IEEE Member Jay Ramesh Merja was frustrated when he tried to get his furniture moved from his old home to a new one in Ahmedabad, in Gujurat, India. When he called drivers to ask about help, he realized there was no standard pricing, and once the items were picked up there would be no guarantee when they would arrive. Nor was there a way to track a shipment. A Ph.D. student with degrees in engineering and business, Merja figured there had to be a better way. Inspired by the efficiency of the Uber ride-sharing service, he decided to emulate its business model—but for delivering goods, not people.
In 2015, at the age of 24, he launched Muvr. The service allows customers, mainly e-commerce businesses at present, to request delivery of their merchandise by phone, or Muvr’s website or mobile app. The company offers set rates based on distance and the items shipped. Customers can track the deliveries in real time on the site or app.
Anyone who owns a truck can apply to be a Muvr driver. With more than 800 drivers on call, the company currently has access to 10 types of trucks. Drivers who work full time—at least 55 hours a week—can earn about US $475 per month, according to Merja. That’s more than three times the average salary in Gujarat for similar work, he says. And—like Uber—drivers can work when they like; they have no set schedules. The driver must pay for the vehicle and its fuel and maintenance.
In two years, Muvr has attracted more than 150 clients. The largest are the Amazon partner network in India, BigBasket, an online grocery store; and FMCG, a wholesaler of food and beverages. Merja is in the process of raising US $10 million from venture capitalists to help Muvr expand across the country.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
Before launching his company, Merja met informally with hundreds of people in his neighborhood who owned a truck. He wanted to know who might consider working for a company like Muvr and how much they would expect to be paid. He also met with potential customers to find out how they handled their logistics, the challenges they faced, and what they would pay for better service.
From those conversations, he devised his plan for Muvr. First, he developed software from scratch that can track trucks and pinpoint them on a map. Each driver must have a smartphone, with its location picked up by the Muvr app. He designed the app so drivers can choose a local language (there are three common languages in Gujarat) that the navigation system uses to tell drivers when and where to turn. And because many people in Gujarat are illiterate, he created color-coded buttons on the app—green for “accept journey” and red for “decline.”
Unlike ride-sharing services, Muvr is moving goods. Once a customer requests the service, staff members rely on the map to find which trucks are available in the area and can accommodate the goods’ size and weight. A staff member then manually selects the truck to dispatch based on the goods being transported. An employee, not the customer, then sends pick-up information to the driver through the app. For each delivery, Muvr makes a 10- to 15 percent commission.
Besides the e-commerce businesses, Muvr customers include pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers. Customers receive a daily summary of deliveries and can access a call center for support.
READY TO HUSTLE
So far, Merja has relied on financial help from his family, and his own savings to start the company, he says. He has spent hardly anything on marketing; most of his clients learn about Muvr through word of mouth. Many of the clients require daily deliveries—which provided the startup with a steady stream of income. In less than two years, Muvr is making a profit, Merja says.
The company has nine employees and will hire more as the startup moves into other cities. Meanwhile, Merja is pursuing a Ph.D. in management and entrepreneurship at Sardar Patel University, in Anand. He received a master’s degree from the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India, in Ahmedabad.
“Entrepreneurship is not easy, and it’s not glamorous,” Merja says, adding that to be successful, you can’t be rigid in your strategy. When he couldn’t reach his initial goal of making 100 deliveries a day, he learned from his customers how to improve his service. “Always be prepared to change course.”