Published: 16th February 2020
Railofy offers vacant flight seats for travellers who are stuck on railway waiting lists
Railofy was set up by IIT-B and ISB alumni who wanted to offer commuters guaranteed options when it comes to their travel plans
There's probably an open tab on your phone from when you checked the PNR number of a train you wanted to catch but could only get on the waiting list. If you do, it just means that you are a true blue Indian traveller. Each month, more than 10 million people in India search for their status to see if they have finally made it to the hallowed confirmed list. And in the past 4-5 years, a bunch of train schedule apps have popped up to cash in on this very market. Last year, after these apps gained millions of users in just a matter of a few days, the IRCTC themselves decided to join the game.
IIT-Bombay alums Vaibhav Saraf and Hrishabh Sanghvi, and a graduate of the Indian School of Business, Rohan Dedhia have worked in some of the country's best tech firms. And their fast-paced minds realised that India's rail frenzy deserved more attention. Vaibhav says, "If the IRCTC itself was so sure of how lucrative this business was, it's much bigger than we think. The only issue is that the numbers are just numbers. For those of us who had excitedly downloaded an app on our phone, we realised that it did not necessarily guarantee a seat for ourselves on the next train. The 80 per cent of chance that is guaranteed through waiting lists are not good enough. As a solution, it did not make sense. So we thought, how can we take passengers from point A to B without a shadow of doubt about their status?"
The answer was a number of solutions that clubbed together under the name Railofy. They created the mother of all train booking websites that could find empty flight seats to accommodate waitlisted train passengers. Vaibhav explains, "The problem is that most start-ups or businesses in India look towards the West. None of these ideas are Indian. The kind of congestion that we have in India is unique to us and it needs tailor-made solutions. So while we had no doubt about the demand, we needed a better answer for it." At the end of 2016, the three friends came up with the first step to an actual solution.
Making the idea fly
The Indian middle class has grown more aspirational. So much so that we people can actually consider alternatives now without being driven into a corner. The three of them began by looking at the first alternative that us last-minute travellers are used to looking at: RedBus! First, they took a look at the routes that had no connectivity. And through more research, they also found that most people do not opt for bus journeys if the duration is longer than 10 hours. Through this, they learnt that buses, in many cases, are the last option. So their answer was down to rail or flight and that conclusion had to be a part of the solution.
The months that followed were not exactly easy. Through their connections in their alma maters and the industries they were each a part of, they approached representatives from a number of airlines including Jet Airways, SpiceJet, GoAir and Indigo. Vaibhav recollects, "It happened through multiple iterations. When we recount the number of times we were kicked out from airline offices, we ourselves wonder how this actually worked out. With each airline, it was a large effort. Especially because we come from outside of the industry. We had to think it out over and over again. With every meeting, we learnt something new about what we needed and built it brick by brick."
Here's what they learnt: On any given day in India, there are almost 50,000 empty seats on flights. Most airlines are congested only during the mornings and evenings. Many flights in the afternoons and late nights are half empty. And they don't know what to do with it. But how did they connect this to the Indian Railways, one of the largest open markets in the country? Although they are unable to disclose the exact details of the process, they had to mediate between the two parties to make it so that airlines would sell their empty seats to the railways.
Full steam ahead
After launching their beta version on December 13, 2019, Railofy officially launched three weeks ago. They have already crossed 100 bookings. Vaibhav adds, "The one issue that we've faced is that people are convinced that it's too good to be true, so they think that the company is fraudulent. But we urge people to use Railofy and see. We created the solution that we needed for our travel needs. And now we want to use it to decongest India!"