The idea had been brewing in Shivraj Rajeshwaranâ€™s head for some months. But in July 2016, when nine-year-old Ramya was killed after being hit by a car driven by a drunk engineering student on her first day of school, Shivraj decided it was now or never.
And that was how Hopp was born.
The app-based service allows people to call a chauffeur to ferry them from one place to another. The original idea behind Hopp was to curb drunk driving, as inebriated people with cars could simply get someone else to drive them. But Shivraj realised soon that it could be used for many other things.
â€śYou are too tired after a long day, you donâ€™t want to be stuck in traffic, you need to have someone picked up or dropped or even get the car to someone else â€“ the possibilities were many,â€ť Shivraj says.
Even though the app was rolled out in May, the marketing only began at the end of June for they took a month to test it. And now, the service, which currently operates only within Hyderabad city limits, has 8,326 users and 400 registered driver partners.
â€śOur scheduled bookings for New Yearâ€™s Eve have already exceeded 100,â€ť Shivraj says happily.
How it began
The idea for Hopp came to Shivraj about a year and half ago. The 26-year-old had had a few drinks one night and had to convince the chauffer at the place to drive him back home in his car as he wasnâ€™t in a position to do so himself.
After that, he did his market research for two months. While some people were receptive to his idea, others didnâ€™t think it would take off. And when he finally started working on it after Ramyaâ€™s death, Shivraj ran into another roadblock â€“ the third-party developers he approached to work on the app did not give him any specific time frame by when the app could be ready for use.
â€śWe started developing the app in-house. It was tough because many people in my team were freshers. But we managed to have it up and running in six months, by May this year,â€ť Shivraj says.
Customers have to pay a flat fair of Rs 267 for three hours when they make a booking on Hopp. This, Shivraj says, is because the drivers have to arrange their own commute to the customers and their vehicles and, unless itâ€™s a round trip, back from their drop destination as well. The charge after the first three hours is Rs 1.50 per minute and between 9pm and 6am, a night charge of Rs 150 is levied.
The drivers â€“ all of whom have to a clear driving test, get an No-objection Certificate from the police to see if they have any cases against them and submit ID proofs before being hired â€“ are allowed to be online as per their convenience. While about 200 of those registered are full-time drivers, others, like students over 18 and IT professionals, work part-time with the app.
The drivers assigned are within a six-kilometre radius of the customer.
Challenges and plans for the future
Upon being launched, some of the challenges they faced included matching customer expectations and having the drivers connect to Hopp.
â€śCustomers expect drivers to reach them within five minutes. That is often not possible given the traffic and the fact that the driver has to arrange his own commute,â€ť Shivraj explains.
Not all the drivers use power banks and such. And unlike cab aggregators like Uber and Ola, they do not always have a charger at hand. Many times, they also face problems with the driversâ€™ phone batteries dying.
In the future, Shivraj hopes to expand to all Indian metro cities, starting with Chennai and Bengaluru in 2018.
He also hopes to integrate women drivers into Hopp. While they have received queries, safety remains a concern. â€śI will be speaking with the SHE team commissioner in Hyderabad. With their help, we should be able to have a safe space for women drivers as well,â€ť Shivraj says.
Hopp is currently run by a six-member team and is bootstrapped, but Shivraj says they will be looking for investors as they expand to other cities.