It is 10 AM in the morning and for the past five minutes we have hardly moved an inch forward. The disappointed driver says, “After politics, traffic is the biggest problem in the country and we don’t see it getting better because the infrastructure doesn’t match the scale of the population.”
Though Dhaka is one of the least motorised cities in the world, traffic congestion is high, with road network comprising hardly seven per cent of the total built-up area. Traffic is the most talked-about issue that affects everyone’s life, and this triad has launched an app that aims to solve this crippling problem.
“We started the business because we got tired of complaining about traffic and decided to do something about it. Our first service ‘GO! Traffic’ is a multiplatform service that provides accurate real-time traffic updates in the palm of your hand. GO! Traffic aggregates multiple data sources to ensure a high level of accuracy in the data,” says Qasim Rana, Co-founder of GObd, one of the Echelon Top 100 qualifiers, from Bangladesh.
“The data sources include a strategic data collection team, corporate partners and users themselves,” he adds.
The Co-founders Rana, Farhan Rahman and Swagata Prateek started working in January 2015 with a team of 10 people. “Since launching GO! Traffic Beta in April, we’ve seen a steady rise in the number of users to over 20,000 with a retention rate of about 60 per cent,” Rana states.
The startup is currently working on strategic partnerships with corporate partners including telcos, NGOs and government agencies. “The goal of these partnerships is to expand our user base and improve our data collection mechanisms. The next set of partnerships will be focussed more on business development and revenue generation,” Rahman says.
The company trains and deploys a strategic field team to monitor traffic at key intersections and routes through the city to ensure regular and accurate traffic updates. “Though this was costly, we did not want to rely solely on crowd-sourcing traffic updates. This made a big difference to our service delivery and it really sets us apart from competitors,” Rana says.
Solving a local problem
GObd faces competition from players such as Dhaka Traffic Alert and others. Rana states, “We do have a number of competitors such as Waze or Inrix, but they do not operate in Bangladesh. We aggregate multiple sources of data for our unique algorithm to make sure everything is accurate and timely.”
“Our advantage is the fact that we are taking a local approach to a unique Bangladeshi problem and not shoehorning a high-tech Silicon Valley product here. Dhaka has a maddening mix of motorised and non-motorised transportation such as cars, buses, cycle rickshaws, tuktuks (CNGs in Bangladesh), trucks, cycle vans and suicidal pedestrians and our approach takes into account all of that,” he explains.
Bangladesh is becoming attractive for investors
GObd has been primarily self-funded, but it has recently raised a small amount of investment which will enable the company to extend its runway to mid-2016.
“We have been speaking extensively with a number of VCs from around the Asian region for further rounds of funding. Interestingly, there has been a lot of interest in not only what we do, but Bangladesh as a whole – the fact that are 170 million people in an area the size of New York State, relatively young and ethnically homogenous population with a high degree of mobile penetration and increasing disposable income makes Bangladesh a particularly attractive investment destination,” he explains.
While the startup is seeing good traction and user demand, the biggest challenge has been the bureaucracy in the country, complacency (from users and strategic partners) and finding talented resources.
The immediate goal for the company is to expand its footprint to all of Dhaka. It will then expand to other cities in Bangladesh. “We are aiming for 1,000,000 users in the next 18 months,” Prateek says.
“We will also expand into other types of services revolving around transportation and inefficiency. Some of these services are already being piloted, but we don’t want to say too much now,” concludes Rana.