The Start Up Story Of redBus – A Company Founded By 3 Indian Entrepreneurs From Ground Zero

In mid-2013, Indian travel entity redBus was officially acquired by Nasper – a South African based media and Internet group – via IbiboGroup, Nasper’s Indian subsidiary. Looking back on the company’s short history since its startup less than a decade ago, you would almost agree that the partnership with a company of Nasper’s class is nothing less than a milestone 100% deserved.

RedBus was founded in August 2006 by Phanindra Sama, Sudhakar Pasupunuri, and Charan Padmaraju – three engineers who were schoolmates at The Birla Institute of Technology and Science and workmates at various companies in Bengaluru. They began renting and selling a few bus seats from a certain bus operator and gradually grew to become one of India’s most successful online bus ticket booking agencies. Today the company boasts close to 1000 staff members all across India’s major cities, 10,000 buses and 700 buses listed on it, and little under 10,000 tickets in sales every day.

How The Idea Was Born

The logo of redBus

The logo of redBus, source:

Before co-founding redBus, Phanindra Sama worked as an engineer in Texas Instruments. He was completely happy with his technical job and never thought of starting up anything but a problem with his travel to home would lead to the birth of one of the fastest growing Indian startups.

Sama’s work was based in Bangalore. Back in 2005, the Diwali festival was just about to begin. Phanindra wanted to spend the holiday in his hometown Hyderabad, so he was going around trying to get a bus ticket but that turned out to be a big pain in the butt. Buying a ticket during rush days was a real hassle in India, travel agents were very little organized, very few of them were able to sell you a return ticket and most of them didn’t have information about all bus operators.

Every time when a customer wanted to make a trip, she went to an agent and asked for a ticket for her trip destination. The agent had to start calling buss operators to figure out if there are any tickets. For each call the operator had to check manually and then returned just the number of free seats that were eventually available, if there were free seats at all. An agent could work with just limited number of operators and the operators could have a limited number of agents because they had to be able to recognize all of them. This clumsy system was not only unreliable and messy for the customers, but also it was really hard to reserve a specific seat and almost impossible to book a return ticket on your departure. So on your way back you had to face the same issues again. Or every time you wanted to go to your home town, you had to call someone and ask them to book the return tickets from there.

Like all of this mess was not enough, there was even a more major problem – the fares were not published, there was no fixed fare for the customer. The amount you paid for your ticket could greatly vary depending on multiple objective and subjective factors. Long story short, it was a big hustle to travel from one town to another in one and the same country. Going from Hyderabad to Bengaluru was more like going from one country to another.

Most of the people were just seeing the big mess, Phanindra saw a great opportunity in all of this. He quickly realized that with the help of computers all of this can be very easily organized. This was when the light bulb in the head of Sama switched on. This was how the startup idea behind redBus was born. He shared his idea with his ex-college roommates Sudhakar and Charan and they decided to take their chance.

And this was when the real struggle began…

Having a well paid and relatively secure job in a big corporation was a dream for many in India. It was a really tough decision for the three engineers to leave the warm nest of corporate work and replace it with the completely insecure, unpaid, and tough life of a starting entrepreneur. They had to start from the very beginning, not even a single thing was certain. But this is what entrepreneurs do, isn’t it? They just embrace the unknown and do whatever it takes to materialize their vision. The young startup team started going from door to door to popularize their new service. They made a list of all bus operators and started spreading their idea among them, too. And this was even more challenging activity. They went through lots of troubles, but they never gave up. This was how their idea had slowly been growing and getting real.

As Phanindra himself puts it, he and his friends were not into business but had to venture in this one because of the then unexploited industry in India. As we all know, right now the online ticket booking industry is stuffed with every sort of agency but only a few are recognized nationally and possess the standards needed to go international.

Phanindra believes that being among the first investors in any kind of industry almost guarantees you a place among the market leaders of that particular industry.

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