system is much better, we understand the market better, and we can provide better services to our clients. We will finally grow up.



Are you making enough money from “tootle”? What is the break-even point? And how do you plan to reach it?

“Tootle” is a platform business. Our business model, if you see, like Uber’s will not earn money right away. You have to burn cash to a certain extent and then only we will make money. But, tootle for us, is more about the impact than money. We, at our country, have developed a system that can disrupt the industry. And, we are really happy about that. We have not really calculated our break-even point yet but it might more than 5000 rides per day, but at the moment, financials are completely secondary. We are clearly focused on making more impacts and hopefully, money will follow once enough impact is made.

 

One of the regular problems for tech-startups according to many cofounders I have met is holding onto their employees. Many startups see regular turnover in their companies. How is the situation at Tootle, and how do you manage it?

Yeah, it is true that startups face a lot of problem when it comes to retaining employees. Fortunately, in Tootle’s journey has seen only one person leave our company, that too for his higher studies. Everyone else is here with us. Well, I guess, our team members are self-motivated and came out of choice to work for a mission. Everyone shares the good and the bad of and about the company. And, everyone is quite motivated.

 

Many young college graduates today say they want to be an entrepreneur. Any particular messages to them?

I think it’s not enough to want to be an entrepreneur, have an idea and form a company. Being an entrepreneur goes beyond that. You have to able to persevere. There will surely be good days and bad days, but the question is are you ready to face the bad days as much as you are to savor your good ones. Becoming an entrepreneur is not so easy. Many things will not pan out as you expect within the days you expected. But you have to give time nevertheless. Sometimes delving over the results is almost like going to the gym with certain targets. Hitting the gym one day is not enough to bring your body in shape. You have to work hard. You have to run the miles, work-out and get tired to see significant results. It’s similar with entrepreneurship. Just keep working to see the expected result.

 

  

 

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Guest Tuesday, 16 January 2018