Meet Ravi Kumar, Founder & CEO of udChalo, who introduced subsidised air travel to soldiers across the country by tying up with various airlines
I, me, myself
I come from an army family. My father was a JCO who fought for India in the 1971 war. I have seen the everyday struggles of the army men and their family from close.
I am an alumnus of the Army Institute of Technology and held positions with organisations like Tata and Dassault Systems prior to founding udChalo. Coming from defence background, I wanted to give back to the community that has been so instrumental in making me who I am today, and that is how the idea of udChalo came to my mind.
Travel for the armed forces was a major challenge due to last minute leave sanctions. They often have to travel with unconfirmed tickets in trains. Simultaneously, many aircraft fly with vacant seats every day. Understanding the demand supply gap, udChalo was established with the motto ‘Making life simpler for the soldiers”. In the year 2012 we started by providing air tickets to the armed forces and today, we offer an array of services including tax returns.
From Bihar to Punjab and Haryana
Being a defence kid, I call myself an Indian first. I have travelled and lived in multiple cities though my parents hail from Bihar. I was born in Kolkata and spent my childhood in the city. It was during my younger days I became friends with families from Punjab and Haryana and saw the struggle of the community closely when you have your entire family in the armed forces. I lived in Jhansi, Pathankot and Pune and wherever I went, there always came across defence families hailing from Punjab and Haryana.
The seeds of udChalo
In the year 2012, approximately 1 lakh defence personnel used to travel by train every day and many of them traveled without ever receiving a reserved ticket. On the other side, 48,000 airline seats were going vacant, causing airlines to incur losses.
udChalo was conceptualized to bridge this gap and Jet Airways came onboard as our first airline partners. The idea of defence fares was first introduced by udChalo. We made it easier for the army personnel and their dependents to travel while at the same time gave struggling aviation industry a new customer base. We became a market creator rather than competing with the current audience for market share. Since we began, we have brought more than 25,000 new passengers to the Indian aviation market.
The pilot in Punjab
Punjab sends one of the highest number of soldiers to the defence forces. Many of the units such as Bombay Sappers, Sikh regiment are located outside Punjab. These are the soldiers who need to travel to their home towns during their leave and in most circumstances, the leave gets sanctioned at the last minute. We understood their need and therefore included Punjab in our pilot run.
Our biggest accomplishment has been our loyal consumer base.
• Currently, the company is serving defence customer base and last financial year closed at a GMV of 850 crore. Our net revenue was approximately 41 crore. Through our 34 booking counters, website and app we have served over 10 million customers.
• We are a company with a staff of over 250 and our headquarter is in Pune. We are a bootstrapped company that has organically grown utilizing its own profit made every year and do not have any investor. We are a consumer technology company with a CAGR of 495% (2015-2021).
• As a company, which has shown growth year after year utilizing its own profits generated, our current valuation based on peer-to-peer comparison would be approximately 2000 crore.
• One of the key rules at udChalo is to remain profitable, the customer acquisition cost has always remained low and yet it has served around 10 million users till date.
• With one of the highest NPS of 70%, and excellent CSAT of 90%, we can confidently say that our customers are happy, and retention is high. Good customer satisfaction also contributes to lower marketing expenses thus increasing profitability.
The road ahead
With the success of udChalo, we realised we had a captive audience of 2.8 million people. As of right now, 28 lakh people are registered with udChalo, and since we celebrated our 10-year anniversary on September 14, we have expanded our customer base, enabling all members of the family to use our benefits without any age restrictions. By welcoming every member of the fauji family, we are anticipating an additional 1 million consumers.
It is exceedingly challenging for a soldier to submit their ITR when they are assigned to Siachen for a period of six months. The income tax filing period is only available for four months; by the time a soldier returns to a place of peace, the period is ended. It is frequently noticed that soldiers end up paying fines for filing ITRs late. Many people are also unaware of the significant income tax savings that may be achieved by making smart investments. Investment and insurance will therefore be developed automatically. Through our ITR filing service, we facilitate them to submit their ITR on time saving late fines and time. We are also planning to offer FinTech services to the defence personnel in near future.
Recently, we entered the real estate market. In our first initiative, which is a partnership with a developer in Pune, we sold roughly 72 apartments to the armed forces at the best reduced price that only army personnel could obtain. Our second project, which is in India’s north, is still under consideration. We intend to continue to grow our real estate projects and provide the best ones to the forces.
In the near future, we envision to become a membership based platform and collaborate with other businesses in order to develop an online market place for defence families.
We are growing in the manner of USAA. One of the Fortune 500 companies in the USA provides services to the armed forces of the country.