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Armed with an app, this startup is killing boredom on bus journeys

Armed with an app, this startup is killing boredom on bus journeys
Nishchal Khetarpal and Gaurav Kapahi, Co-Founders, GoldSeat

A few years ago, Gaurav Kapahi endured a flight in which the entertainment system wasn’t working. That incident was, of course, an aberration as passengers on most-full service carriers can tap into a vast library of pre-loaded movies and music. But the experience got Kapahi thinking: far more people travel by bus and they have to fall back on their smartphones to stream content amid patchy network. Or worse, they are stuck with a sole television set that screens a random film.

Kapahi, a former marketing executive at HCL Technologies, then teamed up with his colleague Nischal Khetrapal to take bus travellers out of their misery. They started GoldSeat, a platform for app-based offline streaming,

“Approximately 500 million people travel by buses throughout the country in and between cities and they are currently underserved in terms of entertainment technology,” Kapahi, now GoldSeat’s chief executive officer, told TechCircle in an interview.

Run by Delhi-based Ideagami Pvt. Ltd, GoldSeat partners with bus owners and installs a local network attached storage (NAS) device containing pre-loaded content. Passengers can access this content through a mobile app that occupies minimal storage space.

“Once the passenger has downloaded the application, the NAS and the mobile device - smartphone or a tablet - connect via WiFi that enables the passenger to stream films or play games,” co-founder Khetrapal said. “Every single passenger can choose his or her desired content instead of having to stick to one movie being played or deal with issues like buffering.”

The content is licensed from production houses such as Reliance Entertainment and Phantom Films, which had both picked up undisclosed stakes in the company in lieu of sharing content for five years.

“Our library of movies are a mixed bag and our partnerships with these production houses ensure that we get the most recent films onto our platform,” Kapahi said.

GoldSeat’s library currently comprises more than 150 films including some in local languages such as Bengali and Punjabi. The company is in talks with production houses from the south for content in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.

Internet connectivity is still a factor on long-distance journeys and to avoid interruptions, GoldSeat has partnered with telecom operators such as Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone. However, connectivity is restricted to social media, messaging on WhatsApp, emails and calls to a certain extent. While that effectively keeps out competition such as streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and even YouTube, it doesn’t stop travellers from downloading content before the journey. But Khetrapal doesn’t see this as an issue.

“According to our analysis, most of our bus commuters are busy getting from point A to point B. They don’t have much time to plan their journeys especially in terms of entertainment,” said Khetrapal. “You also have to realise that there are very few, practically non-existent, WiFi networks around bus depots or stops.” 

Finding direction

GoldSeat is now present across more than 300 buses plying in states including Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.

Services remains free for passengers. The company makes money by charging bus owners a monthly subscription fee of Rs 8,000 for each vehicle. 

“The idea is that once bus owners use our product, they are able to capture more commuters and drive their reviews online on aggregator platforms,  which will result in more business for them,” said Kapahi. 

The founders claim GoldSeat has an annual revenue run rate of Rs 1.5 crore. While run rate does not translate to the actual revenue of a company, it helps project future earnings.

Earlier this year, GoldSeat raised $160,000 in an angel funding round from undisclosed high net worth individuals

Its other investor Phantom Films was dissolved earlier this week in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against one of its founding members. Kapahi said Phantom’s equity will automatically be transferred to Reliance Entertainment as per the terms of the original deal.

The founders also said that they will soon hit the market to raise an institutional funding round of $3 million to expand operations and beef up technology. GoldSeat currently has eight employees.

The team reckons they have a winning proposition on their hands because of the sheer size their target market. Currently, the company operates inter-city bus routes but also wants to install its devices on buses running on routes within cities. 

“The potential market size is about 660 million passengers,” Kapahi said. 

He now has plans to expand to other modes of transport such as planes and trains.

Separately, Khetrapal sees GoldSeat becoming an advertisement platform for bus owners, enabling them to bring down the cost of customer acquisition. 

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