Person of the Week: Vineet Chirania

Dear Readers,

In this interview series we ask questions to people who are making a difference in our society, it can be big, it can be small, it doesn’t matter, what matters is their contribution. It can be anyone from any walk of life and from any country. Please, do send us suggestions of people whom you think we should interview for this series.

 

Vineet Chirania is the founder of popular train app – Trainman, he is a graduate of IIT Roorkee and a native of Bihar. He worked in the tech industry for a considerable time before deciding to convert his passion in a start-up. Trainman is used by around 2.5 Lakh users a day. 

Following are his thoughts on our questions.

  1. Tell us something about yourself?

I hail from a small town in Bihar called Naugachia which lies in Bhagalpur district. I did my graduation in Computer Science from IIT Roorkee. I am a technology and startup enthusiast. I love to play table tennis and watch hollywood movies and series. I am also an avid reader and read mostly motivational and startup related books.

  1. How did you become a train enthusiast and got the idea to develop Trainman?

Since my childhood I took a lot of train journeys. Going to relatives place or coming back from my hostel to hometown during vacations, train was the only option for me (The roads are in bad shape in Bihar). Deep inside I developed a liking about railways. When I came to college, I was the only one in my whole group who had a clear idea about trains, their complex rules and regulation. Therefore, in my college the act of planning the journey was always assigned to me. This strengthened my knowledge about Railways and my liking increased further. From my childhood days I (and everyone else too) had been facing problem with waitlisted tickets. I often got waitlisted tickets and would be in a dilemma on whether to rely on it to get confirmed or look for other alternatives. Often we’d ask a person who travelled by that route a lot to get an idea on how much waitlist ticket usually get cleared. This meant that waitlist confirmation followed a pattern. I thought why not capture this pattern and build a portal where people can know about the confirmation chance of waitlisted train ticket instantly. This lead to the birth of Trainman.

  1. Was it difficult to leave a stable, lucrative job to start on your own?

We launched our site and app while working part time when we already had our full time jobs. This gave us enough time to test our product on live users without worrying about money. When we had decent traction on our site and app and a plan to monetize our product, then we decided to leave our jobs and pursue this full time. This strategy helped us sustain without any external funding. As they say successful entrepreneurs are not risk takers but risk averse! By God’s grace and our hard work we are now a profitable company.

  1. How did you manage the surge in user base of Trainman over these years?

Firstly, we constantly worked on evolving the product based on customer feedback. Due to this we received a lot of word-of-mouth publicity. Initially we just had a website. Soon we launched android app on user’s suggestions. When people using iphone requested us for an app, we launched an ios app too. User loved getting features after features. Secondly, we always kept our product simple and easy to use. User never needed any explainer videos to use our product. Thirdly, keeping in mind the diversity in India we launched our android app in 7 Indian languages – Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Bengali, Marathi and Gujarati. This helped us connect with local travellers who are not well versed in English.

  1. What were some of the challenges you faced in your entrepreneurship journey?

Hobby to Product transition was easy. I was already into tech. I just needed to hone my technological skills more. It did not take much time and effort to launch Trainman, the product. But the transition from product to business was really challenging. I needed to earn money from it and make it self-sustainable. For this I had to wear multiple hats. I had to play role of technology guy, marketing guy, business guy, revenue guy and accounts guy. I had to learn things on the fly.

The other challenge was to compete with deep pockets, the funded startups who could spend insane amount of money on marketing. It was really challenging for bootstrapped startup like us to stay in race with them. Just sticking to the core offering, improving the product day by day and listening to customers’ feedbacks paved way to success for us. Our product is much more loved and higher rated than our competitors and we are able to stay ahead in the race with minimal marketing spend.

  1. How important is customer feedback for a company in your opinion?

Extremely. Customer is king. Listening to customer feedback is one of the most important things the one should do. Infact I feel that no company who ignores customer feedback can ever be successful. We are a customer-obsessed company. I have personally read all the customer emails and feedbacks received till date which runs into tens of thousands if not lakhs. This helps us identify the most important requirements and prioritize the features.

  1. Where do you see the entrepreneurship ecosystem in India going?

The overall entrepreneurship ecosystem is moving in a positive direction. I really like the cultural shift from discounting towards profitability. The government is also encouraging startups. The startup India program is a good step. It is relatively easier now to meet any seasoned entrepreneur and take his/her inputs on your venture. Biggies live Google, Facebook, Amazon provide awards, incubation, acceleration and freebies to a lot of potentially good startups. We were also selected under FBStart accelerate track which is an acceleration program run by Facebook.

  1. There is a paradigm shift towards automation, AI, machine learning and analytics in software industry, do you think it as a threat or opportunity for software professionals in our industry?

Automation is never a threat. In fact, automation saves us from repetitive tasks. Before industrial revolution, all the manufacturing was handmade. There were huge transportation issues. Industrial revolution automated the boring and repetitive tasks without causing any considerable decline in jobs. Similarly, AI and machine learning will automate the mundane and repetitive tasks of software professionals which they anyway do not want to do. This means that now they will do mostly those tasks which makes effective use of their cognitive skills and mental faculty. In fact many good developers already have automated scripts in place to take care of their repetitive tasks. One of my friend wrote a short 10-line python code to automatically reply to those who wished him birthday on facebook. Now how cool is that :) Therefore, these upcoming technologies will make life of the software developers easy.

  1. What are some of your future plans?

Trainman has evolved as a train companion for users. Users come to Trainman to access train information i.e. they consume the information. But what if we empower users to become creators. Apart from consuming they will also be able to contribute and add information. We are talking about user generated content. This has an immense potential. That is our next focus. To build a good and vibrant user community around Trainman product.

  1. Your message for our readers?

I like this quote by Mark Zuckerberg – ‘Move Fast and Break Things’. This means launch your minimum viable product, your version 1, quickly. Even though it is not perfect. Even though it fails for 10% cases. If the product is useful, you will have early adopters who will speak volumes about your product. Based on their feedback, do quick incremental updates and gradually plug this 10% gap. This way you will not end up building something which customer does not want.

 

 

 

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