When Pyush Agrawal dreamt of starting his own business venture, he didn’t hesitate to follow his dreams. Today MTolls, his company, seems to be poised to take on the industry with its innovative technology.
How often have you frantically rummaged for change to give at a toll plaza while a line of cars piled up behind impatiently sounding the horn? Or how often have you been one of those irked drivers waiting for his/her turn at a toll plaza? We’ve all at some point wondered if there was no better way to deal with this menace. But Pyush Agrawal did more than just wondering. He thought hard about the problem and went on to devise a solution to cut down on that waiting time by starting MTolls in May 2011.
Initially, Pyush was working with Microsoft as a programme manager for its Windows division. But following his experiences at toll plazas he decided to set up his own business offering simpler toll solutions. “I used to go for long drives with my wife on the highway. Many times, we lost money because we were not clear about the return journey. For instance, if one is returning the same day then he/she can buy a toll ticket for Rs.30 instead of buying it twice for Rs.40. Also the long queues and struggle to get the right change were other issues faced by commuters. I though there might be a better way to deal with toll plazas,” he says.
But Pyush did not jump headlong into the business venture. He took his time to check the viability of his idea and conducted a detailed research. “I spent two weeks checking the feasibility of the idea as a business. The business idea seemed possible, realistic and there was an urgent need to do it. Although I knew the problems faced by commuters, I didn’t know what the officials at toll plaza dealt with. So I visited them and talked to them about the challenges they faced.”
“As per government guidelines, the toll plaza cannot let the customer wait for more than three minutes. The toll plaza owners are under constant pressure to meet the demand and decrease the long queues without compromising collections,” he says.
Another problem faced by toll plazas was losing money because they collected hard cash. “Almost 15 per cent of the revenues are lost because of dacoity, frauds, embezzlement and other issues. They spend a lot of resources to safeguard the money they collect. It is also troublesome to maintain the data of customers who take their tags and maintenance of technology,which is not core competency,” he says.
“Some toll plazas provide tags that can only be used at specific plazas. Precious time is wasted while entering the 16-digit number on the tag and the licence plate number. The set ags are priced around Rs.1,000 to Rs.1,500. So if the commuter is going from Mumbai to Delhi, he would have to spend a couple of thousands to get those tags from 24 toll plazas. There is also no customer service when it comes to recharging tags or to address problems,” he says.
But quitting his job wasn’t an easy decision. Pyush says, “I am a first generation entrepreneur and quitting a job was a life-changing decision. I did not want to go with just a vague idea to convince my parents. I gathered valid data, which would support my point. Despite the risks involved, my parents accepted my decision and provided me moral and financial support.”
“After almost six months of research on the subject area, I started MTolls along with my friend, Indra Kishore in May 2011. We had a budget of `50 lakh, which was raised from friends and family.”
The company uses passive RFID technology which is certified by the Indian government to enable easy access across the toll plazas with a smart tag. “We want to price the tag very affordable, which lets the customer to buy the tag even if he doesn’t travel that often. The customer can also recharge any amount required on the card by which he can avoid hassles like waiting in the queue and finding the change required.
“For the toll plazas, they can get cashless amount directly credited to their account thereby reducing frauds. The technology is maintained by us with out any hassles. We generate revenues by taking a small portion of the cashless toll collected,” says Pyush.
MTolls also has plans to deploy this technology in various residential and office complexes. The tags will be given to residents of the community by which a gate will automatically open when the resident enters the community in his/her vehicle.
“The security guard can concentrate and check the authenticity of the strangers entering the community rather than stopping and concentrating on each and everyone entering the community,” he says.
The company has developed a prototype and has already deployed pilots in residential communities. It is in the process of filing multiple patents for the developed technology.
MTolls is looking for investments of around $4 million to $5 million in the first phase (Around Rs.25 crore) to operationalise the technology. “We are looking for the right partners and people who are interested in the idea,” says Pyush.
The company is expecting a break even in three years from the time they raise investments.
On the personal front, Pyush enjoys squash, puzzles, read books and go on long drives. “It is hard to get time but I try to catch up with my friends and family on phone,” he says.
On entrepreneurship, “We live only once in life. If you have a dream go and chase it. If you fail, there is no huge loss but if you have not tried that it is a true failure,” he says.