Vishal Jain, Anshul Jain and Rahul Mehra, Co-Founders of Roadcast Image: Madhu Kapparath“T
wo roads diverged in a wood…,” this is the only line from the poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ that got firmly etched in Vishal Jain’s memory since childhood. “Robert Frost’s poem was all about the choices we make,” reckons the chartered accountant, who spent over a decade at advertising agency FCB Ulka, and then started treading on the entrepreneurial road in 2015 when he co-founded Roadcast along with Anshul Jain and Rahul Mehra. Anshul, an IT engineer, had over 10 years of professional experience. Mehra, a mechanical engineer and the youngest among the trio, had a little over five years of work experience in web and graphic design, including a brief stint at Ogilvy. Though all the co-founders came from diverse backgrounds, there was something in common: All noticed the gaping hole. The logistics automation platform in India was largely broken, and the friends decided to fix it.Back in 2015, though, the co-founders had something elementary to fix in order to start their journey. They had two choices, which was a dilemma for them. The first was to take a full-time plunge into entrepreneurship. This meant loads of uncertainty to begin with. It also meant starting a new innings with all the variables that are a way of startup life. The idea of stepping out of the comfort zone after a meaty corporate stint was not an easy thought to deal with. The other choice was to start Roadcast as a part-time gig. The latter looked comforting. Jain and Anshul decided to sail on two boats till something substantial emerged, while Mehra quit his job to front the army. For over a year till late 2016, Roadcast had a truncated upbringing. The operating revenue inched at an excruciatingly slow pace: Rs1.3 lakh and Rs32.18 lakh in FY16 and FY17, respectively.
Staying bootstrapped came with its own set of challenges. The biggest was capital, and the hack devised to solve it was ‘jugaad’. Take, for instance, the ‘innovative’ way adopted by the co-founders to solve the infrastructure problem of the fledgling startup. Five employees, including the co-founders, needed laptops. Jain got to know that his company was clearing its old stock. There was only one glitch, though. There were 60 terminals and one needed to buy all of them. The co-founders bought all, repaired and refurbished 50 of them and then sold them at more than double the rate. “This is how we funded ourselves,” smiles 41-year-old Jain. “And there was ample money to pay salaries for three months.”
Having laptops didn’t solve all the problems though. The co-founders now needed software developers, and there was a special need to hunt for an iOS techie. The hack, again, was out of the box: Advertising on OLX. After a few weeks, they found one. Interestingly, the guy wanted to sell his Mac; he met the co-founders at one of the metro stations in West Delhi, and at 9.30 pm, Roadcast accidentally got its iOS developer.
There was still one more issue to fix. The software was working, and hardware was missing. The co-founders found somebody to take care of the hardware bit, but realised the folly of depending on part-time gig during a big client meeting. Roadcast was pitching to a multinational company, which was impressed with the services offered by the startup. The deal almost looked certain, and just a hardware presentation by the hired partner was left. The hardware guy, unfortunately, didn’t turn up. He had other commitments. Though the founders managed to buy some time and eventually averted the crisis, the lesson was learnt.Also read: Three factors contributing to the ongoing global supply-chain crisis
There was another lesson to be learnt. And this time, the learning came direct from schools. With thousands of buses ferrying kids, schools looked like a low-lying fruit for Roadcast. After all, there was a grave need for real-time tracking, route optimisation, fleet management, and fuel saving and analysis. The trio zeroed in on all the top schools in Delhi-NCR, diverted all their energies into wooing them, and spent an inordinate amount of time in showcasing their software’s merit. For months, the co-founders—in shifts—would wake up at 4 in the morning, reach the schools and trail the buses to see if the software was working properly.
After months of hard work and customised solutions, Roadcast hit a roadblock. The unlikeliest of issues turned out to be the biggest problem. The long corporate stint of the co-founders cast a shadow on their nascent entrepreneurial journey. Anshul explains. The management of most schools came up with a weird question. “You left your job after 10 years. Now what’s the guarantee that you won’t leave your startup if it doesn’t work out?” was their apprehension. Trusting the rookies, who had no established track record, with a tech solution was deemed to be too risky by the schools. Mehra tells us the lesson. “We stopped focusing on schools,” he recalls. In fact, the company went to the drawing board and reworked its plan. Roadcast, he underlines, lacked a sharp focus, and diversified too early and too much. The co-founders now decided to focus sharply on digital logistics: Ecommerce, hyperlocal, and B2B/B2C fleet management and solutions. Also read: Making supply chains deliver more than just faster, cheaper products
The move made sense given the big opportunity. While the global digital logistics market is estimated to touch $833 billion (it was $433 billion in 2021) in 2024, back home in India, the market is set to reach $215 billion in 2024, a seven-fold jump from $30 billion in 2021. A booming ecommerce, last-mile hyperlocal delivery, and delivery vehicle, including electric vehicles, fleet management market meant that it was a no-brainer to singularly focus on such segments and make the most of the rising tide.
Roadcast stuck to the new script, raised an angel round from a clutch of HNIs in 2018, and then roped in Jubilant Foodworks—the master franchisee of Domino's Pizza, Dunkin' Donuts, and Popeyes—as a strategic investor last year. The results were dramatic. From Rs3.93 crore operating revenue in FY21, Roadcast closed FY23 at Rs25.72 crore. The operations now span across 50 cities and seven countries, including the UAE, UK, Qatar, Oman, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. “We have aided businesses in the delivery management of over 40,000 drivers and a fleet connectivity of over 2 lakh vehicles,” claims Mehra.Also read: Pizza Cutter: Meet the master storyteller from Domino's
But eight long years, and just Rs25 crore to show… has Roadcast not been extremely slow in churning out revenue and expanding scale? Look at the rivals—Locus, FarEye and Shipsy. All of them are heavily backed, deeply funded and much bigger in size. Started in 2015, Shipsy raised a pre-Series A round led by Info Edge in 2019. The next year, it raised $6 million in Series A, and $25 million in Series B last year. Locus scooped up $50 million in a Series C round in 2021, and counts Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, Qualcomm Ventures, Tiger Global and Falcon Edge among its investors.
Dhianu Das, co-founder of Agility Ventures, outlines a set of daunting challenges for Roadcast. “The biggest happens to be its small scale,” says the venture capitalist. In spite of the speed at which Roadcast has grown over the last two years, it’s still a laggard. In a market, he explains, when you are pitted against the big boys with deep pockets, you can’t come up with an excuse that you didn’t have ammunition (capital) to expand furiously. Another problem for the startup is to beef up its rooster of enterprise and big corporate clients. “You get steady and recurring income from such players,” he says. Though having Jubilant on board is a big edge, it’s high time the co-founders put on their racing shoes.
Mehra, for his part, acknowledges a slow pace of growth. He, however, explains the reason. Apart from the time spent in taking a full-time plunge by the co-founders, Roadcast spent a good two years in building its platform. The choice of raising loads of venture capital, scaling fast, and burning cash in the process was always there. “We didn’t choose this road,” he says, adding that the co-founders were always clear about two things. First was a slow, steady and sustainable growth. Second was having a strategic investor who appreciates the merit of playing the game for the long term. “Now we have all that it takes to scale furiously. And we will touch the Rs100-crore mark over the next 12 months or so,” he claims.Also read: AI in logistics: Where's my order?
For now, Roadcast has two options. The first entails travelling on the slow and steady road. The other will result in a furious growth. The right choice, and at the right time, is what will decide the destination of the co-founders. “We have strapped our belts and are ready for our next phase of growth,” says Jain.