The young at heart; Neeraj Gupta is the founder of India’s first & largest radio taxi company – Meru Cabs.
Neeraj has not only made Meru a generic name for radio taxi service in India, but due to his sharp entrepreneur skills, Meru is now also the single largest radio cab service in India with fleet size of more than 9000 vehicles running in the country.
Headquartered in Mumbai, Meru provides service to most of the cities of India including – Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Chennai Vadodara, Surat, Pune & Kolkata.
Talking about Neeraj; he is widely known to be a highly motivated and optimistic Serial Entrepreneur who is also an expert in starting up businesses and scaling them quickly. Due to his experience being in the service sector that includes keeping one eye on consumer behaviour and expectations as well; his forte lies in building businesses around systems and processes that mainly focus on quality & technology.
Personally; Neeraj is a Commerce graduate from Hansraj Morarji Public School (Mumbai), and has two daughters aged 11 and 8 years from his wife Farhat and loves to be around them.
Interestingly; being the man who owns the largest radio taxi service in India, Neeraj still prefers to ride in auto rickshaws or for that matter even train, over cars.
From being unemployed, to building a whooping Rs. 850 crores company; Neeraj surely has come a long way!
Life before entrepreneurship…!
Neeraj belonged to a wealthy family who had never seen the office as an employee!
His father – Vishnu Kumar Puranchan Gupta had inherited one of Neeraj’s grandfathers restaurants and had leased it out to a ‘Shetty’ man to run. Neeraj’s father was clearly a very carefree man who at a very early age had decided that he won’t be putting in efforts to make money. But unlike him, Neeraj was a diehard businessman – at heart and mind.
He was an average student who excelled in everything else apart from studies, he was more interested in girlfriends, extracurricular activities and in pursuing numerous other hobbies, which he managed to successfully monetise.
One of such sidelined hobbies that had caught his fancy, was inspired by a man he met on a family holiday. That man had sold him a grain of rice with an inscription on it. This instantly gave him the idea that — why can’t he do this as well? And he used this as a gift to impress his girlfriend.
Soon he was bombarded by a zillion requests from numerous boyfriends trying who wanted to impress their girlfriends, and even sold the same in bulk to a trader who was a distributor to stores like Archies and Hallmark.
Anyway, that was Neeraj’s first shot at business which clearly proved to be successful, making him a lot of money and while at it, he also graduated with a decent percentage.
Later, after sometime – his father insisted that he did something, rather than chilling at home. He even set him up for a job at his friend’s textile manufacturing company.
Not able to defy his father; Neeraj unwillingly joined the company. This was his first & last job and funnily, lasted for only ‘Three months’.
Soon after that; he got married to his college sweetheart – Farhat and started living the married man’s life. But unlike other married men; he did not work.
As a matter of fact; his wife being a career oriented woman used to work for Jet Airways and all he did was – picked and dropped her.
This continued for almost five years, after which he thought of doing something of his own and since then he never had to look back.
Life after entrepreneurship…
I. The Beginning
Neeraj had now realized that business is what he wanted to do. Hence, without wasting any more time, he loaned Rs. 50,000 from his wife and started his first business along with his friend who had the technical knowledge who also chipped in the rest half. Together they set up their automobile garage in Andheri (Mumbai) in 1999 called – “Elite Class”.
In the initial days; they used to provide vehicle repairs and annual maintenance contract to customers who usually were individuals and corporates. The competition was fierce; there were almost 50 other garages in a line on the same road.
But they swiftly managed to catch the eye of the corporates because of the lucrative free services on break-down, maintenance, and annual servicing of vehicles; they were offered.
And beating all odds; soon they started entering into long-term contracts with corporates and in the next 8-9 months, they had companies like Blue Dart, Sony as their clients.
But this was just the beginning!
A little time later, they came to know that Tata InfoTech was giving contract for bus service for transportation of their employees. That is when an idea clicked in his head, and this became the turning point of his growing career.
Quickly, he formed a new company called “V-Link Automotive Services Pvt. Ltd.” in 2001, put in Rs14 lakhs to buy a bus and took up the contract from Tata to start their shuttle service for 5 of their offices.
Luckily, just about around the same time, Tata also tied-up with Sitel to start a BPO, thus increasing their employee strength. This got Neeraj more work. And as the travel time for shuttle services increased, Neeraj eventually introduced small vehicles in about a year.
From here onwards; the company went on to grow to 1300 vehicles in about 4 years and were now providing transportation services to various corporate companies as well.
However, the real jump in their career came about 6 years later!
TRIVIA: - In 2005; Neeraj had received an extortion threat from “the most wanted name in the Underworld” from Dubai for Rs. 2 crores. His garage was also shattered into pieces and there were gunshots too.
II. The Turning Point
In August 2006; Maharashtra government had invited tenders for running a fleet 10,000 of air-conditioned, GPS-linked, electronic metered taxis in Mumbai in an attempt to replace the old black-and-yellow ones.
His confidence had already shot to the sky from running taxi services for BPOs and corporate clients and was a hundred percent sure that service like that would be an instant hit in India.
Hence, inspired by similar services in London and Singapore; Neeraj sensed an opportunity here and applied for the taxi service license.
Now the only but the biggest problem was – capital. To attract private equity investment, Neeraj corporatized his company by creating a holding structure. ‘V-Link Travel Solutions’ became the parent company under which, two wholly-owned arms were formed. One of them was ‘V-Link Fleet Solutions’ – which ran the pick-up services for BPOs and the other one was ‘V-Link Taxis’ – which would run the air-conditioned taxis in Mumbai.
And followed by that move; Neeraj & company got their first investment of Rs 50 Cr from India Value Fund in December 2006 & IVF also promised to pay another Rs160 Cr. when required.
With India Value Fund coming on board as a partner; Neeraj started “Meru Cabs” with 30 taxis in March 2007.
However this unexpectedly turned out to be a bumpy ride.
Back in those days; private companies were not allowed to get new taxi permit, hence they had to convince the existing ‘black and yellow’ taxi-owners to join their company.
They even had to invest heavily in drivers and the latest technologies, and also had to start their own ‘Meru Driving Academy’ to educate drivers in traffic rules, hygiene, geography, latest technologies, handling of emergency situations, etc.
But eventually situation got better with time!
By 2008; Meru Cabs were steering 3000 vehicles daily across four metros and had employed more than 700 people. By now they had also become the largest taxi networking company in India.
The beauty of Meru Cabs was that – all their vehicles had tamper-proof digital cab meters, they had GPS-system integrated in them to ensure every fare was tracked, printed receipts providing details of distance travelled and total amount payable were given for every fare, etc.
In a matter of another two years, Meru was now running a fleet of 5,000 taxis in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi and was now making more than Rs.100 Cr in revenues.
Believe it or not; Neeraj not only had grown from zero to 10,000 units in the past three years, but also had literally opened a whole new industry for aspiring India.
III. The Present
And today when we look at Meru Cab’s progress, it certainly has come a long way!
Headquartered in Mumbai, Meru Cabs now provides a radio taxi service in most of the Metro, Tier-2 & Tier-3 cities of India including – Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Chennai Vadodara, Surat, Pune & Kolkata.
Today they have scaled up to a massive fleet of more than 9000 cabs and are also claimed to be the 3rd largest “Radio Taxi” company in the world. Collectively, serving to more than 1.8 million passengers, they make up to 30,000+ trips a day.
They are also the known to be the most preferred choice of commuters in all cities, and have a 90% customer satisfaction in 3rd party audit as well.
Meru Cabs are one of the very few transportation companies in the world who have deployed an Oracle ERP and Siebel CRM technology in their cabs and are also the only cab service in India who have partnered with the airports at Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad & Bangalore.
Talking about their funding; the company has recently raised $50 million(RS. 300 Cr) in fresh funding from their existing investor India Value Fund Advisors and another $100 million (Rs.600 Cr.) is also expected soon.
As per reports; Meru would be using these funds for expansion of their current network into new cities and towns in India. They are also in talks with multiple smaller regional brands to acquire them, to fight the rising competition from companies such as Ola and Uber.
IV. Other Ventures
1. META: – In 2009, Neeraj had set up a Driver Training Facility as a part of their CSR at the Mumbai Transport Office and also created a network of professional training institute to train their new and existing drivers, along with that, they also include a world-class automotive services solution and a multi-brand passenger vehicle service station ‘Motor Works’.
This was an initiative towards Skilling & Livelihood which focused on the upliftment of the Driver Community. Since their inception, META has trained over 10,000 drivers across 40 locations in India.
2. FRESHKINS: – In 2014; Neeraj had partnered with K Radhakrishnan (former CEO of KB Fair Price and President of Future Fresh foods Ltd), to start a new fruits & vegetables chain through a franchisee model called – “Freshkins Foods India Pvt. Ltd”.
The total investment made was somewhere only Rs 20 Cr, since it is a franchise model.
The plan was to start in Mumbai and then take it to other metros in a phased manner, and once it crosses 50-odd stores, the store would also go online. They were aiming at 50 stores in the first year with revenues close to Rs. 50 Cr.
While the business progressed well in the beginning, but the operational expenditure began to increase with time and no investor seemed to show interest in such a model, hence they started to feel the heat.
Apart from that, they also started to feel the pressure at Meru with the growth of competitors like Uber, Ola, Taxiforsure, etc.
Hence, after much fanfare; Neeraj with a heavy heart decided to focus on which was already in hand and pulled the plug on Freshkins Foods India Pvt. Ltd in the third quarter of fiscal 2015.
- Received the “Entrepreneur of the Year Award” by the Bombay Management Association (BMA)
- Received the “Udyog Rattan Award” by the Institute of Economic Studies (IES)
- Received the “Largest & Best Taxi Company in the Country Award” from All India Passengers Association
- Received the “Best Entrepreneur of the Year Award” from All India Passengers Association
- Meru Cab received the “Best IT User Award” from Nasscom