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Big Idea

Bike keyless
Bengaluru-based scooter-rental wants to take the dread out of short city commutes  

Hari Menon

When you are on the road, you’re at war. At war with grid-locks, moody Uber drivers, smoke-spewing trucks and busses, and time. And when jostling for every inch of tarmac, a nippy scooter is the trustiest steed.

But, don’t buy one yet. The loans are a pain nowadays. Use your smart phone instead. It gets you cabs, food, tickets, dates and clothes already. Why not a rented scooter too?

Karnataka, Rajasthan, and parts of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are already familiar with rented yellow scooters streaking through traffic. That’s Bounce, a rival to scooter-rentals such as Vogo, and Rapido. Time for a quick flashback.

Back in 2014, founders, Varun Agni, Anil G and Vivekananda HR entered the bike-renting space with Wicked Rides (WR). The venture leased premium motorcycles such as Ducatis, Harleys and eventually Royal Enfields to enthusiast riders.

They didn’t own their fleet. Instead, the trio made their biker-friends accomplices in their business. The friends gave their bikes to WR, who in turn leased the motorcycles to riders. WR made a profit and developed strong presence in Bengaluru, Jaipur and Udaipur (latter two destinations are popular for their bike-touring culture).  In 2016, it introduced more affordable two-wheelers through a separate vertical called Metro Bikes.

Metro Bikes was re-branded Bounce in May 2018 and started on a clean slate. They deployed 100 scooters in Bengaluru. The fleet comprised Honda Activas, TVS Scootys, and Suzuki Accesses, but with a difference. They were keyless; the keyless system was completely designed in-house and is Bounce’s patented technology. The access to the scooter is via Bounce’s app, and each scooter is IoT enabled. As a result, Bounce’s server keeps track of the scooter.

The scooter is geo-fenced, and cannot be ridden beyond certain geography. It also warns Bounce’s servers if there’s an attempt to theft, and sends out an SOS if there’s an accident. This triggers a call to the police and emergency break-down services.

But how do you begin a ride? Based on your location, the app displays scooters nearby. The user picks a scooter and requests access for which he/she gets an OTP via SMS. Punch this OTP in the scooter’s keypad and you’re good to go. Don’t forget to wear the helmet stowed in the trunk.

The user is charged based on the distance covered (5/km) and time (50 paise/minute). According to the team, the present rates keep the company profitable on a per-ride basis. Maintenance and fuel costs combined come to about 4/km.

Bharath Devanathan (ex-COO, Groupon Inc APAC) and Bounce’s EV boss says, “With Bounce shifting to EVs in the coming two quarters, running costs will be lower.” Bounce is working with brands such as Ampere, Okinawa and Hero Electric for its EV fleet. These will hit streets of Bengaluru in a couple of months.

Bounce’s USP is that you can drop the scooter at your desired destination. That makes the scooters ideal for last-mile connectivity, for instance, traveling from a railway station to your home. Agnisays “In the future, we plan to integrate with the public transportation facilities... when you get to your railway/metro station, there will be a Bounce vehicle waiting for you.” 

Currently, the company is constrained on supply. Agni says “Bengaluru sees 5 million people on buses and 500,000 people on the Metro and we have 4,000 scooters right now.” That said, the company hits over 25,000 rides in Bengaluru and another 1,500-plus rides in Hyderabad daily. It did 300 rides/day in September 2018. The next milestone is to hit 100,000 rides/day by the third quarter of 2019. The team is building scale by collaborating with tech-parks in Bengaluru. “We have setup ‘Bounce-Zones’ where you can park and pick up the scooters,” adds Agni.

This June, Bounce raised $72 million from B-Capital and Falcon Edge. It has thus far scored a total of $101 million in a combination of debt and equity investments. Besides B-Capital and Falcon Edge, popular backers include Accel Partners, Qualcomm Ventures, InnoVen Capital, Chiratae Ventures, Sequoia Capital India and Omidyar Network among others

The next steps are to utilise the capital to build the EV infrastructure, expand the network. Crucially, team Bounce wants to integrate deeper with OEMs. They plan to have the scooters roll out of the production line with the keyless system built-in.

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