'Cyclercity bike messenger service was born out of a Bangalore traffic jam'

Remember Joseph Gordon Levitt, cycling furiously through the streets of New York, in the 2012 action-thriller, Premium Rush to deliver parcels? Bangalore-based bike messenger service, Cyclercity, launched a couple of months back is hoping to do exactly the same. Well not exactly the same, (they don't have messengers working for the mafia) but something close enough. Modeled after bike couriers in the US and Europe, the company sounds like a better fit for New York than Bangalore, but given the burgeoning traffic problems that the city faces, it's possible that the idea will catch on.
The brainchild of Niranth Bymana and Rajiv Singh, Cyclercity was born out of a traffic jam. "The idea of cycling around the city was born in one of these many jams that we used to get stuck in," Bymana says. And unlike the western model that they are following, Cyclercity has an element of empowerment as well - they are hiring youngsters from underprivileged backgrounds to work as messengers. While the service officially launched on January 6 this year, it had a soft launch a month ago on December 2, 2013, and the service has picked up steam, going from five to six deliveries a day in December up to 50-60 deliveries now.
The actual service is extremely simple. People can place an order via a customer care number-080-69999880, or the website itself, where the steps are clearly marked out. The duo claim that they try and ensure a prompt delivery time, but in the rare event that the distance is too far, they use a relay system. "What we do is, the messenger picks up the courier from the pick-up point and relays it to the nearest next messenger, who in turn does it to the next, so that the delivery downtime is cut significantly and the messengers don't tire themselves out," he adds.

Building the model
Cycling culture has been growing fast in India, led by metros like Bangalore where traffic problems and growing health consciousness make it a real alternative to always traveling in a car. Bymana and Singh (who have been friends since childhood) were a part of this culture, and it was during their rides together that the inspiration for Cyclercity emerged.
As Bymana recalls, Singh spoke about the cycling community growing. "He related the discussion to bike messengers that he had seen in Germany and how it was a wonderful concept. I myself being ex-army and also a management graduate was looking at a social-entrepreneurship business model and its sustainability. Singh, who had already worked in the corporate sector wanted to do something on the lines of using cycling to empower youngsters and even promote fitness."
The idea is a little unusual in India, and the two met a lot of skepticism when starting up, but they claim to have found it useful. "It is important to have skeptics around you. They point out the flaws so you can go about refining your design, and that indirectly motivated us a lot." He added that all criticism pointed the two in the right direction, and said that it led to many refinements to their plans even before the soft launch in December.

Two to tango
While Singh and Bymana have been friends since they were in school, their backgrounds are very different. Singh has been working in the corporate sector for almost seven years with JP Morgan, Northen Trust and Amba Research, and Bymana is a retired Major, who then went to study management from IIM Lucknow.
The early days were slow - a lack of funds meant taking help from a friend to set up their office in a small garage in RT Nagar. "The next part was scouting for cyclists. Since the whole idea was also about empowering youngsters from the lower strata of society, we partnered with an NGO, Unnati, which helps create job opportunities for underprivileged youngsters," says Bymana.
Money was often tight - the two had to ask friends to help them bootstrap their business, and also with various aspects of the company. "Friends helped us with the design and communication and the marketing collaterals. A journalist saw our Facebook profile page and even wrote about us," he says. Singh mentions that they still retain their modest office quarters, and will do so for the next few months, till they don't move into a proper office. "This doesn't go to say that we still don't have issues. Yes our messengers are spread across the city but we grapple with a new problem now, that of communication. Some of the boys are from different state, so the language barrier is a hurdle that we are tackling now," he adds.

The road ahead
Bymana and Singh are keen to differentiate Cyclercity from a traditional courier service. Singh points out that it is eco-friendly, and it offers a very prompt delivery time (under four hours, they claim), packages are picked up at no extra charges and that it is flexible. Bymana adds that they deliver anything - from important documents, pen drives, to lunch boxes. "We double up as a helpline - we can help a customer by collecting soft copies of their photos, go the nearest studio, get them printed and deliver back to the customer, all in a span of few hours," he says. And since the parcels are charged by distance and weight, the messengers are equipped with digital weighing machines. "We want to give them GPS trackers in the future to ensure faster service times," Singh says.
He says they are reaching out to more and more companies and even freelancers, who need items delivered across the city immediately. "Business looks set to expand if we continue to offer and improve our services. In fact next on our list are the cities of Delhi and Pune, because we want to start out with places where cycling is being taken up seriously. Eventually we will get to the other metros too," he says.
With a team of 12 messengers currently on board both Singh and Bymana say they have gone the extra mile to differentiate them from regular courier service delivery guys. Customised 21-speed cycles, cycling livery in green (to emphasise the eco-friendliness), sunglasses, ID cards, are already a norm at Cyclercity, but in addition to it there is a weight limit for the parcels that the cyclists can carry on their back-two kilogrammes. "The cycle carriers are customised to have boxes fitted on them, depending on the size and weight. But if the messenger is carrying a parcel on the back, then we limit it to a maximum of two kilogrammes. The carrier can take up to eight kilogrammes. We do so to ensure maximum mobility and flexibility for them. In addition we don't cut their payment if they are unable to reach a destination on time, like most other courier services do. They all have a fixed salary of Rs. 9000 a month, and we offer them an incentive to earn an extra two or three thousands, depending on the number of deliveries they do in a month," says Bymana.
One major issue that still remains to be resolved is that of accident insurance. Given that traffic chaos was the starting point for the service, the messengers still aren't covered under an accident policy. Ask Bymana about it and there is genuine concern for the issue. "Running a bootstrapped organisation is really tough, because these are real issues that remain to be addressed. And we had contacted a few insurance agencies for the same, but the rates are still too high for us, but there is a deadline we are working on for it. Within the next two months we should be able to cover the messengers under it too," he adds.
And while the growing popularity of Cyclercity also leaves them open to copycats, Singh and Bymana remain optimistic. Bymana says that they would love to see the messenger community grow (a thought that Singh shares too), but in the event that the model is successful and replicated by others, they would only go back to the drawing boards to come up with more and more new plans and schemes for our customers. Singh adds, "One thing is for sure, it is an eco-friendly service, which is widely used in the developed nations. If and when others start to take up the model, we will only be happy because our first purpose has always been to promote cycling. Of course by then we will be known as the pioneers of the service and have had already been established."

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