The Self Drive Car Rental industry in India is young and fast growing. It has the potential to change the way our country travels. Over the past 4 years we have cracked the most fundamental problem – building stable and scalable on-ground operations. With proven stability in the business model and constantly improving operations efficiency, Zoomcar is now focused on the next stage- Growth.
At Zoomcar we are constantly focussed on identifying & building growth engines that can significantly impact the business by ensuring sustainability and scalability. With airport and home delivery services built and scaling, we knew the next focus was One-Way.
We classified this as a high complexity, high return project and started work on building the business case, analyzing the complexity and defining an approach.
To pilot, or not to pilot.
Pilots are a great tool to gauge demand and uncover complexity (ideally with low effort, throw-away solutions). In our case we decided to go straight to MVP because
- We could arrive at high-level visibility of demand and complexity, and
- We are biased towards moving fast
We based our decision making on:
- Zoomcar usage trends on regular bookings (mathematical models to estimate demand)
- Global car-rental trends (and where we were likely to land)
- Cost and pricing vis-a-vis alternative travel options (can we price it right and still make money)
- Small scale, offline pilots that had been run within the organization (uncovering operational complexity)
- The fact that customers kept asking for this feature (always a good sign!)
A strong business case review and analysis ensures we’re always working on the highest return projects. Time is the most precious currency at Zoomcar!
The devil is in the detail
Once the business case was validated we knew these were problems worth solving. Enthusiasm is always high at this stage (it helped that these were very interesting problems):
- For one way to be truly successful, the system needed to be capable of accepting journeys from one city to the other, hence the need for a fluid inventory system. Zoomcar has a state of the art inventory system that runs in-memory, delivering exceptional performance. This was fundamental to our ability to pull off a strong one-way product.
- We needed to balance between availability for one-way searches and making sure that we never had to cancel an accepted booking. Analytics kicked in to analyze demand patterns to find the efficient frontiers.
- We quickly rejected the idea of separating and reserving cars for one-way. We wanted to pull off a truly dynamic system where any type of demand would seamlessly fit availability. This helps us ensure we’re distributing bookings across cars in an optimal way.
- With cars moving around based on consumer demand, we needed to ensure that our inventory stayed in balance. As an example, we needed to ensure that large numbers of cars didn’t move from City A to City B at the start of every week and sit idle while customers in the other city couldn’t get cars. The system we designed allows cars to move across cities while always ensuring that inventory stays in balance.
- There were several other challenges involving cancellations, pricing and operations processes. Cars would no longer belong to a location, but would be truly fluid in our systems and everything about them needed to be stateless.
We went live with 4 cities in the second week of July, rolled it out to 10 more cities in the next 10 days and then opened up all intra-state routes by the first week of August. We’re in the process of rolling out inter-state routes. Adding cities and routes is as seamless as configuring parameters and flipping a switch to turn them on. The system and infrastructure is scalable from intra-city to inter-state use cases.
We did some really fun stuff to solve these challenges and put out a truly state of the art one-way product. I’d love to share more information, but large parts of the system are proprietary and I can’t put details out in public.
In the future, our car allocation system will get smarter- it will manage preferential allocation of cars based on state permits and dynamically adjust prices on the basis of demand and inventory balance.
Great challenges inspire passion in the people working to solve them. The design team pulled off a seamless integration into the existing products. Engineering pulled off the launch ahead of schedule. Operations and CEC teams stayed involved in the process at every step to flag risks. They embraced the new product and processes and thankfully everything came together and worked!
If you build it, they will come
Initial user demand has been strong and growing week-on-week. We’re seeing high repeat behavior as frequent travellers switch from alternative modes of transport and embrace the flexibility and convenience of driving themselves between places.
The Mumbai-Pune route has (as expected) been the star. Strong road connectivity between cities has a high correlation to demand on the route. Tier 2 cities have also shown strong demand. As of today, we have 25 routes active between 17 cities and expanding!