Season 2, Episode 9
How to always put the customer experience first - Gaurav Singhal (Drive lah)
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About this episode
First-time marketplace founders often struggle to balance speed to market and marketplace quality.
On the one hand, launching an MVP as fast as possible is often the best strategy. On the other hand, high quality and trustworthiness are essential, especially for peer-to-peer marketplaces.
In the latest episode of Two-Sided, Gaurav shares his lessons on:
- Transitioning from a corporate job to entrepreneurship: both founders were working at the same corporation, where they conceived the idea over lunch.
- Testing potential features with manual work before building them – and spending lots of time with customers in the process.
- Launching fast with Sharetribe without compromising on their customer experience vision.
- Working with regulatory limits: before Drive lah, it was illegal in Singapore for private individuals to rent out their car.
- Putting trust front and center: having raised their seed round one month before Covid, Drive lah was able to turn a potential disaster into a tailwind.
- Expanding Drive lah to Australia as Drive mate.
- And much more.
An enlightening episode, with something for everyone building a marketplace.
Resources mentioned in this episode
Please note: The transcript is automated, meaning that there will be mistakes.
[00:00:00] Gaurav Singhal: Put the customer experience first and then figure out the technology solution to that customer experience. And you may not have all the solutions on day one, but where you want to be with customer experience. That should be very clear.
Welcome to Two-Sided The Marketplace Podcast brought to you by Sharetribe.
[00:00:25] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Hello and welcome. I am Sjoerd, CMO at Sharetribe and I am your host for this episode. I'm joined by Gaurav Singhal co-founder at Drive lah, a peer-to-peer car rental platform for Singapore and Australia. This is a bit of a first of its kind Drive lah first company to appear on two Sided. That is a customer of Sharetribe, the company that sponsors this podcast and has set where I.
We have somewhat consciously tried to feature guests that are not shared rep customers, as I didn't want to become one of those icky self promotional podcast. The goal of this podcast is and always has been to provide valuable and unique knowledge to marketplace founders and operators. And so we try to prevent any suggestion of cross promotion or nepotism, by lack of a better word.
And we do the same for our other publications as well, such as The Marketplace Academy or The Marketplace Academy podcast. And our guideline there is simply that all our content should be usable without ever even touching a shared rep product. Now, of course, we strongly prefer it if you do use a shared rep product, but it should be possible to take all that advice, all those experiences with you without ever doing so.
But of course, guideline or no guideline, it is hard to pass on a great guest with such an inspiring story. And so that's how I ended up talking to. Drive lah is in another one of those categories that has been around for a while, peer-to-peer car rental. Over the years, we've seen two Row get around and many others working in this space already, but Drive lah shows that there's still a lot of space there if you do it well and on doing it well.
Gaurav shared some very cool insights. I learned a lot more about them than I already knew. For example, how both founders move from corporate jobs to founding this startup a situation I'm sure that many people can sympathize with, how they prioritize the customer experience over everything else and still do how they onboarded their first supply through the most basic method of marketing, namely flyering and how they focused early on perfecting the trinity of validation, regulation, and insurance.
And finally, once. The importance of trust and how they think about trust and what they do to maintain trust throughout the platform. A super great episode, especially for peer-to-peer marketplaces, but basically for any marketplace where trust is a big ingredient. I hope you enjoy it as well, and as always, don't forget to subscribe, review, or even reach out to us on Twitter, but for now, here's my conversations with Gaurav Singhal.
From Drive lah.
Hi Gaurav, welcome to the
[00:03:21] Gaurav Singhal: show. Hi Sjoerd,. Thanks for having me.
[00:03:24] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah, welcome. In this podcast, we always introduce a little bit who's talking so that people can put it in the right context. We're gonna talk today about Drive lah, your marketplace for car rentals. But before we dive into Drive lah, can you tell us a little bit about who is Gaurav and what did you do before you started Drive lah?
[00:03:39] Gaurav Singhal: So my name is Gaurav Singhal and uh, I'm the co-founder of Drive lah. And before, uh, me and my co-founder started Drive, I was, uh, in corporate the first 15 years of my life doing various roles in marketing, sales, technology cetera. And then we came up with the ideal trial law. Me and my co-founder Dirk-Jan, and there's been no looking back.
[00:04:04] Sjoerd Handgraaf: kind of corporate jobs did you do like in specific industry? Or is it anyhow related to Drive lah, for example?
[00:04:09] Gaurav Singhal: Not at all. Not at all. Not at all. Related to drive. So for me, not at all related to drive for my co-founder a little bit because he was in the automotive industry for some time, and for him it was, but largely, uh, you can say that for both the co-founders, it was not directly related
[00:04:29] Sjoerd Handgraaf: to driver.
Absolutely nothing. Yeah. , so walk us through, you're both at corporate jobs, so how did, how did Drive lah come into your life? How did you get the idea, for example, Yeah.
[00:04:40] Gaurav Singhal: So we have, uh, gone through this question so many times, mostly with investors to be very honest. And why did, why did we really start and how did we
[00:04:48] Sjoerd Handgraaf: really start?
You can tell us the honest version though. You don't, you don't need any money
[00:04:52] Gaurav Singhal: from us. So Yeah, and if you're ready to give, um, I'm happy to take it. But, uh, coming back to answering the question, So Dirk-Jan and myself, uh, we were colleagues before we started. So we are colleagues in Singapore and as colleagues you would generally, uh, in the afternoon you go out for lunch together, right?
And, uh, you know, spend some time and discuss what's happening in your life. And it was one of these days in, in summer, in September when we were having lunch and uh, we started discussing and he was talking to me about his holiday in. Wherein he rented a car from another person, and that was, We hadn't heard that before.
And he's, he told me about his experience and how, you know, how this person came to pick him up from the airport and he then dropped the person back to his house and then drove around it. Great experience. He didn't have to stand in. Of a cartel company. And at that point also in the same time, I was actually planning to go from Singapore to Malaysia and rent the car.
And I was actually finding it really hard to get a car for myself. So we were, It's like exchanging notes on renting a car because we started discussing his holiday. That is where it started from. And one thing led to the other and we said, Hey, possibly, you know, is this something that can work here?
Because in Singapore, actually cars are very expensive. So we said, Oh, let us just find out a little bit. And that was the triggering conversation for Drive lah. And we have never looked back from, Yeah,
[00:06:18] Sjoerd Handgraaf: but then you're, you know, you're at a lunch table, this is an idea. You go to another lunch, you talk some more.
What made you make the decision that was like, Oh, this could actually be something. At what point do you think, Okay, actually, you know what? Like, let's take this
[00:06:30] Gaurav Singhal: seriously. Yeah. I think somewhere back of our minds, I think both for do and myself, we were wanting to do something of. Right. There was a shared objective of wanting to do something wrong.
We were not very explicit about it to each other. But yes, we had something in the back of mind, and that is what kept us going. So, you know, it happens in a lot of conversations. You have a conversation with somebody, Oh, let's do this, and the next day you forget about it does happen quite a lot times.
[00:06:57] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. Lots of, Yeah.
[00:06:59] Gaurav Singhal: Yeah, so you have a lot of idea conversations and then you say, forget about it. But I think something triggered in that conversation, and we kept following up on the things we said we'll do. So we said, ok, why don't you research. On this, why don't you research, let's say regulatory on this.
Why don't you research? How does this work in other parts of the world? Right? Maybe this, because this, this concept existed at that point of time in US and Europe.
[00:07:23] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah, exactly. Right. There was like two row and all those get around. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
[00:07:28] Gaurav Singhal: Yeah, Yeah, those guys were there. So we said, Oh, let's just split some work.
And we took very smart actions. They said, ok, let's you figure this out. I'll figure this out and let's just exchange notes tomorrow. Let's, And then we started doing some research and stuff like, And one thing, leading gathering. This was not something that we've always wanted to, to know. Actually. We started falling in love with the idea as we researched it.
So that's how it was. And we just did a very good job of falling up to, of what we said to each other, we'll do. Right. It was as simple as that. Yeah. And we started developing a passion for the whole, uh, idea. And, and as I said, we have never looked back since. .
[00:08:05] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. And so what's the first sort of like milestone, So, so you do a lot of research.
You, you get more and more convinced of the idea. What does the first version look like? Did you try this out fully, manually, for example? Some people do that, like the most basic website, or did you, because I know you're a Sharetribe customer or rest like the Sharetribe version, The very first version.
[00:08:25] Gaurav Singhal: shared life version was the very first version. So when we started researching this idea, of course, uh, we wanted to see how big it, how it big it can be, but, and also started to look at what could be the important ingredients of the, of getting to the market. Because one thing I think we understood pretty early that we have to test it out as soon as we can.
Right before, let's say putting everything behind it and then realizing, oh, it could work or could not work, how can we test it out so quickly? So we spoke to many people. Okay. Actually,
[00:08:56] Sjoerd Handgraaf: yeah. Could you tell a little bit about actually about that process? Because I think that like, that's something also we try to instill os to people that like you can do a lot of validation before putting any product in the market, so.
So did you have some kind of process for that or did you just randomly talk to people?
[00:09:09] Gaurav Singhal: There was a so called a process behind it. But, uh, what we did very deliberately was to have conversations with people, right. Of, okay, people who don't have car. Ok, what are, what do you do? I mean, would you like to rent out your car if you to, Right.
And we actually also sent out, we made a survey on one of those three survey sites, right? We didn't wanna spend much on studio service. We sent a, something on a free service site, and we just sent it out to. We know and we ask them to send it out to people they know. And so let's say we send it out to somebody.
We call them, Hey, you've received something, can you send it? , all the WhatsApp groups you are in, and we actually receive hundreds of replies actually, on that service. Wow. Wow. So we, what we realized is, and these were genuine, uh, responses, it was not bot responses, Right? So as a result, what happened is that we, we realized that there are many people who were pretty interested in, let's say, sharing their car if they had the right insurance covered.
That was one of the things. They were, they were if and if they were told that, you know, And one of the questions was, I still remember that if we were to, uh, insure you off the insurance, would you rent your car out? And a majority of people said yes. And it's like, Hey, that's great. And hence initial validation, sort of, of the idea happened to.
Survey and those conversations, that was one big thing. Plus then there were other ingredients. To answer your question on the milestone, we had to check on the regulatory aspect because you have individual people sharing their car. So regulation, regulatory aspect becomes important because most of the markets around the world, you can share your other people.
But in Singapore had a very specific law which prohibited this from happening, right? So, uh, that was a big roadblock for us to work up. And then the other roadblock, Insurance because if you are renting out your car to other people, I cannot use your insurance cause your insurance won't cover it. So we had to come up with insurance solution within the time for it is rented out, it's insured by somebody else.
So we had, actually, we had Val, So just to sum up three points, validation. Yes, uh, we kind of managed to do that initially and get some positive response, regulatory, big challenge, insurance, big challenge, and that. Then that became our focus on insurance and regulatory to fix before we go live. Yeah. Can
[00:11:30] Sjoerd Handgraaf: you tell a little, like, Well, actually, I'd be interested to hearing in both, like, did the regulation change?
Did you find a loophole? How the debt.
[00:11:37] Gaurav Singhal: We didn't find a loophole. So what happened is that, and this is what both doc and I believe in, is that, you know, you just have to keep hustling, right? You to keep hustling. So if I talk about insurance, we actually knocked on the 20 different insurance providers in Singapore before it took us a lot of effort to get an insurance provider on board because insurance providers are used to providing insurance on a annual.
Not on a trip based basis. Exactly. So nobody's gonna give you insurance for three hours for driving a Mercedes. Right? Nobody. So it became, it was very challenging that time, but we managed to, you know, get an insurance partner on board at that point.
[00:12:17] Sjoerd Handgraaf: The reason I'm interested in this, because we have an earlier episode this season with Derek Fay from Paul Camper, which was a, uh, camper van rental thing, and, and he also mentioned it, I think he spent like three years or something.
Maybe I'm exactly, I don't recall exactly, but an incredibly long time to. An insurance product into the market. That is exactly like what you are saying. So did you find some smaller company or how, how did that work out?
[00:12:40] Gaurav Singhal: So we actually spent around six months out an insurance
knocked by I, but we just, and. We, of course had a plan beyond insurance, but that would have been a very, uh, suboptimal solution. But thankfully we were, we managed to get an insurance board. We started insurance partner whose is, they're, well they were, they were excited by our idea and they Insurance Singapore and uh, that was on insurance.
Coming back to regulatory, uh, regulatory have a very interesting story. So, as I said, the regulation did permit us to do this model, right? So both and myself, we were, we, we had started going to some of these festivals or start shows events and you know, once you start getting into meet people and you know, and get a grasp of, you know, what's really happening out there.
And we went to this, one of this events for National University of Singapore in. They have a show called Unicorn or something. I don't, I'm forgetting the name. We were, uh, listening to, uh, one of the ministers, uh, from the Singapore government who was stalking, who was the guests and was presenting how Singapore government is supporting startups.
And he was just encouraging people to do think outta the box and, you know, saying Singapore government is with them and, and stuff like that. And we were very, and he said, Hey, that's, that's what we need, right? So we got his. And of course we could speak to him that time, but we wrote an email to his office explaining the situation, right.
And the minister was so kind enough to respond to our email, right? And he asked one of his ministerial members to look into our case. Right. And then we presented the idea to 'em, right? And of course, as I'm speaking, it just sound that one thing happened after the other. But certainly it did not. I mean, it took some time.
It took a effort and they were open to the Singapore ultimately as a, they, uh, as a, as a go. They want to to be car light and our business model. Completely aligned to that idea of the city, and not just in Singapore, but now in Australia also, right? What we are trying to do is to make cities skylight, so they understood the idea, they appreciated the idea, and they built a sandbox for us.
They built a sandbox for, in which we could, and we got the approval to run the sandbox in Singapore with some set number of cards. But that, and then, you know, we worked so closely with, uh, them, with the Land Transport Authority in Singapore and Ministry of Trading, and we share data with them in terms of how, how people are adopt, adapting to this and in this platform, right.
And then taking this up. And it has been a wonderful associa. And a lot of, lot of support because it ultimately, and the reason it works is because the objective is aligned ultimately. Right. That that's where it works. So was a challenge, but not so in Australia you allowed to share your So and we also learning from Singapore A when it comes to
[00:15:47] Sjoerd Handgraaf: regulatory, Sure.
Yeah, a wonderful story. That's nice that you're like, because I think many, many governments, at least in my experience also, they like the idea of being associated with startups and being innovative. But it's nice to like catch them into saying this and then be like, Hey, how about this actually? Like how about you live up to the word?
[00:16:08] Gaurav Singhal: Yeah. They'd help us, uh, in terms of pro building a sandbox and bringing this idea to this level. Yeah,
[00:16:13] Sjoerd Handgraaf: totally. If that roadblock wouldn't have been removed, it would be a whole different story. Right? Like basically you're, you're doing something illegal. Correct? Absolutely. Yeah. No, that's terrific. Yeah. And then the first version is just sandbox.
So then you had a running application already for Drive lah when you run.
[00:16:29] Gaurav Singhal: Yeah, so when we, and of course the three points that I said, right, Validation of the idea, uh, regulatory insurance, and the four point of course was building the product itself. At that time, we were contemplating whether to take an off the shelf solution to start with, quickly test, and then see what we it from.
I think at that point of time, late 2018, the concept of SaaS based marketplaces was the starting out, right? So there were not a lot of proven solutions out there. We were in parallel talking to a few developers because both do and myself, we not, you know, hardcore tech people and you needed somebody who could, uh, build a product.
And that's how we came across. And I remember you guys had just launched, I think, beta testing of product shared. Right.
[00:17:20] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Okay. Yeah. 2018, I think it was really new. Yeah, yeah,
[00:17:24] Gaurav Singhal: yeah. You had a product called Share Go. We actually registered on that to a product, but it was not sufficient for us, so we actually, and Flex was not available in Singapore, so had to reach out to and with him to get share Flex Live in Singapore.
[00:17:39] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Oh yeah. True. Yeah. Was it, I guess this was because of Stripe, right? So I guess there was some Stripe regulation. Yeah. This was
[00:17:46] Gaurav Singhal: because of Strip, This was cause of Stripe regulations. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So we literally had to work around it. To get Sharetribe Flex, working in Singapore, and I think we were one of the very first customers on Sharetribe flex at that point.
Then we got a bunch of developers, uh, through an agency on board to help us customize it for our requirements to the basic customizations and go to the market asap because that was really the idea to go to the market as soon as it.
[00:18:14] Sjoerd Handgraaf: What other considerations did you have? Like just, uh, not even just chair try, but more like when you think about making the decision between coding from scratch or taking off the shelf.
Like what do you consider besides speed, obviously,
[00:18:25] Gaurav Singhal: but yeah, I think that time, yeah, speed. Very key consideration. Very key consideration. I don't think at that point we were also in thinking, we'll scale this up, right? Because that is not the concern because you start with doing things which may or may not.
Even today, we do things which may or may not scale, but first you see how it works, and then you worry about scaling, right? And that's, that's been our learning in the last couple of years. Figure it out, try it out. And then worry about scaling. Don't worry about scaling without trying it out. I think predominately hit was speed, right?
And, uh, so that, you know, we can get out in the market and see how it works, how people respond to it. And that was primarily the deciding factor for us because if had we started doing it from scratch, it would've taken us a longer time, right? And, uh, a lot more iterations would've been
[00:19:15] Sjoerd Handgraaf: needed. Yeah, that's, I mean, like obviously like , I mean, this is not a podcast advertising Sharetribe usually, but like, I'm glad that that's the, because that's also our assumption always that like, or like that's the value that we think we bring.
Like just road to market should be fastest possible just to validate and not lose any time and, and money in the process. So you, you know, coming back to the survey, so you had already some, like some hundreds of people being aware of Drive lah. How did you onboard the first users, like both supply and, and demand?
[00:19:46] Gaurav Singhal: So first of all, I don't, At that point, when we reached out to people for the survey, we did not even mention Drive lah. It was an unbranded survey just to check people for their senses on the idea. I think one thing we understood pretty early is that your supply has to come in first right before demand, because technically speaking with demand exists already, whether it's car sharing or car rentals, which has a huge overlap.
There is a demand that exists. The point is where do you get. And we had to think about how to convince people to share a very prized asset, such as a car in Singapore. Singapore is one of the most expensive countries in the world to own a car. And to ask a person who has spent hundred thousand dollars on a car to share a car with a with a stranger was slightly a challenging thought in itself.
And when you spoke to people, it said, many people said, Yeah, nobody's gonna do this in Singapore because the cars are too dear to. And it was definitely a worry factor. But we had also spoken to many people who, because cars are so expensive, the cost of owning a car is on a monthly basis is very high, and hence, people are looking at ways to reduce their cost at the same time.
[00:20:57] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Right? Yeah. And it's like you say, like fastly depreciating in value also.
[00:21:02] Gaurav Singhal: It is vastly depreciating and value. You have the, the installments that you have to pay for your loan that you've taken in your car you have to pay for, There's a depreciation element. There is a, there is insurance, there is maintenance, there is, there's, there's spend of money only 5% of the time.
So our goal was very clear. We had to get supply. Right. So supply on board can only happen once insurance is closed. So we first closed our insurance, right, the re and then, you know, course started talking to people who we know have. But the defining exercise for, for getting supply on board was flyering on cards.
Okay? So we created flyers and put it on the windshield of. We couldn't afford manpower, so we had to do it ourselves.
[00:21:58] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. Oh, that's terrific. It reminds me, last season we had this great episode of, uh, Green Pal with, uh, I think that, I think the CEO was called Brian. It was a, like landscaping services.
Lawn services. He also said that he and his cofounder, I think like distributed like a hundred thousand, like door hangers. You know, like those things just like in hotel rooms that you can like, hey, and something like a door hangers. In one city. How did you choose your locality? I mean, like how did you choose where to put them?
I mean, Singapore's a pretty big
[00:22:27] Gaurav Singhal: city. We were always carrying a set of flyers with us wherever we were going. If you're going to a shopping mall, there are hundreds of cars standing in the basement. Just go and put them in the basement. If you're passing a big building, big housing, big apartment, you just go down and sometimes the security guard will come in, ask you to leave, and then you politely leave , you know, and then you go the next one, until the time the security guard comes chasing you, right?
So, yeah, that's what we did .
[00:22:54] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Oh, I love
[00:22:55] Gaurav Singhal: that. Yeah. Because we didn't have money to actually on Digital Point even, but we started generating some interest people and we had to actually had to literally people when they were their. Talk to them, explain them the concept. Sometimes people would sign up, most of the times they won't.
Right? So you have to get on with it and ensure that don't get demotivated by it. And you kept on doing it, kept on doing it. And when we had our first few cars, let's say first 20, 30, when we list on the platform, but even when you them does not mean that they'll rent out their, There's no guarantee. Yeah.
So that is what we did. And, uh, so flying, I think, uh, that is something that was very crucial for us to get our initial. Very, very
[00:23:41] Sjoerd Handgraaf: initial. And then, uh, the first people ranting. How did you get those
[00:23:45] Gaurav Singhal: board? The first trip that we had was on Dirk-Jan's car his neighbor, wanted to go to Koala Lump and he was looking for Intel car and we just.
Just asked to the car, the car, the, We also wanted to see how the transaction works and everything works because a lot of things were assumptions, right? How will the pickup process work? How will the drop off process work? The guy takes his pictures and breaks lots. Now we do of. Yeah, we've gotten used to it, but that was a first trip.
Very scary. So yeah, the neighbor is, neighbor, rented his car and uh, took it to kale and, uh, brought it back in one piece, thankfully. So that was good experience. And yeah. Then we had some friends, uh, family, you know, share renting cars initially. Yeah. And friends renting cars from each other, from us and all of that.
So I think that that sort of caught the. A little rolling. Right. One of the things that really helped us at that point of time was when our, the whole concept came to public's attention to large public attention because our, the press coverage. Because we were in a sandbox, and that was by the government.
So it got picked up by some of the leading publications in Singapore because of the uniqueness of the idea, right? And they thought, Oh yeah, the government is supporting new startups and, uh, which are doing innovative stuff. So it got picked up and once that came out, uh, in the press, then the initial traction that we got of few first few trips, then it started quickly.
Right. People started coming to us and, uh, trying to understand, uh, you know, how this works because there was a lot of explaining needed in the, in the beginning on how this whole thing works for owners Anders. So hence your customer support has to Great. So we were the customer support. So I remember taking, answering phone calls, uh, of customers, responding to them on chat all the time and saying, Oh, this is how this works.
Let me give you a call. Let me come and meet you. Those kinda things. We met a lot of our customers ourselves. Right, initially.
[00:25:57] Sjoerd Handgraaf: So had you at that point already sort of committed and like quit your job and went full in on this? Or did you still do this as a sort of side hustle , like on the.
[00:26:06] Gaurav Singhal: Yeah. So, uh, in terms of, uh, quitting our, uh, corporate jobs, uh, can quit his job first, followed by myself.
Some of the things, of course, initially you do leap to understand and test the idea, but as soon as we started getting into it fully and quit his job, then I quit my job and then there was no looking back.
[00:26:23] Sjoerd Handgraaf: And then, uh, of course like coming back to the, uh, PR thing or depressing of course, like that really, that also really relieves one of the other big things here, and that's actually what's gonna be one of my questions is like trust, right?
Like, can we trust this company? And of course, like once it's been in the press, like this combination of press and government support, I guess alleviated a lot of the trust issues. What are the things that you do initially? And of course, any insurance. Let not forget that. Did you do anything other special to really increase the trust to both?
[00:26:53] Gaurav Singhal: I think one of the elements that really worked for us is that we met our customers very often, especially the supply site, because the trust issue did not get alleviated because we were just appeared impressed. Yes, of course it helps. The trust factor. It just definitely having the, having the right insurance partner, having the backing of the transport authority.
Yes. It just, he does definitely helps trust, but people still wanna see and meet people who are doing this, who are behind this. So we met a lot of our hosts, as we call them, people who share their car, or we call them hosts. We met a lot of them personally and we, we had coffees with them, we had beer with them.
And you know, they just to, you know, just understand, explain the concept and push them to come up out there. Right. Because a certain set of people who are experiment in nature, right? Always. And there's some people who will follow. Followed the others. Yeah. , you know, some people did, uh, wanted to really test this out and Yeah.
and then, um, we managed to convince of them. But I think the trust element is critical in a sharing economy marketplace like this one, especially when you have an asset which is so expensive and everything you do right from the way your customer support talk. S response to question the way you answer on your website, the way you make your payouts to people.
A transaction is all of these are indicators of trust ultimately and they role in. So for example, if trip is and you don't pay on time in committed time, then it also erodes trust. So there are very, I don't think it's just about one single factor impacting trust. There are a lot of small, small things which lead up to building.
[00:28:37] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. Makes sense. So we've talked about like the first couple of transactions, French and family, and then the next wave because of the, the press coverage, you grew rather fast actually. And, and now if even we can talk a little bit later, I'd like, I'd love to talk about the expansion to Australia, but how do you, you know, like a wave of press mentions is not a sort of sustainable growth strategy.
So what has worked for you to sort of keep that growth?
[00:29:01] Gaurav Singhal: I think a couple of things. So at some point in time, of course we, uh, after the initial traction, we started looking for investors to pump, put money into our business. So we did a round for some hundred thousand dollars. So actually even before the seed round, Duncan and myself, we put in our own money.
Into the business to get the basics started for the platform. Little bit of digital marketing, a little bit of Facebook, little bit of Google here and there. Get that bold ball holding. So get some. Also move beyond organic reach to get some paid reach out there, right? And, uh, once started, once we got our seed investment.
For $700,000. We started pushing the pedal on marketing, but guess what? Then we raised our investment in February 20, right? And, uh, March 20 and, uh, sitting with one of our investors in February in the sh. In Singapore and we were just discussing, Oh, how bad can covid be? How bad, Oh, maybe three months, four months, or five months.
Yeah. Big Dalia. And, uh, it just beat all our expectations right at that point of, So everything shut down in Singapore, April, 2000, everything shut down in Singapore. But one, the, that we realized it that people still had mobility need for mobility need, and they were avoiding taxis and public transport at that time.
So they wanted. So actually what happened for us is that, I would say it was sort of a tailwind for us at that point of time, the whole covid thing, that people wanted to, you know, rent cars, which were personally owned rather than taking a cab. Taxi, which has been exposed to 10 people already. 'cause initially people were very hyper, They didn't know what was happening with Covid.
So everybody wanted to be extra careful. Right. And so we actually, and this out after speaking to customers and they said, Yeah, just rented because I thought I didn't want to take the off taking a and hence I card. And he said, That's great. So he did the campaign. We built a campaign off clean car, safe car kind a thing.
We built a campaign and we did a lot of social media posting, sharing on WhatsApp groups and blah, blah, blah. We did a lot of that at that time and uh, of course it picked up, right? And, uh, people did understand, you know, we also started actually distributing disinfectant, gets to our car owners, . So that they could disinfect their cars.
And I started telling people, Oh, this car has been disinfected. This car has not been disinfected. So you actually, we started doing that, was not very scalable to distribute disinfectants. But again, the whole point is that given it's a community based model, both sites take extra care by. Right, So the hosts take extra care of cleaning the car by themselves.
I don't have to tell them they do it themselves. Even the guests take care of the cleanliness and ensure that they've a mask while in the car and all of that. They were doing it by themselves. So it is just, if it's a trust build business model already, and hence a lot of these things happened by. If you have the rights.
Yeah. And that helped us. And of course then we started, we started investing into our business. But I think one of the key factors that held our growth is the way we run our business. We run our business. Purely on numbers. So I'll give you an example. So when we started, if 10 people want a car, so only people were successful in getting a car, very only one people were a car.
Threes of people a wanted was, was rejecting the booking or they just didn't respond. So we were actually verbal perplexed because no matter how much you put on top of the funnel, if the success there is only 5%, then there's a lot of leakage in the funnel. So hence, we sat down and said, Okay, what do we need to do to reduce the leakage in this funnel?
Right? And we ran, and one of the things that we really believe in in this company, and it is almost embedded in our culture in a way of working, is regular. Continuous testing. So we actually experimented a lot on reducing the leakage on offer from the time people make, try, come to search it for a car to the time they exit while making a booking, how can we improve these conversions?
So we focused a lot on that and, and we now have brought in that 25% to very high nineties. Oh wow.
[00:33:42] Sjoerd Handgraaf: So filter search ratio is 90%, kinda like Pretty much No.
[00:33:46] Gaurav Singhal: If you want a car on Drive lah, you'll. There's a 95% plus chance that you get it. That's
[00:33:52] Sjoerd Handgraaf: incredible. That's incredible. Yes. So,
[00:33:54] Gaurav Singhal: and, and it's the, and the reason for that is that we have worked consistently and it of course didn't happen overnight.
We had to run a lot of experiments. We had to, uh, you know, many things didn't work. Many things failed. Things worked. And you just need one or two winners to get that going. Right. Could you
[00:34:11] Sjoerd Handgraaf: share some of these winners, ?
[00:34:14] Gaurav Singhal: So of course, I would not be able to get into too many secret sauce, many or much of a secret sauce.
Yes, , The answer lies in, uh, the answer we have figured out. And of course, we're figuring out lies in, uh, looking at data very, very deeply all the time because it has to be data driven, not gut. Right. So if we looked at, okay, why are these three, four people not getting us? What is the reason? And you know, okay, if the, if the, if the car owners are not responding, why aren't they not responding to go speak to these car owners who are not responding or, you know what, I forgot to update my calendar.
You know? Sure. How can we help you improve your calendar? So those are some of the experiments we ran. Of course, plenty of them. And we still keep running. A lot of these experiments, but uh, yeah, that is something to answer your question on. Our growth, uh, is the way we have, Uh, I think now also in Australia, the way we run our business, which is about purely metrics.
And a lot of testing
[00:35:13] Sjoerd Handgraaf: it work. Yeah. That's incredible. I mean, like that percentage is, is is quite incredible. And then on the topic of growth, now that you mentioned it, he also mentioned Australia. So could you tell us a little bit about the, um, your growth story? So you start Singapore Sandbox, then what?
And now we are like several years later when you're in Australia. Could you tell us a little bit about how that went? Of course,
[00:35:33] Gaurav Singhal: uh, Singapore is uh, 6 million people. Huh? Only as a population, so, and 500,000. So there's only so much you can grow from business point of view. Of course, there's still a lot to grow, but for us to be the biggest car sharing platform in Asia Pacific, we knew we had to go outta Singapore and the bigger markets.
However, one of the key aspects of this platform, as you mentioned earlier, is. So you have to find that sweet spot of markets wherein you know that there by default, there is some trust in that market for the kinda a model to flourish. And the market is big enough and we realize that Australia. Fix those boxes.
Right. And that's why uh, we decided to launch in Australia. We had the product ready already in Singapore of, we had to do some minor tweak. We had to out insurance, as I said already. RE was not the challenge, but we worked very with the, some of the governments in Australia to, because again, as I said, the objective aligned make it car light and our object is also the same.
[00:36:38] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Ok. Yeah. And then did you get another round of investments for Australia or did you finance that from the profits?
[00:36:45] Gaurav Singhal: Yeah, no. So as I said, we did our seed round in, uh, early 2020, right. And then, uh, we did our pre C last year, after which we decided to launch in Australia because one of the reasons for doing that round was, uh, to start funding our expansion.
So we did that. And, uh, yeah, that's, that's where we're now, and now we are looking at expanding into more markets.
[00:37:11] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. Were you the first one to try this in Singapore? Of course there was the regulatory blocker, but had there been other people trying.
[00:37:17] Gaurav Singhal: Yeah. So, uh, a few years before, I think in 2014 or 13, there was, uh, there were some people who were trying, the stand business model in Singapore did not work at that point of time.
Maybe it was little ahead of its time because what has happened in the late. Latter part of last decade is that business models like Uber and Grab have sort of opened the concept of the economy. So people are more accepting to the whole concept of sharing somebody's or a car or a home, something like that.
Right. Maybe that time it was it, that's why it didn't work. Yeah. Cause it's also timing. Ultimately, as you all know, right? Absolutely. The timing is also very important. Uh, you know, you can have the best of ideas, best of execution, but the timing is not right. Timing
[00:38:06] Sjoerd Handgraaf: is not right. So , Yeah. And then in, and then in Australia, like, um, how do you, because, uh, you know, like Singapore nicely, you know, sort of like a city states, right?
Like you don't really need to choose like a city because. The country is the city pretty much. How are you doing expansion in Australia? Do you go to city by city? Like how, because like you have these local aspects, how, how are you doing that?
[00:38:29] Gaurav Singhal: This is our, is a very hyperlocal business because you will not, you always want a car in our business, which is your neighbor stuff.
That's what you want. That is the experience that you want to deliver to customers. That's what we live by, ensuring that there are enough cars around people who are searching cars, right? If you have to travel 10 kilometers to get the car, you'll do that, right? So that is the premise of this model. Hence, because of that, we literally treat Australia as.
You know, being in five Singapores because it's, and hence it's a very city based, and not even city based. It's, uh, within the city, it's a very cluster based approach. Right. So in Australia, we've started with three cities. We actually started with Sydney only then, you know, at Melbourne, right? Focusing on as as well.
But even within these cities, we're looking at cluster. Because that is what matters. Ultimately, it's not, It's, as I said, it's a hyperlocal business. And, uh, if I don't have supply in a cluster, there's no, no demand. Now you have, there's no product. There's no product, literally. So you ensure that you have your business approach, Your approach to scaling up is in line with the needs of, uh, the customers who pay.
Which is very local.
[00:39:47] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. And are there any, uh, question like about the sort of differences? So you, you mentioned like you had to do some tweaks to the, to the product. Are there any other tweaks you needed to make? Right, Like you changed the name, it's, it's Drive Mate in Australia, not Drive lah. Like are there any other sort of cultural differences that are maybe cool to mention?
[00:40:06] Gaurav Singhal: uh, so before I answer that, there is of course interesting, uh, discussions we had on Dryline m because you know, as any marketer would tell you that even if you'd enter different countries, you'll the name the same because it, it's easier to scale and all of that. Yes, sure, it is true, but Australia as a market is very proud of, of whatever is.
Right, and, and bringing a foreign name like Dry Love, which is very uniquely Singaporean. We were not sure how much it's gonna ring up, be right, and hence we decided to keep it very local. And nothing can be as more local than made in Australia. So that's why it's called ate. Uh, and um, uh, and uh, we're very thankful for the support we have received in for in Australia.
And uh, yeah, that is the one change that we had to do. The other ones, some of the minor two weeks. Uh, I think from an operational point of view, cause operationally these markets are, Right. Uh, because of, uh, let's say, uh, the distances are much long, much, much bigger, right? Much longer distances. Sure, Yeah, that's true.
Yeah. You know, in Singapore, you know, within 30, 40 kilometers you finish the country. Right. Uh, but, uh, uh, I take in, in Melbourne, I have to, let's say if I drive 30 kilometers and I reach my supermarket, Right? So , that's a bit of an exaggeration, but Yeah. You know what I mean? Right. So, uh, the, the kinda operational challenges that you face, And with both the markets.
So operationally we had to tweak ourselves definitely in Australia and we are still tweak ourselves. It's not that we know everything, it's still a learning process for us.
[00:41:45] Sjoerd Handgraaf: Yeah. Two sort of last questions. So first one, like, so what's next? Like are you expanding to other cities in Australia or are you already eyeing different country markets?
[00:41:55] Gaurav Singhal: We are already looking at, uh, different countries, uh, so Australia, Yes. So we are, uh, we're building our business in these cities and also looking at different cities, other cities in Australia. But very importantly, we're looking next year at more markets that we can expand to in Asia. Right. And, uh, some of that work has already started.
Hopefully by early next year you'll see us in at least one more market and, uh, followed by a few more markets by the end of the end of next year. Right.
[00:42:26] Sjoerd Handgraaf: That is ambitious. Hey, so you've gone a long way from, you know, having a, at the lunch table, some talks and now maybe multiple countries in one year.
This is a podcast aim that, you know, aspiring marketplace entrepreneurs and, and marketplace entrepreneurs. If there's one thing you would've done differently, if there's one lesson, sort of like to use, like, ah, I wish someone would've told me this at the lunch table. What
[00:42:47] Gaurav Singhal: would that be? Yes, there are plenty of things I can think of that, you know, I wish I had known.
Right. Uh, A lot of things we have, we have learned, we have learned over the last few years doing things right. And had you known that you know, this is the right way of doing it and this is not the right way of doing it, We would've definitely used that. But I think ultimately what we, I wish we had known this from the very beginning and done this a lot better than what we did at that point of time, but now we very clearly do.
Is that putting the, and I, this might sound very generic. It is so important that we feel is putting the customer experience first and then figure out the technology solution, right? But sometimes what happens is that you are living with so many constraints, right? That you use the technology constraint to deliver something to the customer.
Without thinking about the customer experience fully, you kind of placed the priority on the technology ability versus the customer experience. Right. And that is where, you know, you could do things a little, we could have done, you know, I wish we, you know, knew that at that point of time. To sort of put higher pride in the customer experience first, we of course learn as we go along way.
So if, you know, Put the customer experience first and then figure out the technology solution to that customer experience. And you may not have all the solutions on day one, but where you want to be with customer experience. That should be very clear. Right. That is something that I, I would say that we have come a long way from there, from where we were initially to where we do things
[00:44:23] Sjoerd Handgraaf: right now.
Yeah, now that's a terrific answer. I think. Well generic, I don't think so. Like I think we see also at , I see a lot of people there, so focusing on the thing that they're building and without even talking to customers. So I think it's you. People cannot be reminded of this enough. Hey, I've already taken up, uh, too much of your time.
Thanks a lot, uh, gra for all of the amazing stories and great insights into how, uh, Drive lah grew to where it's now. Thanks for your
[00:44:48] Gaurav Singhal: time. Thanks for, thanks for having me over. Thank you for listening to Two-Sided the Marketplace podcast. If you enjoy today's show, don't forget to subscribe. If you listen on iTunes, we'd also love for you to rate and give us a review if you got inspired to build your own.
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