Travelling in and around Kathmandu city can be quite stressful. If you do not have your own means of transportation, you are either forced to travel in cramped public transport or pay hefty sums on taxi fares as most drivers disagree on using the meter.
The growing use of Tootle has managed to change the game for many. The company provides two different apps: 1. To give bike rides and 2. To take bike rides. Not only does Tootle deliver a relatively cheaper and safer ride, it also gives the ride provider a chance to earn extra money. “Tootle has become the cheapest and the easiest way to reach anywhere. We can get to anyplace on time without getting stuck in the maddening traffic, plus it is cheap,” says Neha Tamang, a 21-year-old student. Khusbu K.C. an avid Tootle user says, “Tootle has made my life easier as it is able to reach routes that public transport doesn’t.”
Bibek Rai, a Tootle ride provider, tells, “Actually the reason I joined Tootle was to earn extra pocket money. Since joining Tootle, I have been offering rides on my way to college and earning money at the same time.” To those who are uncomfortable riding with the opposite sex, there is also the provision to choose the gender of the driver. Payment system for the rides is equally convenient, which can either be done through cash in hand or through ‘our tootle balance’ which can be topped up through e-Sewa or SCT Moco service.
For Sixit Bhatta, the CEO, and his team, establishing Tootle was not a ‘over the night’ occurrence but a painstakingly gradual process. Before the widely used app was developed in 2017, the team worked on several other projects like using technology into education and an app that was used to track Sajha Bus, but none came to fruition. Bhatta, who has amassed experience working in a telecom company and as a banker for a total of 12 years, informs that the journey to Tootle was more of an iterative process.
On talking about the challenges he had to face starting Tootle, Bhatta states, “We have not overcome the challenges. We live in a very frugal environment and being a startup business, we all go through general challenges like access to finance, talent and resources. So, as we grow and scale up, the challenges are going to be bigger. The task of managing a team of five people to managing a team of 500 people is different. However, at present, we have 30 core team members who take the duty and responsibilities as a team to solve the challenges in the most creative way possible.”
Tootle claims to comprehend its responsibility towards society and its users. Their goal from the beginning has always been about creating immaculate services. The company has been putting more effort and investment into their team and on research and development for better customer satisfaction. Bhatta explains, “We feel more inclined to live up to what the brand promises and emotionally connecting with people is more important for us which is why we invest more time on better customer experiences.”
At present, the company is in expansion and scale up phase, following its formation one and a half years back. Bhatta shares, “Our team members are expanding and there has been significant increase in number of ridetrips, customers and locations. So, the plan for the future, for now, is to focus more on developing the team and resources for better services.”
Regardless of the fact that the company is still trying to discover its potential, it has, to some extent, created an impact on the mobility of people. As the brand promises, it enables freedom of movement for everyone. Bhatta believes the restriction to travel for people with disabilities, for women, third gender facing stigma in the society and even for normal people without any personal transportation is more pronounced in Nepal. He claims, “Tootle allows these individuals who are vulnerable in society with the freedom of mobility in a safe and secure manner.”
To ensure safety of its clients, Tootle monitors all its rides in real time. If they sense any kind of suspicious activity, immediate actions are taken. The app also generates automatic information of drivers and theri vehicle number and also creates the route they will be taking. Such information can be sent to close family members and friends before taking a ride, to ensure clients’ feel saftey.
On handling client problems and issues, Bhatta informs, “In terms of complaints, it is actually very broad. There could be certain problems related to technology or one in many cases about the problem a person has during a certain ride. It’s difficult for me to pin point any one issue. But we have a team which looks after these things and is handling them to improve our services. There is also a feedback feature in the app itself and multiple channels like Facebook, phone calls and e-mails through which we handle customer services and complaints.”
Possibly, what Tootle has not figured out yet is the a way to tackle the weather. The platform suffers during rainy seasons. When taxis profit during adverse weather, Tootle sees a remarkable decline in its use. However, the founder claims, “Instead of focusing on how the rain affects our business, we put our focus and effort into completing rides and getting customer experience on a clear day.”Also, the app exists in a society which endorses the concept that strangers are not to be trusted. Bhatta says that it was difficult to build the company against such mind-set, but he credits the burgeoning liberal society of Kathmandu city for giving his company a thumbs up to move forward. The evidence he forwards is the growing number of people using the app. The company started by giving seven rides per day, but now there are 7,000 registered users and at least 2,000 trips being conducted and tracked around the city on a daily basis.