Founder at Work: An Interview With Reyasat Chowdhury, Founder and CEO, Shuttle
Reyasat Chowdhury is the founder and CEO of Shuttle, a Dhaka-based transportation service startup that provides “safe transportation at an affordable fare by moving more people with fewer vehicles with the help of technology’. Originally started as a safe transportation solution for women in Dhaka, the company has since expanded its service adding more routes with Dhaka and making its service available to more office goers. In this interview, we discuss Mr. Reyasat’s path to entrepreneurship, the origin of Shuttle, Shuttle’s business today and ambition going forward, imperatives for entrepreneurship, and more.
Future Startup: Could you please tell us about your background and elaborate your path to entrepreneurship?
Reyasat Chowdhury: I am a business graduate from North South University. After graduation, I joined Robi Axiata Ltd. and worked there as a Product Specialist for two years before starting Shuttle.
From an early age, I was fascinated seeing how certain individuals shaped and changed the world around us for the better. It was obvious to me that entrepreneurship is the key to generate such meaningful change. Since then I have grown a passion for solving problems of our society through innovation and redesign.
My passion for solving social problems and bringing positive changes in the society led me to co-found Shuttle, a startup that addresses and aims to solve a pressing issue in our country – safe transportation for women.
Future Startup: When and how did you get started with Shuttle? What motivated you to start Shuttle?
Reyasat Chowdhury: As I mentioned, I have always wanted to become an entrepreneur since my childhood. However, I never knew how to take the first step.
Later, during my university days, I used to have regular discussions with a friend, Jawwad bhai (also one of my partners at Shuttle), about how to start our own venture that would have a positive impact on society.
One day Jawwad bhai shared his concerns about the problems people face in public buses in our country. In a way, that was the start of our journey.
Future Startup: What went into building the initial operation of Shuttle? How did you put together initial investment and other things to get started? Please walk us through what the first few months of your journey were like and challenges you faced.
Reyasat Chowdhury: We all know that investment is critical for any startup in early stages. Luckily for us, we received a substantial amount of investment from Robi through their r- Ventures program right at the very beginning. Needless to say, we got a jump start, which made our lives much easier.
The first few months were full of challenges. From planning routes to retaining and expanding the customer base, we learnt a lot. For a startup like ours, gaining customers’ trust was vital. Thankfully, we were able to come up with a proper execution plan which could uphold our promise of providing safety to our customers.
Coming up with a sustainable business model was a priority for us from the very beginning. Since the concept of a women centric pick and drop service is new to our county, we didn’t really have any precedence to follow. I would say we are still working towards improving our business model every day.
Future Startup: Could you please give us an overview of Shuttle in terms of services you offer, how many users you have, the size of your business, etc.?
Reyasat Chowdhury: At Shuttle, we provide safe transportation at an affordable fare by moving more people with fewer vehicles with the help of technology. So far, we have focused on solving the transportation problem for women only.
We usually provide the service in air-conditioned micro-buses where around 10 women can commute together at an affordable fare.
We have a trip manager in every single vehicle whose primary responsibility is to ensure passengers’ safety.
We have trips scheduled throughout day and our users can book rides whenever they want through the Shuttle app.
We are currently operating on 10 routes in Dhaka and have a customer base of over 30,000 users.
Future Startup: From a product perspective, how does Shuttle work as a platform? How do you work with your partners? How does the tech part work?
Reyasat Chowdhury: We currently have two separate apps to run the operation smoothly. One is for our users and the other for the trip managers (who have been given the responsibility to facilitate the entire process of picking up and dropping off our customers, from one point to another).
Using the app, our customers can book their rides, track vehicles, know the estimated time of arrival and get necessary information about the trip manager. The app for the trip manager allows the trip managers to get required booking information using which they onboard the passengers from different pick-up points and complete the trips.
Future Startup: What is your business model? How do you generate revenue?
Reyasat Chowdhury: Our main revenue comes from the ride fare that we get from the users apart from a few other sources.
Future Startup: How big is your team? Could you tell us about your culture at Shuttle?
Reyasat Chowdhury: Currently, we are a team of 76 individuals, including the trip managers and drivers.
The fact that we have had a clear goal from the beginning to solve the transportation problem for women in Bangladesh has been crucial in establishing a good culture in office. Every single member of the team genuinely believes in the company’s mission and gives their 120% every day to achieve that goal and build a sustainable business.
Future Startup: What are the lessons you’ve learned in terms of growing a business? What can other entrepreneurs learn from your growth journey?
Reyasat Chowdhury: The one thing I have learnt so far growing a business is that all we need to do is fight and work for a cause, a valid one. The rest will follow.
Future Startup: What are some mistakes you’ve made, if any, that you want other entrepreneurs to avoid?
Reyasat Chowdhury: To be honest, I have been making mistakes since day one of my entrepreneurial journey. And I believe, that’s the only way to learn really. My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs would be to accept that mistakes will happen. However, the crucial part is how you react and learn from the mistakes so that they are not repeated.
Future Startup: Have you raised investment? If yes, how much have you raised? What are the plans now? What does it take to raise investment? What should founders who are trying to raise investment be mindful of?
Reyasat Chowdhury: We have raised two rounds of investment so far and are currently trying to raise Pre-Series A investment.
One thing that I would like to mention here is that having a proper shareholding structure is prerequisite for any startup to become investable. Hence, every founder should really plan this through from the beginning.
Future Startup: What are the goals for the future?
Reyasat Chowdhury: Currently, we are only operating on 10 routes. Our short-term goal is to cover the entire Dhaka city and then expand to other cities in Bangladesh. We are in the process of launching two new products.
Our ultimate goal is to build a sustainable ecosystem of micro-transit so that safe and comfortable transportation is affordable and accessible for the mass people.
Future Startup: Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous in the process of building Shuttle?
Reyasat Chowdhury: I have found the cooperation of our customers extremely advantageous in the process of building Shuttle.
Our customers have been continuously giving us feedback and helping us grow.
Future Startup: How do you deal with challenges and stress that come with being a founder?
Reyasat Chowdhury: To be honest, challenges are a necessary part of being an entrepreneur. You need to believe in the cause you are working for if you really want to rise above any challenge that is thrown at you.
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