Every day, around 23 million people travel across India’s vast railway network, making it just the ticket for ambitious startups looking to exploit Indian Railways’ active passenger booking platform and increasingly digitized ecosystem. ConfirmTkt is on track to change the way people book train tickets in India. Having been founded as the result of a bad journey in 2015, it now has more than 4 million monthly users.
The start of the journey
Its founders, Dinesh Kumar Kotha and Sripad Vaidya, found it impossible to book tickets reliably for their monthly trip from Hyderabad to Bangalore. In India, a certain number of tickets are released for a particular train and people can go on a waiting list to try and secure one if they have not been lucky enough to buy one immediately. If someone cancels, another person can buy a ticket. They found themselves on waitlist frequently and discovered a pattern in their tickets changing status and being confirmed. “We thought of applying same logic for all trains and had to collect a lot of data to launch a prediction platform for waitlisted tickets,” Kotha explains.
ConfirmTkt and Oracle for Startups
As a partner in Oracle for Startups, ConfirmTkt received free credits and now gets a 70% discount on Oracle Cloud, slashing the infrastructure cost of scaling a business. Kotha says the credits and steep discount has enabled the company to invest the money it has saved in building its team and technology resources. “Being part of the Oracle for Startups program has helped ConfirmTkt to scale rapidly,” Kotha says.
“We became a paid customer of Oracle and it’s been good. We’ve found it highly reliable over our last year of use,” he adds. Oracle has recently launched an Indian data center in Mumbai, making its services even easier to access for startups in India. “The latency is less so customers won’t find any network issues and our platform is fast and efficient,” Kotha says.
How ConfirmTkt works
Around 40% of the 750 million tickets booked annually are booked on waitlist, meaning customers face an anxious wait to see whether they will be able to buy a ticket and travel. To solve this frustrating problem, CornfirmTkt’s booking platform provides users with a confirmed ticket for their chosen route, even if all the trains are on waitlist. It does this by predicting the status on waitlisted tickets using historical data and machine learning with 92% accuracy. “It’s a good number, and accuracy levels are continuously improving,” Kotha says.
“You search a ticket and it gives you all possible options, he explains. “First ConfirmTkt gives you the probability or confirmation chances for all trains, second it tries to check if alternates are available for the route and third it tries to combine multiple trains and buses, for example, to give you a confirmed ticket to travel.” Essentially, the algorithms break journeys into little pieces then checks if tickets are available for the different parts.
For example, if a customer is looking to travel from Bangalore to Hyderabad, they can use the service to see all the trains available. If all of them are on waitlist (and therefore it’s uncertain whether the customer will be able to travel if travellers don’t cancel), ConfirmTkt shows which trains have a high chance of confirmation, based on historical data, and book that train for a customer. If all of them have a low chance of confirmation, it checks if alternative tickets are available on the same train from a nearby station. Next it checks for combination of alternative modes of transport such as buses. The trains and buses suggested can be booked from the platform, giving customers the best chance of getting to their destination. The startup’s aim is that even customers who log onto the platform at the last minute can leave with a confirmed ticket.
For the first three years the startup didn’t monetise its technology and instead built its user base. It now has 4 million monthly users, who use the startup’s app or website to allocate a seat and work out the best connections to make, taking the headache out of booking a trip. ConfirmTkt earns approximately 4% commission on the tickets sold via its platform, meaning it nets around ₹400,000 ($5,626.80) of the ₹10 million ($140,670) of tickets it sells daily.
The biggest benefit to users is removing the stress and uncertainty of arriving at a train station only to find their tickets are not confirmed and they need to postpone their journey. It’s an offering that’s in demand, as around 10% of tickets are booked using alternate options, increasing to 20% during peak seasons. ConfirmTkt is also in the process of rolling out its technology to travel agents, meaning it will increase its customer base across sections of the population without internet access.
The online platform also lets travellers who are on the Web track their train in real-time, even when they are offline, as ConfirmTkt uses information generated from mobile towers along the train line.
The next leg
ConfirmTkt is building a voice solution so that the next generation of users will be able to search for and book tickets by talking to the app. This is all the more impressive as it will be able to understand its customers’ needs in multiple languages, as India has 22 official languages. The startup is also looking to increase bookings by five times in next 12 months, in part by rolling out its technology to traditional travel agents in order to capture a new audience without internet access. Currently, 100 travel agents are using its technology, but ConfirmTkt is targeting 2,000 travel agents by the end of this year alone, showcasing its ambitious growth plans and thirst to shake up the rail industry in its homeland.
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