A Gourmet Idea

A Gourmet Idea

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A Gourmet Idea

About two years ago, when you were force feeding yourself on the train, secretly hoping the kitchen in question burns down to ashes for calling this yellow rice and boiled veggies mixed in machine oil, a biryani, one man was rolling out a technology that would ensure you have an option of a healthy and tasty meal of your choice even on the move.

Travelkhana CEO and founder Pushpinder Singh is an innovator even before he is an entrepreneur. His website, Travelkhana.com, was set up in 2012 and was the first in India to come up with the spectacular idea of food delivery to the weary railway passenger. You get to pick your menu, even a local restaurant, and the food will be delivered to your berth when your train halts at the station of your choice. You think that’s cool? Keep reading!

Pushpinder is a technologist and an alumnus of IIT Varanasi and BITS Pilani. He was the Chief Technology Officer at a company before he made Travelkhana happen. So it comes only as a mild surprise that the start-up uses a patented technology to track trains accurately in real time, which means your food is guaranteed and fresh no matter how off-schedule your train is.

A pressing need

“Travel in India is difficult,” says the 40-year-old. “Our initial idea was to set up a marketplace for the traveller. But we realised soon enough that it would be wiser to address one need at a time (given that there were so many), the most glaring of these was food on train,” he says.

The next step was to run pilots to assess if there really was a need. The results were heartening. On the first day of the pilot, they distributed pamphlets among railway passengers headed for Jaipur from Delhi. There was one phone number listed on it, just in case. The food was to be delivered at the Jaipur station. The phone started ringing even before the train left the station. “Turned out, the need was must greater than we thought,” says Pushpinder.

From then on there was no looking back. Travelkhana spread out across the country, picking out restaurants that met their standards. Their agents were tasting the food, taking pictures of the kitchen and going out of their way to ensure that the food was not only palatable but also hygienically prepared and packaged.

Priced at about Rs 150 per person per meal (compared to approx. Rs 100 for railway food) there is a small premium to be paid for the service. “But for this premium, we offer a comprehensive meal; something you don’t get on trains,” says Pushpinder.

On top of his game

Being a technologist, Pushpinder has not been the one to shy away from experimenting with cutting-edge technology to better his business. Withatest cloud communication technology revolutionising business call requirements, it was only a matter of time before he signed up for it. Knowlarity’s SuperReceptionist has taken care of his customer care requirements for the last eight months. Today, it helps him manage no less than 18,000 to 20,000 calls a month! He uses SuperReceptionist not just for call handling but also data analysis and internal training.

Heading a business that requires such meticulous planning, delicate coordination and high standards has in no way been an easy task. In fact, the challenges have been way too many and in every step of the way. But all the effort seems worthwhile when it earns him his customer’s appreciation, like the time when he received a typed letter in Hindi, all praise for his good work.

Another one of his favourite memories is of packing up a much-needed meal for a family travelling from Jammu. Soon after boarding, the family realised there was no food available on the train. They called up a friend in Bhopal who arranged for meals for them through Travelkhana. The family was grateful to have got quality meal on the way. “Such incidences make us so proud,” he says.

Entrepreneurship is perhaps all about such highs and lows, which is probably why Pushpinder’s message for young people with young ventures on their hands is to be flexible in their journey and never be afraid of failure. “I’ve failed several times myself.” You’ll eventually get it right, he says.

He also believes that it is critical to listen to your customer. “Rather than setting off on an idea alone, get customer validation and run pilots to see what they want,” says the businessman.

Road ahead

Travelkhana is hitting the road now. Having found success on the tracks, the start-up is now aspiring to reach out to people travelling by bus. The pilots are already on. “We want to be a partner to the traveller, be it on the train or the road. We want to scale it up to a level where we can travel with the customer,” says Pushpinder.

By the way, did you know you could even download the Travelkhana app on your android device? Talk about a start-up on the roll!

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