Biswajit Kundu Roy, CEO, and founder of Coastr tells us about vehicle rental software.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Biswajit Kundu Roy: Fortunately, my family and I are keeping well. Not being able to take a break to see family and friends has been difficult, but again, the upside is I’ve been able to devote my attention to scaling up Coastr. As you know, it is a crucial period for us.
I’d say, the pandemic – along with its fair share of challenges – has allowed me to spend time with my wife and our dog. We’ve gone on long walks during weekends to enjoy Scotland’s scenic countryside. Simba, our 11-month-old puppy, is having a ball with both of us around all the time.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Coastr.
Biswajit Kundu Roy: I am a software engineer. Before founding Coastr, I was in Management consulting. I worked with PwC in the UK, leading their Strategy and architecture advisory team. Before that, I worked at the Royal Bank of Scotland, as part of their strategy and architecture team. I have worked in sectors such as banking, payments, insurance, retail, education, and technology with a persistent passion for traveling on the side.
As a child and young adult, I have traveled a lot in trains across India. I often reminisce the excitement, when a train slowly approached our platform waiting to take me to someplace new and unexplored. I carried my dream of exploring every nook and corner of this beautiful and diverse European continent when I moved to the UK. I wanted to experience the sights and sounds of new cultures and culinary traditions. And this, unfortunately, has led to many uncomfortable encounters with car rental companies. Such bitter experiences are quite the norm. They’re so widely prevalent in the UK that the competition and market authority had to take stock of unfair practices undertaken by some vehicle rental companies. Coastr was founded out of my passion for traveling and the nagging urge to make renting a car for a getaway convenient for one and all.
How does Coastr innovate?
Biswajit Kundu Roy: Coastr is a mobility tech company looking to reimagine the car rental sector through innovation. Our chief purpose is to ease out the operations of car rental agents, thereby ensuring a satisfying rental experience for their customers.
Coastr brings cutting-edge technology innovation that not only works toward improving sustainable practices, such as a reduction in paper usage and carbon footprint but also helps vehicle rental firms adapt to the same. At present, many car rental companies lack the proper technology that’s needed to advance their business and become future-ready.
Over 85% of customers, who regularly rent cars, have expressed their dissatisfaction. From long waiting windows to pick up the car, non-transparent pricing and hidden charges levied post-rental, misleading insurance packages sold through scare tactics, lack of information on existing car damages to a general lack of empathy for customers, their reasons only keep multiplying. I’d request you to compare this information with the single most important reason for renting cars — 70% of riders hire cars for ‘convenience’.
With Coastr, I can execute my vision of creating a consumer-centric car rental experience that unlocks the true meaning of ‘convenience’, while renting cars. Our motto is to offer transparency and best practices in the industry. Coastr believes transforming the industry inside out is key to solving customer experience problems.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Biswajit Kundu Roy: While Coronavirus has directly impacted travel and the rental sector, it has brought out the need for digitization of operations and future-proofing businesses to withstand economic uncertainties. That’s directly playing to our advantage because Coastr’s goal is to enable digitization and help car rental operators become both efficient and proficient.
Having said that, the economic uncertainties brought by the pandemic threw some unforeseen challenges at the Coastr management team. With the limited buying capacity of our customers, we had to pivot our sales and business development approach towards increasing user base through extended free trials and focussing on adoption metrics, which ultimately paid off because a lot of these customers stayed and helped us build functionalities by acting as beta users of the product.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Biswajit Kundu Roy: Fortunately, we have grown in size during the pandemic as a result of our success in the market and did not have to make any redundant choices. We put in some risk mitigation measures at the very onset of the pandemic to ensure that we were not faced with any cash constraints. Also, we proactively applied for government grants which helped increase our cash reserves, while ensuring we continue to spend on innovation. We may be one of the few startups that won two R&D grants in a year, last year.
Our biggest lesson through the pandemic has been that people are assets that we need to hold on to dearly and they can make a huge difference in difficult times. We also got better at planning and managing our financial budgets; setting quarterly milestones further helped the process and tackled risks better.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Biswajit Kundu Roy: It’s an interesting one as we tend to obsessively spend our time talking to customers, since the first few months of our inception. Our whole product development philosophy is customer-driven and we love collecting feedback on our product, so much so that one of our customers once made an observation that we were spending too much time on a single customer (“them”). It’s hilarious because our competitors, on the other hand, spend zero time talking to customers and hence, they are simply not used to the attention!
For seamless customer onboarding and management, we have introduced some new tools such as HubSpot for CRM and sales, which is fully integrated with Chargebee for subscription management and Stripe for payment collection. On the service side, we are in the process of introducing an integrated self-service capability that will utilize a knowledge center for product documentation and training videos. In addition, we are in the process of introducing in-app customer support via web chat alongside the traditional email and phone channels. Our goal is to enable more adoption through self-service techniques, but also deliver seamless multi-channel support to our customers whenever they need it.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Biswajit Kundu Roy: Yes indeed! Only recently, we won the Innovate UK’s Sustainability Grant for our keyless entry solution – it ensures a contactless rental experience and quicker turnarounds in car rental pick-ups and drop-offs. Our biometric customer verification eliminates tedious or faulty paperwork and trips to physical rental counters. Also, our automated fleet scheduling increases efficiency by assigning vehicles based on usage and location. The grant recognizes our efforts toward sustainability and provides us with funding. We were also featured across their social media channels. It was a proud moment for Coastr.
We also won Scottish Enterprise’s Smart R&D Grant for developing an AI-based on-demand fleet insurance solution for vehicle rental companies working with major insurance underwriters. This R&D grant is awarded to SMEs aiming to support highly ambitious tech projects.
Your final thoughts?
Biswajit Kundu Roy: We plan to focus on building a culture of transparency, inclusivity, and individual accountability. It can go a long way in building a resilient organization and creating trust among your people, who will ultimately help you achieve your goals and ambitions.
Also, any crisis needs a leader to show the way and I am always eager to rise to the occasion and do everything in my capacity to drive a landslide change in the vehicle rental industry. I lead as a part of the Coastr team, and always will. Coastr was recognized as a Global Thought Leader and featured in an exclusive interview with TBD Media (CBS Network). The video link is here. Coastr’s feature for the Innovate UK Grant can be found here.
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