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M-indicator: The Life Behind Mumbai’s Lifeline

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M is for Mumbai, and “mobile”. Indicator is something we all know,”says Teke, who is an IT engineer from Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI) in Matunga. In 2006, after graduation, he worked for a software firm and developed mobile applications. “I travelled from Nerul to my office in Seepz, Andheri. I used all modes of transport — I took a train to Kurla, a bus and finally an auto to my office. Every day was a struggle, especially in the evenings, when we had no clue when the next train to Belapur was scheduled. There was simply no way to know,” he recalls. He witnessed the problems of other commuters, too. It seems rather obvious that a city where a majority of people travel by train should have a robust schedule service. However, nobody actually got around to making it happen. Except Teke. Determined, he quit his job and set out to build an app that would do so. m-indicator, a free app, launched in 2010 and within a year, it had reached 5.5 lakh users.aining acceptance

People appreciated the app, and voluntarily gave feedback to improve it. Teke also employed freelancers who went to railway stations to note down train timings and update the database. Eventually, even the government authorities approached him to use the app to send alerts — for mega blocks, emergencies and so on.m-indicator added bus timings, auto rickshaw and taxi fare charts, and other services. The app was launched on Android, iOS and Windows-enabled phones. “We grew purely through word-of-mouth publicity. I guess I was at the right place at the right time,” adds the 29-year-old, who also holds an MBA degree from Jamnalal Bajaj institute.

His company generates revenue through targeted ads, which, he feels, is something only m-indicator can provide. “If you are in Borivli, Thane, Nerul, you can see ads relevant to that area. m-indicator provides local targeting, and that’s why clients come to us,” he explains.m-indicator packs in a wealth of information. There are contact numbers of emergency medical services (a doctor who used the app gave it to them); it shows you picnic spots around the city arranged by distance; it has movie listings, job postings among other information. The new update will add Monorail and Metro timings, along with BMC alerts.

M-indicator has helped many a passenger find forgotten belongings. “People forget their stuff on the luggage shelf. When they realise it, they use the app to see when the train will reach the last station, and call up the GRP number to tell them about the bag. I have personally received phone calls from people, thanking me for the app. That truly feels great.” Teke wants to expand to other cities. But aren’t there similar apps there already? “Competition fuels excellence. We grew because we wanted to be better. Now we have killed the competition,” he signs off .He designed the app’s architecture, wrote the code himself, and enlisted family, friends and volunteers to enter train timetables for the 232 trains that make 3,000 daily trips through 108 stations in the city’s vast railway network.“We had a total of 84,000 timetable entries”, said Teke. The process took a few months. He launched his startup Mobond on May 3, 2010, the same day he debuted the free app and resigned from his job.

Teke said m-Indicator provides accurate, real-time information for Mumbai train schedules, including arrival times, route changes and delays. Almost all of this information is collected and verified daily by his team of eight employees.“Train platforms in Mumbai have electronic boards with some of that information, but it’s not always accurate”, he said. Today, M-Indicator has 10 million subscribers and generates $1 million in annual revenue (mostly from Google (GOOGL) Adwords) for Mobond. Teke would open the app on his phone while riding the train. A few curious passengers would ask him about it and he’d implore them to download it. Six months later, this method has gotten him only 2,500 users. “I was very worried. I had left my job for this app”, said Teke.

Realizing he had to do something radical to attract more users, he added a “share” function so users could tell their network about m-Indicator. It worked. By the end of the first year, the app had 500,000 subscribers. Even Mumbai’s railway authority took note of its growing popularity. Teke said his team is notified by local authorities anytime major train schedule changes are in the works. The app has since evolved into a one-stop shop for Mumbai’s train, bus, metro and even ferry schedules. Some add-ons: It helps locate nearby picnic spots, hotels, hospitals and movie theaters.“We also post job listing and apartment rentals”, said Teke. A new Train Chat feature lets users directly communicate with other users. “we’re also planning a ride-sharing feature”, he said.

The app ranks No. 2 in the India travel apps category on Google Play, the app store for android apps. (Teke said 95% of m-indicator’s subscribers use android phones.) Teke bootstrapped his startup and hasn’t taken any outside funding. Now he’s hoping to raise $8 million to expand the app to other Indian cities.“We want to do this quickly for Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Bangaluru”, he said.

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