Jehaan Kotwal is not an alien to the hardships that the truckers community has to endure on a daily basis. His father himself was a trucker, which gave him his vivid firsthand experiences of all the numerous uncertainties and risks that a truck driver has to face on regular trips. The lack of mobile connection made the situation much worse, back in the 90s. And for a truck driver to stay away from the family without any contact, in sub-human conditions will be barely touching the tip of the iceberg. However, thankfully, things worked out for his family and now they have their own transport business, called JFK Transport.
So, when Jehaan got the opportunity to bring changes to this community, through his family business at JFK Transport. He did so and with such an impact that it had to expand in the form of an app. But the challenges to make people aware of this unique safety app were still there. Several permutations and combinations, coupled with various schemes have been hatched with just one goal to humanize the conditions of commercial vehicle drivers and make their trips safe. To explain this, Jehaan, along with Sumedh Mane, both the CEOs of Hum Safer app shared their time with us, not just to explain, but also to give us a peek through into the communities life. Find the extracts below:
How did the idea of an app for commercial drivers come to you guys?
Jeehan: So, basically I run a transport company called JFK Transport, and that is my bread and butter so I understand this to very granular detail. The problem started because the majority of the road accidents i.e 65% of them happen on national highways. These accidents are predominantly due to commercial vehicle collisions. So, the idea here is that if we want to create the highest impact, we work with the ones who are affected the most. So, one, since we come from the industry itself we understand the market very well, and two is that space needs the most amount of cater.
How compatible and versatile is the app? Is it more suited for the highways or is it more suited to tackle the city nuances?
Jeehan: For everywhere, highways and cities. But highways you see the most amount of value&
Sumedh: So, there are three kinds of drivers. There are end-mile, mid-mile, and long-haul drivers. End-mile are truckers who cover the last 100 km remaining in a trip, The mid-mile drivers also cover similar kilometers or sometimes more, and then there are the long-haul drivers who travel long terminals& So, when the app was being built, when we were taking out personas, and brainstorming That time we were thinking of that particular segment (end-haul). But technically it's for everyone and designed with them in mind for sure.
Given that the app is for commercial drivers, and keeping in mind their formal educational background. How does the app bridge that gap and communicate?
Sumedh: So, you know how Jeehan answered your first question in a very humble way and talked about the market and the industry. But if I had to talk about why CV as an industry was chosen, lets talk about that a little bit more. So, Jehaans father himself used to be a truck driver about 30 years ago. He started off with one truck, and soon he expanded the business. And essentially what used to happen back in those days there were no phones. So, when the husband or the father is away you had no way to contact him. People can now at least talk. So, it basically came from understanding the problem of what is happening on the ground. Secondly, Jehaan joined the family business, post-which he was able to bring down the accident levels in his own fleet, significantly. I saw that solution as symptomatic because there was a human intervention, training, and GPS. But the real reason why he was able to get those accidents down is that he went on a truck as a cleaner before he joined the business. So, he traveled a good distance, from Pune to Delhi - a fairly large distance gave him a good understanding of the driver. And also, we might be living in India. But even now there are two Indias. There is us who are privileged and insulated, And then there are the people on the ground, whose operational reality is very different from ours. So, I think, AC office main baith ke design karna, versus , versus, actually going out and understanding the problems by ourselves usme kaafi pharaak hain. So, we have spent a lot of time understanding our target customers. Now the question was how do we make it scalable, and how do we reach out to a larger audience thats where the challenges are a little different.
So, Jehaan what did you learn during your time as a cleaner?
Jehaan: So, the right way truth is that these driver's community is extremely badly treated as humans. Theres no respect or appreciation. Theres no good pay, and its considered lower strata job. And typically no truck driver ever wants his son to be a driver. Therefore, there are not many drivers coming into the ecosystem, so theres a shortage there as well. So, the cleaners are also getting eliminated. So, firstly, from a technological standpoint, how do we empower these guys? When we talk to these guys through our UIs we use the word Ustaad very often, and the whole idea is we reinforce the idea that they are a Pilot, and even as they get better ranks, there are A, B, C categories of ranking where we call them Pilot, Master Pilot, Chief Pilot Giving that little prestige and respect. And second thing is that what I realized is that its a very hard life. From taking bath on the road to sleeping in trucks its an unsafe environment. Half the time, youre not even sleeping cause youre scared someone will steal your diesel or tires& So, its a very stressful life overall and no good standard of living. And there is only so much you can solve with tech, and the beauty of tech is its scalable thing versus me trying to build a chain of dhabas, or some solution around that. So, it kind of works& It kind of works well, if it fits well.
Sumedh: To add to that, I think Jehaan spoke a little about the life of truck drivers and the other problems he faced. But if I had to talk about safety, what happens. Firstly, safety is a very difficult subject to talk about if you dont acknowledge it in the first place. Weve all seen people traveling on rooftops, and if someone falls from there, people dont say he was unsafe, instead, theyll conclude that his/her day was bad. In my initial days of conversation, Ive come to realize that safety is very different. Its not about seat belts and ABS. We once asked why doesnt he wear seat belts, to which he says, in case of accidents they blame us so, we need to flee the scene immediately, the safety belt sometimes get tied - So, after hearing these kinds of stories, you go back and talk to them - you realize the contrast. But coming back to the app, when we first pitched it as a pilot project the community appreciated us& But the problem at that early stage of the pilot was that we had a great story, people loved our story but people didnt use our product. Because we were solving a problem that was a problem to us but for them, it's something else. So, basically, over the time of year, we had to reassure our customers that this app is not for you, but with you. For that, weve incentivized it for them& Wherein, we pay them Rs. 1.5 for every 10 km of safe driving which is like Rs. 800 to Rs. 1000 per month& So, earlier we used to say it was for safety, but the drivers are not worried about safety. So, now we pitch them as the more safely they drive the more theyll earn&
So, how many active users of "Hum Safer" App Right now?
Sumedh:& Over the past one and half months, weve got about 6000 users out of which 2500 users are actively using the app. And we measure active app users a bit differently, unlike Facebook or Instagram, which register the number of people who have opened the app in a week. If we do that, our active users increase by 40%, instead, we record how many drivers went on to the app and switched on the Drive Mode where the safety alerts are provided. We are kind of giving us a KPI, which is a little tougher compared to what other people are doing.
Jeehan: And we have 10,000 plus downloads&
So, What is the Drive Mode?
Sumedh: So, Drive Mode is this part of the app that you switch on when youre driving. The original idea of drive mode came from another success factor that worked for Jehaans existing JFK, which was - If you inform the driver in real-time, at the time of mistake taking place, thats when you get the maximum behavioral change. Because, during our research, we found out that some companies have this manager who used to sit with the driver and ask him, why he speeded on a particular occasion. But in retrospect, to question a driver about such minute details, especially someone who just drove for 500-600 kms, how will he recall? So, the point of drive mode is, when the driver is driving certain safety alerts are given to them. The beauty of drive modes is we have a bunch of behavioral experts, and a lot of UX iterations& to communicate these alerts without distracting the drivers but at the same time giving them the right information. So, we have a principle of green, amber, and red. The screen is Green when theres no mistake in the driving with gestures saying Badiya Driving Ustaad We also have quirky audio voices in the background just to spruce up the monotonous life. Now if it goes to Amber, then youre making a mistake like overspeeding. Now sometimes you need to speed up to overtake so there is a 10-second window to correct the behavior. And anything that persists beyond the window, it goes to Red& Another big problem is they dont take breaks often. They have a lot of pressure& and this leads to exhaustion and that is one of the major reasons behind accidents. So we have a reminder set after every four hours to take a break& So we show a photo of a brewing a cup of chai & So these are the kinds of triggers we are using to change behavior.
So, Jehaan how are you planning to make this app more mainstream, and popular in pan-India?
Jehaan: So, if say about making something mainstream, there are a bunch of questions that we ask ourselves. Starting with why. Fundamentally, the idea here is that we dont want anybody to die in road accidents because of negligence on anybodys part or external factors. And if the motivation and the why is sure that everybody goes home safely. Then the second question is how. How would somebody do that, how would it be possible in achieving that? For us the only way to the how is that if every truck in the country has this application that makes the possibility to save much life as possible, so the way to do it in scale, is that we have to reach every drivers smart phone - so if thats the aim then typically what other key motivators do I have for him So, one, is there is a push and pull where we are either giving them some money or saving some money. Two is that social validation where drivers get a sense of community. And three is that from a government policy standpoint, the score from the app will be counted as your drivers score when you go to renew your license. So, the way to do it would be to push it from all sides; theres the monetary incentive, social incentive, as well as the policy-level thinking - for which weve got strong people on-board from the government side. And if this becomes the gold standard as we speak it can work as a background check as well. So, for example, I regularly hire drivers. I buy 6-7 trucks every month. So, when Im hiring a driver the biggest problem for me is that I dont have his background history. I have no idea of how many times hes crashed, etc.. So, the Hum Safer app becomes your passport/score sort of thing& So, these are the ways we are looking to scale the app through these large buckets.
Sumedh: & To add to these, there are certain things we need to debunk a little. So, earlier what used to happen whenever we would search for a solution people would quickly suggest a transporter, and the transporter will then assign a driver. But what people dont understand is that, out of the 80 lakh trucks that we have in the country, 80% are actually run by individual truckers plying their own vehicle. The rest 20% is organized, which is a very small number. Secondly, a lot of logistic transport start-ups have received funding where everyone is going to the aggregation model which is top-down. There is some middle-man, it could be a transporter or whoever is giving the consignment. But what weve done is we have gone bottom-up. So, were first approaching the driver. Now, theres a reason why people usually dont do that because A) Its an unorganized sector. And B) Scaling becomes a problem. But there is actually a way to do it, it just took us longer than the other startups because we took the bottom-up approach. We knew what we were signing up for because you are basically creating a community. By the way, since weve already mentioned that weve taken points from Jehaans, but Jehaans solution is a B2B solution, Hum Safer is a B2C solution& There are certain things that I can scale, but we cant scale everything. We could implicate Jehaans Real-Time Alert solution, but there are a lot of other things we cant do. To address that, we must also understand the limitation of the technology. So, right now we actually have a call center that caters to medical emergencies, tries to explain the app. Having said that, our vision basically is to reduce road accidents and improve the lives of truck drivers and that is the vision of the organization which is Hum Safer. Now to reduce accident is part is basically where the Driver Mode comes in.
How does the Hum Safer App Improve the truck drivers life?
Sumedh: To improve the life of truck drivers, we are running certain programs in our social organizations. Like last month, we vaccinated 1,500 drivers. Before that, we have also provided insurance to drivers. A lot of trucks have insurance, but drivers themselves dont have any cover as such. So, we have partnered up with this social organization where we are providing truck drivers with insurance up to Rs, 1.00 lacs. So, through these organizations and programs which are tailored towards drivers& With such programs where the beneficiary is driver, our user base has also increased. Like after the vaccination drive, our user base increased by 1500 in 3-5 days& So, it took us a long time to understand what a driver needs, and when we put forward the message that we are here to make the app with you (commercial drivers), our early adopters are still with us.
So, the drivers who were vaccinated were they all Hum Safer" App users?
Sumedh: No they were not all users. So, one good thing is because Jehaan and his father has been so long in the industry, there connection basically helped us get doors much faster. So, we spoke to one of the association heads at JNPT (Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust), there was a formal handshake about it& So, after going through the vaccination process we have hired two more people who will work full-time to ensure that drivers get vaccinations, insurance, and also install our application.
Where is the call center located and who will provide the 24x7 helpline?
Sumedh: This is right now outsourced to Tata Connect&
Jehaan: Its not 24x7, yet&
Sumedh: So, basically, right now there are two helplines. One is for our insurance provider where you have the doctors helpline so that is 24X7. Our application helpline for road assistance i.e 9-6.
Who is providing the insurance for users of the Hum Safer app?
Sumedh: So, theres this company called Uplift Mutual. This is a 17-year old organization, and they have a program where they provide insurance to lower-income groups, and they have successfully managed a very good system called, Biradri System through which they have on-boarded five-lakh women in rural and semi-urban Maharashtra& Theyre not just an insurance company, they also have a group of doctors& There Claim Settlement Policy is something that they have designed and improved. So, we have partnered with them.
Can you guys expand on the community service, and how Hum Safer app will provide community services?
Sumedh: So, there are safety devices out there like GPS device but these devices is a point of contact between the truck driver and the transporter. Theres no other communication channel in this regard. The reason why we like to call ourselves an asset in road safety is that& Anybody whos part of the driving community, so right from their family to there immediate next to kiln, to other drivers around - will get updates and help keep track via another app called Hum Saathi& So by doing this you are expanding the ecosystem, and also encouraging an environment where drivers will help drivers in case of emergency situations& We also have campaigns like Akele Mat Khana etc& so thats where the community angle is coming up.
Jeehan: One of the things about community services, is that the focus has always been towards a lot of road safety NGOs, who are doing intervention training, some are giving spectacles to truck drivers, etc& So, the first point was how do we bring all of that onto one platform and share this with drivers. So, for example, Apollo has a medical check-up program, Mahindra has scholarship programs for truck drivers daughters& So, collating all these initiatives into one app so that drivers know about them&
A very interesting thing about the app was the implementation of AI. How have you guys implemented it, and what are your plans in the future?
Sumedh: So, AI is like is one of those snowballs right, that just keeps on getting bigger. Right now, sleep detection is where we are right now and it is optimized to a certain amount. We keep optimizing it for accuracy. Initially, the AI for sleep detection would detect just the eyes, now the AI detects its facial expression as well& So, we are adding more things. Theres a lot of other things for AI like for example, there are blanket speed limits. Most applications or GPS devices recognize the speed limit of 65 km/hr. But that speed is okay on a highway, but if you continue that speed in Punes crowded streets then its probably 15 km/hr. So, contextually changing the speed limit based on where you are - whether its a residential area or a national highway, and also which state you are in&. Right now, the alerts are very simple, initially, we had more alerts and our pitch back then was that we are a safety application. And back then the adaptability and usability was less. So, we have taken the core things - overspeeding, exhaustions factors that cause accidents. Again, deep learning also comes to the fore. Before we get into AI theres a lot of data that needs accumulation. And right now, although the AI for other projects has not started, the deep learning for the same is currently being processed.
So, Jehaan, there are a lot of trucks in India which are still plying despite their poor condition. So, how will the Hum Safer app bridge that gap in safety for commercial drivers?
Jeehan: So, the solution there is actually not so much in our control as much as that of the fleet owner or governments control. What we can do max is inform through the application and inform the values of maintaining a truck, how do you check tire pressure etc& When JFK goes to the market, theyve won almost every safety award in the country. Primarily because our trucks are taken care of with a standard of equipment etc& So, single fleet owner may not have that knowledge. So, passing on that information from a knowledge sharing point, thats important and thats one way that can be solved& However, there are certain challenges in this sector, for which we dont have a solution as of for now.
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