Coastr is proud to present our CEO, Biswajit Kundu Roy in conversation with Startups Magazine. Read the interview to understand how Coastr aims to redefine the vehicle rental industry through its innovative technology platform
Car ownership is on the decline; cars are expensive to own and run, often impractical in cities, and an increasing environmental concern. However, that doesn’t mean we no longer need them — even the most devout London Underground pilgrim will occasionally need a car to go a little further afield. But, does that justify owning one?
Not when Coastr is here to make renting a car so much easier?
A lot of the car rental world is still stuck in the past. The height of technology used is often spreadsheets on a computer and as a result, the process for both customers and rental companies is clunky and outdated. Such processes don't make the most of the huge market that is emerging, as the number of car owners continues to decline.
Startups Magazine caught up with the Founder of Coastr, Biswajit Kundu Roy, who explained his vision of bringing the car rental industry into the 21st century, so that it can reach its full potential.
“Coastr was founded to provide seamless connected mobility solutions for operators as well as end users. Through Coastr, we want to bring more digital solutions to this market. We are using innovative technology such as AI and IoT to do this. We want to use technology to create hassle-free journeys for both our partners, the car rental operators, and their end customers.”
As is the case with most successful startups, Coastr is trying to solve a problem. And the problem is, the current cumbersome process of renting a car. Biswajit first noticed this when travelling across Europe; his trip was peppered with far too many bumpy encounters with car rental companies.
Being a technology expert, Biswajit could exactly envision where the industry could use a technology transfusion to solve such hiccups. To start with, Coastr worked with operators and went back to the basics — it eliminated the outdated spreadsheets still being used and streamlined the entire process with the use of software as a service (SaaS) platform thus allowing better control, automation, and insights over the entire process. Coastr’s SaaS platform allows operators to see easily and clearly where its cars are, who booked them and when, and the health of the vehicle through use of connected cars technologies (IoT).
Using this SaaS program, Biswajit noticed that they were collecting a huge amount of data on the where, when, why, and who of car rental, which has led the company to look into utilising Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning tools. The AI tools help in maximising every aspect of car rental, for both operators and end users. It also allows Coastr to utilise the vehicle usage data to develop their own on-demand, usage-based car rental insurance solution, which is a R&D project being funded by the Scottish Enterprise. They also secured a second R&D grant last year from Innovate UK to deliver a keyless entry technology based mobile app to their car rental partners to enable them to provide contactless rental services to their customers.
As a startup focussed on mobility solutions, Coastr has faced a number of challenges this year, as the pandemic has reduced travelling considerably. Biswajit and his team have risen to the challenges and found innovative ways to keep their momentum going, including extending the beta phase to keep the product evolving and developing, and prolonging free trials to partners. Despite the obvious pitfalls of the pandemic, Biswajit highlighted the importance of having the right team who can think outside the box. He believes the challenges of the pandemic have made everyone more resilient and increased confidence in their business model.
The pandemic also had the effect of delaying Coastr’s first round of seed funding until August 2020. However, despite the upheaval, the round is closing soon and has been successful.
The founder commented: “There has been a trend over the last few years for rapid VC funding, and startups going for a second round very quickly and raising large amounts of money, but we actually want to take a slightly different approach. So we’ve raised our seed money and instead of going for another round, we want to use this money more effectively to first achieve profitability and break even revenues. That’s our goal for the next twelve months, to focus on profitability and then, raise our series A for expansion of the business.”
This focus on achieving proof of profitability as quickly as possible is something Biswajit emphasised for other startups, as not only will it make them more appealing to investors and improve valuation, but it will also offer the reassurance of being independent. He said: “Even a little revenue will go a long way to building investor confidence.”
He also advised startups struggling in the current climate to spend quality time to explore the grants and schemes the UK and Scottish governments are offering to try and support small businesses and startups. They are worth the time and rigmarole of applying for, and Biswajit suggests finding an advisor to help make your application the best it can be. Coastr managed to win two grants last year, which have been instrumental in this difficult time.
In order to achieve this profitability, Coastr has been focussing on the B2B side of their business, working with operators to embed their SaaS solution into their rental operations and streamline the car rental processes. One thing that has been critical to Coastr’s success so far has been building strong relationships with market partners.
Biswajit added: “I would like to give a shout-out to our partner CalAmp, who have really stood by us. We have gone through some really difficult challenges on both sides and come up with a strong partnership where we have built a solution together. We are looking forward to a more in-depth market proposition with them.”
Coastr also plans to be a B2C business, working with customers renting cars to make their experience as easy and positive as possible. It is however waiting to launch this front of the business until they have a stronger foundation in the B2B space.
Biswajit also attributes a lot of Coastr’s success to the team he has been working with. Having cultivated a company that he hopes will provide people with careers and not just jobs, he believes the team is robust enough to make Coastr a success.
“Building your team is like inviting people to a party. You have to be very careful about who you invite into your home. You want the guests to mix well and everyone to have a good time.”
Another key factor when trying to build a business today, especially one revolving around cars, is sustainability. Stressed further by the pandemic, the world is becoming more and more concerned about sustainability. It is something that the team at Coastr are keenly aware of and are doing their best to keep in mind.
One of Coastr’s main strategies is to increase the number of green, environment-friendly vehicles into the car rental ecosystem. The company is also hoping to get ahead of the game as the Government drives an inevitable turn to more sustainable practices, by helping operators to migrate from petrol to EVs and HEVs before the switch is mandatory. The approach leaves operators with a stronger foothold than if they waited for the last moment. Aside from the focus on EVs, Coastr has also gone completely paperless, digitising everything they do internally and externally.
With their eyes on the horizon, Coastr’s plans for the future include reaching profitability, developing the B2C side of the business, and expanding into other countries, with a focus on Europe and the US.