Towards the end of the last month, we spoke with Greg Moran, Zoomcar’s cofounder and CEO, to understand the self car drive space, payment issues, expansion plans and the competition. This is the second part of the interview. You can read the first part here.
MediaNama: Have you faced any issues with authorities with respect to self driven cars?
Greg Moran: The challenges are something that come with any new class or segment that comes in India. Whether it’s in transport or ecommerce, etc, there’s always regulatory challenges where the businesses usually outrun and outpace the regulators. And there’s a lot of time where, with the rules, the government has to play catch up. That’s what has happened with the taxi industry, with Ola and Uber and even Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon. It’ll always be there and it’s not unique to India, it happens in the US, Europe, Japan, China, etc. But with our business in particular, it is very heavily licensed and regulated. Some of it dates back to the British, some of it dates back to the 1980s and the sort of archaic laws that kind of came out of that.
There’s a whole lot of differences around tax law, as it relates to commercially registered vehicles that creates a lot of complication, often times unnecessarily. But that’s something you often live with in the end. It just ends up being a little inconvenient but you can manage it. And hopefully, it will be changing over time, over the next year.
Then there’s also a formal licensing process that you need to have 50 cars in your own name, insured and registered, to run this business legally. That’s actually an advantage to us, now that we’re in business because it’s quite onerous to go and do those things as a young company. But the formal procedure in place currently will be there for sometime and hopefully, they’ll make it a little more simple and less draconian.
MediaNama: How many airport rentals do you see? Are the cars at the airport rented for a longer duration than city cars?
Greg Moran: We see a healthy number. We have a minority of our cars at the airport, but it’s certainly one of the best performing sets that we have. We have a presence at almost all the airports now and that’ll continue to increase and augment our presence there as it goes. Near the airport, for obvious reasons, it’s a really stellar place to do business, it’s sort of a natural use case really, when you come in (at the airport), whether its for business or leisure. If its leisure, people take it for a week. Sometimes business takes 2-3 days. It’s very rare that someone’s gonna take a car for 6 hours at the airport, doesn’t really make sense. So that’s just the natural flow of use case.
MediaNama: How do your hotel tie ups work?
Greg Moran: We work with a number of hotels across cities. We work with budget and business hotels, other tech parks and small businesses. There’s a lot of opportunities, a lot of synergy there where we can complement each other, where we can help each other out.
MediaNama: How many Zoom bookings do you see every month?
Greg Moran: I can’t disclose the numbers but I mean the numbers are… I can tell you that we have more than tripled actually this year. Quite robust.
MediaNama: How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?
Greg Moran: We definitely believe that we’re operating in a unique white space because our competitors are followers who came on after we launched, but they’re not into pure play self drive car companies. If you look at Carzonrent and Myles, their service has never been purely truly focused on self drive. As a segment, they’ve always looked at different protocols. They’ve looked at radio taxi with Easycabs, and they’ve looked at leasing, they’ve looked at chauffeur driven etc. If you don’t have full focus, it’s hard to truly execute, logistically, in terms of technology… They don’t even have a mobile app, so they don’t have an in-house engineering product team. The way they think about the business is very different. So I wouldn’t necessarily drawn and compare them to us on a 1:1 basis.
MediaNama: What kinds of issues do you face with payments? You had a recent tie up with Citrus wallet..
Greg Moran: We do have a wallet integration with Citrus, so we allow customers to make payments through the wallet. But all the refunds actually come out through back to the wallet. So its a much more streamlined simple process, where before, you did everything through the payment gateway directly. There was a higher risk and higher chance of failure with it. The industry is constantly talking about this point, because its something where refunds in India are still largely broken. In the payment system, there’s a lot of friction. Its one of our largest challenges where we’re constantly looking at news ways to sort of innovate and think about how to streamline that process from a customer perspective.
MediaNama: Was it the bank’s limited refund period which prompted you to move to the Citrus wallet?
Greg Moran: No no, not at all. It’s more to just streamline the customer experience because the thing with Citrus and some other wallets now, is that you can actually withdraw money directly to your bank account in an IMPS transaction. So customer experience is a very simple, easy process. So if I have 10,000 bucks here, I want to make some purchases, have some money come back, I can just click a button and then, the money’s back to my savings or checking account.
MediaNama: It was kind of indicated in the Citrus wallet integration mail that you would use only Citrus wallets only going forward…
Greg Moran: The idea is that we want our customers to use the Citrus wallet because it’ll streamline the refund process. So now, we’re routing everything through the refund process but yeah, with anything over time, there’s always new technology, there’s always new solutions that are coming up. So you’re never tied down to one solution over the life of a company. Its not a static thing, but for now it makes sense and it’s a good solution, a nice incremental improvement. The payment industry is still largely broken and fragmented. Its still maturing a lot, so over the next year or two, you’ll see a lot of different shakeups. You’ll see that the RBI will probably step in and rectify some of that, some of restrictions in place. Let’s see how it shakes up.
MediaNama: Why did you choose Citrus, why not any other provider?
Greg Moran: It was more from a product perspective, and they had more of the end solution that we were looking for.
MediaNama: What is the percentage of electric cars on Zoom?
Greg Moran: Very small, we have just a handful of cars that are electric and only in Bangalore. The infrastructure doesn’t really allow for electric cars in other cities. There’s some environmental vehicles infrastructure in Delhi, a little bit in Mumbai, but not much. I really don’t have any hope or confidence, at all, that electrics cars will have any role to play in India for the next 5 years. It takes a long time, it’s easy to see in the US with Tesla. With companies like that, it’s not trivial, I mean you’re talking about tens of billions of dollars of investment and the government’s not committed to it right now, which has been because of the cost. They have the domestic supply base to do that so I don’t see it happening in India. They’ll be small smatterings of it here and there but nothing to any sort of scale.
MediaNama: So what prompted you to launch electric vehicles in Bangalore?
Greg Moran: It’s about options. First, its about creating a buzz and the idea that electric cars are very different, very unique. It’s a different type of driving experience and there is a small niche customer base in Bangalore who had the old Mahindra Reva in the 2007-2008 period. It had that sort of cult-ish following. So we thought it was a cool product as such. The car has really performed well in the sense that there’s a lot of demand for the (Reva) cars. Its just that there’s a lot of infrastructural challenges with scaling the business.
MediaNama: Why did David Back (Zoom’s cofounder) quit the company?
Greg Moran: David is getting married and on the business side, he was also keen on the early stages of the business. So when you’re wearing 5-6 hats day in day out, and as the business evolves and matures, the requirements change. He wasn’t as comfortable in those capacities and he thought there were some opportunities in the US that he could pursue.. And he’s been around a long time, he’s been doing it 4 years, so its not a trivial undertaking so over time. But we’ve had a pretty seamless transition and in terms of handing off work where things were really on good terms.
MediaNama: Is he continuing in an advisory role?
Greg Moran: Yeah.
MediaNama: Why did you choose India for Zoomcar?
Greg Moran: It’s one of the best market opportunities in the world for this business. There’s no one to do business at all, it’s a total white space and we just thought we could build and grow to scale big. Its very very sizeable in terms of sheer impact on the environmental and social side. It also had the capacity to be more than if we’d do this in another country. And I had moved to India prior, so I was always fascinated with the opportunity and scale with which you can achieve things in India, so it was natural fit.
MediaNama: Do you have international expansion plans?
Greg Moran: Not right now. At some point in the future, maybe. We still get requests every day from other random countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, some from South East Asia. India is a large enough market to probably see through. Trying to allow a lot of startups here, is that everyone always asks the question where the market is still so nascent. There’s at least 3-4 years to run (here) before you really seriously consider that question.
*Note: Responses have been edited for brevity.