1. Could you tell us about Shuttle?
Shuttle is a mass-transit startup based in Bangladesh. We provide safe transportation at an affordable price by moving more people with fewer vehicles. We started our journey back in 2018 with the primary focus to solve the transportation problem for women in Bangladesh. Our first initiative was ‘Shuttle for Women’ which was for female university students and office-goers and it has been going strong for the past two and a half years. This year, we launched ‘Shuttle for Business’, which is a B2B service for organizations that want to ensure safe transportation for their moving employees, especially during the pandemic.
2. What kind of services do you provide? What makes Shuttle one of the leading startup ideas of Bangladesh?
As I mentioned already, we have two services at the moment – ‘Shuttle for Women’ and ‘Shuttle for Business’. We provide these services in minivans for 10-11 people can commute together with less than 1/4th the fare of ridesharing cars.
I think what makes us different is the problem that we’re trying to solve. Ride-sharing services have been very popular, and they’re doing great, but the thing is, in Bangladesh, the mass people cannot afford ride-sharing services every single day, especially the cars. Also, women still do not feel comfortable commuting in bikes – and that is the problem we’re trying to solve.
When we started, we knew that a generalized solution cannot solve the problems that women are facing in our society and that we had to cater to them separately and come up with a customized solution. Same in the case for businesses - we actually wanted to identify the problems and provide customized solutions to each of the segments separately.
3. Shuttle is a safe and hassle free innovation for all women in Bangladesh. What was the core inspiration behind it?
I have always wanted to become an entrepreneur since my childhood. However, I never knew how to take the first step. Later, during my university days, I used to have regular discussions with a friend, Jawwad bhai (also one of my partners at Shuttle), about how to start our own venture that would have a positive impact on society. One day Jawwad bhai shared his concerns about the problems people face in public buses in our country. In a way, that was the start of our journey.
We started talking to our potential users and soon realized that the problem is severe for women. To cater to the unique needs of the women, we had to come up with a customized solution exclusively for them.
4. Unfortunately, the pandemic has affected almost all the businesses. How did Shuttle not crumble with the ongoing changes?
Whatever business one is in, it’s very important that the founders are flexible and get accustomed to facing new challenges and overcoming them. No one expected a pandemic in 2020 - it just happened and we had to adapt.
We launched ‘Shuttle for Business’ right when the pandemic started because we saw that even though most offices were closed, the banks and the government organizations were still open. And so we quickly came up with a sanitized transportation solution for these 20-30% employees who still had to go to work during the lockdown. We wanted to enable organizations to support their moving employees to commute in a much safer and hygienic environment. Ultimately, we have experienced a significant growth in our business during the pandemic.
5. Where do you see Shuttle in the next few years? Are there any plans on expanding globally or regionally?
To be honest, the particular solution we provide can be applicable in any developing countries or densely populated cities. We do plan on eventually expanding globally, but for the next few years, we want to make sure that mass-people in every city of Bangladesh get access to this service first.
Our primary goal is to redefine public transport in Bangladesh so that safe and comfortable transportation is affordable and accessible for mass people. We are still operating in a few routes in Dhaka and Chittagong, and it’s a long journey. But we believe that we’re on the right path.
6. Can you share some challenges that Shuttle might have faced during the process and how did you strategically overcome those?
Well, challenges are a part of every business, especially startups. From the very beginning, we have been facing hurdles, and overcoming them.
The first challenge was gaining customers’ trust because we were dealing with a very sensitive segment. We wanted to provide safe transportation to women who did not feel safe in other transportation options. We had to make sure that we could actually ensure safety, and not just say it. And because all 3 co-founders of Shuttle were men, people had this notion that we won’t be able to relate to women’s issues properly. So, we had created a closed Facebook group for all the users, which really helped as it became a medium to communicate with one another and build trust over time.
The second challenge was managing all the stakeholders to ensure that the company is structured in such a way so that it can expand and grow in the coming days.
The third challenge was developing a sustainable business model. Since we are a bit different from the ride-sharing services, our business model was new and unproven. We had to constantly innovate and validate our hypothesis to develop a scalable and sustainable model.
Dealing with rent-a-car companies, training the drivers and ensuring smooth service were some of the other challenges that we had to face.
7. Peace of mind, comfort and productivity, how does Shuttle relate to these three things?
Whenever our customers use Shuttle, we want them to feel that they are safe and they can just relax and can reach their destinations on time without any inconvenience. Productivity is more relevant to the office-goers. A study has shown that for every additional 20 minutes of commuting time, productivity of employees decreases by 10%. One of our goals has been to help people reach office on time and reduce their everyday hassle, which would gradually lead to increased productivity and more satisfaction with their job.
8. What kind of talent is Shuttle looking for? How would prospective talents get attracted to startups like Shuttle?
We’re looking for people who can take ownership of their work and are really interested in making a change and having a positive impact. We want our employees to think about the customers and try to come up with ways to solve their problems and overcome challenges in the business.
As I mentioned before, we have a closed Facebook group where we get a lot of feedback from our customers every single day. The support that we get from our customers is actually what keeps us motivated. We did not have to actively create a new culture in the organization as our employees always knew that they are working for a good cause, and that is why they have always given their best.
9. How do you think people’s perspective towards local businesses differ from that of global startups?
I think the local startup ecosystem needs more time. We’re still not on the same stage as our surrounding countries, but the good part is we are growing and are on the right path. In the last few years, we have seen how startups such as Pathao, Shohoz and ShopUp have grown and raised capital from outside, which is very encouraging.
10. Was there any specific ideology that Shuttle adopted while starting the journey?
Since the beginning, our main focus has been to understand the pain-points of our customers and address those through our solution.
We did not have the idea of Shuttle at the beginning, we just knew that we had to solve the transportation problem for women and for that we started talking to the potential users whose feedback helped us to come up with the right solution. Even today, based on our customers’ feedback, we constantly update and change our plans and introduce new features.