Ajay Bhagwat, one of the professionals in Pune who summarized working from the office, faced an unusual situation recently. He could not locate a garage or mechanic in his vicinity to get his bike serviced and hence had to search online for a doorstep service.
Two-wheeler owners usually prefer to go to a nearby garage to service their vehicle as it is convenient and less expensive than a dealer-run authorized service workshop. But after the first and second lockdown, most of the local, unorganized mechanics or technicians were in financial distress. They either relocated their shop outside the city or started working as delivery executives for e-commerce startups.
GarageWorks (Tech Spanner Info Private Limited), founded by Shishir Gandhi and Prabudh Kakkar, is solving this problem with a technology framework designed to offer convenience, transparency and quality doorstep vehicle servicing for customers and a sustainable livelihood with a reliable source of income for mechanics .
In the beginning…
Qatar-born Shishir did his B. Tech in Chemical Engineering from IIT Delhi in 2005. After working with ICICI Lombard GIC Ltd as a part of the automobile alliances team from 2006 to 2010, Shishir set up his first startup in insurance distribution. He was also consulting for automobile OEMs to develop and launch their in-house extended warranty product till 2012. Shishir tried his hands with another healthcare startup MyCare, as its founding member and COO from 2012 to 2016.
Prabudh, who hails from Prayagraj, did his BBA and MBA from Pune University in 2007. After working with KPIT Technologies USA as a part of their auto-tech and enterprises sales team till 2012, he joined ‘SmartCheck’ as its global head of sales and strategy and worked there till 2016.
Says Shishir, “We both met in 2008-09 through a common friend. While Prabudh was working in the Bay Area, startup vibes were building there and that got him interested to come back to India. Around 2015 we started ideating that ‘at home service’ start-ups are popping up and hyperlocal space in India is growing. Since we both had experience in automobile and aftermarket space, we realized that even automobile deserves to have this kind of service segment. There is no ‘value addition’ for a customer in going to a garage as you don’t learn anything there. Also, it’s not a very pleasant experience. So, we thought why not bring this ‘at home convenience’ experience to the automobile sector.”
Shishir and Prabudh decided to pump in their own money in 2016 and start GarageWorks. Shishir says, “We both together put in ₹35 lakhs We experimented with car and two-wheeler space. We had built a robot-advisory app where customers would mention their vehicle problem and a technical expert at the backend would identify the cause and provide a repair estimate. We had also created a network of garages with a doorstep service framework. “Initially we were servicing fleet bikes of e-commerce and food delivery service companies. Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) brands in Pune were our clients. We learned a lot about why mechanics want to do business, and what is their requirement. Meanwhile, we were also applying for incubators and accelerators.”
“We were amongst the top 3 finalists for the Bosch DNA Start-up Competition. I was called to Bosch research and development office in Bengaluru. We understood what was happening in the aftermarket space globally. We realized that cars and two-wheelers are very different businesses. A lot of startups were doing both, but we found two-wheelers space more exciting,” he added.
Sharing his learnings, Shishir said, “Car segment has many organized players, but in two-wheeler segment everything that was multi-brand was unorganized. From the customer perspective, 70 per cent of them do not go back to the dealership after free servicing. Customers find the workshop is either expensive or too far and there is no transparency. On the other hand, a neighborhood workshop is conveniently located and costs less. Customers were not happy with that too, but they had two unhappy choices and they picked the convenient and less expensive one. We also met about 400 garage owners and mechanics in Pune and Mumbai to understand the challenges faced by them. Everyone wanted to be their boss. They usually take a piece of land for rent and the total investment needed is just ₹35,000. But it is not easy to run a garage for everyone. Due to poor infrastructure, and inability to build trust, only five to seven per cent of them earn decently while the rest struggle.”
“Back in 2017-18, Pune alone had 32 two-wheeler startups with good websites and apps and garages integrated at the backend. But it was more about matchmaking and not solving the problem for customers and garages. We decided to have a different approach. Our research shows that almost 95 per cent of incidences of why any two-wheeler goes to the garage can be catered to at home. Rest five per cent is typically accidentally damages, engine or suspension related stuff which needs a garage infrastructure,” Shishir said.
Door step framework
GarageWorks started commercial operations in Pune in July 2017 with a 360-degree integrated ecosystem for two-wheelers. Focused on the doorstep framework, GarageWorks did 150 two-wheelers per month for the first few months.
“We are not offering breakdown support or emergency services, since it is hardly two per cent of market share with very high costs and infrastructure needs. If we look at the vehicle life cycle, it’s not just about service and maintenance. There are various other aspects like wear and tear, batteries, tire, insurance, breakdown, warranty, etc. None of these aspects has industry and hence the market is scattered and unorganized. As a new age economy, we built the right framework around technology and stitched the pieces together to give the customer a one-stop-shop experience for periodic maintenance, repairs, part (tyre, battery) replacements, and inspection,” Shishir stated.
“Initially when we started, about 30 per cent of customers were those whose bikes were unused for many months. Customers were avoiding their spending on toeing vehicles for taking their bikes to the garage. When doorstep service started, they were eager to get it serviced. We went through demonetization and Goods and Services Tax (GST) disruption and emerged stronger. We raised our first angel round in 2018.”
Sharing the lockdown experiences, Shishir said, “Two-wheeler services were not a part of essential services because the movement was restricted. It was a very tough time as most of our urban, IT professionals’ customers had gone to their native places. Some staying in Pune preferred using cars because they didn’t want to expose themselves using two-wheelers. It took us a lot of effort to recover to pre-Covid volumes and by the time we did that in March 2021, the second wave and lockdown came back. We had to go through the same grind.”
“After the second lockdown, we changed our customer acquisition strategy. Society level offline activities worked for us pre-Covid times, but post-Covid societies did not allow us to do events. We changed the story with a social aspect and built a strategy around digital marketing. After the second wave, a massive force of technicians had given up. The timing of our digital campaign resulted in our website hits going up by 600 per cent. Pre-Covid we had just 2,500 hits per month which are now at 12,000 per month. It also helped us build a good pipeline of mechanics today who want to come on board,” Shishir said.
Shishir said, “There is a part play of technology and technical advisors in the process of assigning a mechanic at present. With more data and volume, we will be able to automate it completely. Basis the job card, the system identifies what skill category of mechanic is needed. It’s not about the fastest finger first or nearest location. – We ensure the right mechanic is assigned based on matching skillset first and then the vicinity.”
“Mechanics are one of the lowest-paid high-skilled labor in India today. They think they know and do everything. They don’t think about continuous technology evolution. They don’t have access to skill upgrade too. When we take mechanics onboard our idea is not just giving business to them. We have a holistic approach to making them relevant to the market. We have tied up with a vocational institute and set up our first training center 80 kilometers from Pune. We do regular skill upgrade sessions in cities too. By making them part of an organized economy, we are giving them access to the financial industry, insurance and social respect. We have also done some pilots like loan against the vehicle, health insurance, etc with the mechanics onboarded by GarageWorks,” Shishir reported.
“We plan to take GarageWorks to key developing two-wheeler international markets like South East Asia, Bangladesh, Africa, Latin America. We have already received inquiries from Africa, Nepal, and Bangladesh. We are waiting for the right size, to become a leader in India and then go global.”
Sharing his insights on the evolving electric two-wheeler vehicles (EVs) market, Shishir said, “EVs are going to kill the whole local garage market. We have already started to build the team for EV servicing. There is battery cell calibration, breaks, throttle, wiring inspection, etc in EV maintenance. EV is going to be a very asset-light approach, and sans infrastructure like Internal Combustion (IC) engine two-wheelers, it’s going to be a very niche skilled job. OEMs are also looking for multi-brand organized players like us as they have realized there is no merit in forcing the dealership in opening a workshop. With more technical and niche skills being used, the average transaction value will increase.”