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‘We aim to increase our services to 250 railway stations this financial year’ - Pushpinder Singh, Co-Founder & CEO, TravelKhana.com

Travelkhana.com, an automated platform for food delivery for train travellers in India, today covers over 150 locations and delivers over 2,000 meals a day. The company has plans to reach out to 250 railway stations by this year end with their online food delivery system. Pushpinder Singh, Co-Founder & CEO, TravelKhana.com, explains the concept and the business model that has changed food related concerns of train travellers

Monday, October 13, 2014, 12:00 Hrs  [IST]

pushpinder_singh.jpgQ. Could you explain the inspiration behind starting an online portal to cater to the food demands of rail travellers in India and how was the journey so far?
Pushpinder Singh: 
Being an avid traveller, I knew there was an urgent need to address the needs of air and rail travellers.  Travellers need several things such as food, taxi, hotel etc while on the move but there is no delivery system to get these things. As I started solving the problem, I realised it is gigantic problem than what I had thought of. Thus, I chose to solve food in trains as a first of these problems.

I realised that there was a huge gap between demand and supply of food for Indian train travellers. Studying the statistics I found out that there are about 1.5 crore long distance train travellers every day and very few have access to decent food during travel. 300 of the 5,000 trains only have pantry cars and they make substandard, unhygienic food. A pilot of two weeks at Jaipur affirmed my faith that I was up to transforming the food experience for travellers on Indian trains.

It was a big enough problem for me to give my heart and soul into. The journey so far has been a memorable and a joyful ride. I have left no stone unturned to provide healthy food to the passengers and I just hope this initiative grows in the coming days.

Q. How does the whole booking, payment and delivery of food procedure work? What were the initial challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
PS:
  The process is trouble-free and simple. One can choose among the many ways available to order. One can log on and fill in some minor details such as train and PNR numbers. Then choose the food and pay online. One can either pay on delivery or online transaction is also possible. Additionally one can call the call center number of 8800-31-31-31 for their order. People can use mobile application and order as well. They can also order through one of many affiliates who allow food to be ordered at Travelkhana while you are using their services. Some of the popular affiliates are Erail, IXIGO and Railyatri.

Initially we faced several challenges such as focused customer acquisition, training the vendors with the process, operations and logistics management and resistance from existing and established players. Slowly and gradually everything fell in the right track. It is due to the efforts of our efficient and effective team that we have achieved success.

travel_khana_logo.jpgQ. How many stations are currently covered under this system and what are your expansion plans?
PS: 
Based out of New Delhi, currently we covers around 150 stations including Bhopal Junction, Pune Junction, Howrah Junction and Amritsar Junction and lesser known ones such as, Ratlam Junction, Rourkela, Alwar Junction, Pipariya and Raipur. Currently Travelkhana is spreading its wings in the southern and eastern markets. We have hired separate staff there.

Q. Food quality and hygiene has always been a major concern for rail travellers. How do you make sure that the quality of the food delivered by the virtual platform is trustworthy?
PS:
Quality and delivery on time are extremely important to us. We do a curative check on the restaurant that includes a combination of various checks like taste (by personally tasting the food as a decoy customer), hygiene, kitchen and equipment, Staff preparedness and more.

Once the restaurant is set up, the website’s software tracks the progress of the train in real time so that the food is prepared just in time to be delivered to the train when it arrives at the station. Travelkhana integrates with the restaurants innovatively using a combination SMS, E-mail and a Mobile App available to work smoothly.  

Q. What kind of synergy do you have with Indian Railway, since you are competing with the monopoly of IRCTC, an entity under the Ministry of Railways?
PS:
We are working closely with the Railway Board to redefine the catering policy and given several suggestions and proposals for the same. I am sure that a lot of our work will provide great feedback to railways in terms of what is required from a customer’s perspective. IRCTC as against public perception does not have any monopoly on food in train.  

Q. How do you plan to scale up Travelkhana.com and what are your investment and marketing strategies?
PS:
The company delivers 1,500-2,000 meals a day and is growing at about 20-25 per cent per month. Spread across 150 locations, 30 locations undertake bulk orders for 25-30 people as a means to stay economically viable, while the remaining one takes individual orders. We aim to increase our services to 250 railway stations in the current financial year. We charge restaurant owners a commission of 18-20 per cent on every order. Additionally, we are laying a strong emphasis on data and there are about 200 different data points on which we collect information daily and even hourly and manage our performance.  I started this venture with an initial personal investment of Rs. 2.2 million with a further funding of Rs. 3.5 million from startup investor Matteo Chiampo.

 
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