•Initial funding Rs 1 lakh
•Present in 17 cities
•Number of advertisers 200+
•Revenue Rs 20 crore
How It Works
•Car and its owner profiled
•Target audience en route assessed, car approved and advertisement assigned
•Vinyl is pasted on car, contract is signed and odometer reading noted
•Car owner to drive at least 25 km everyday on the route
•End of month, odometer reading noted and rent paid
Ragini ka MMS dekha kya?” asked the stickers on the back of auto rickshaws throughout Mumbai during May 2011. The strange question piqued the interest of commuters stuck in traffic jams but even though they created a lot of curiosity across social networking forums, the buzz couldn’t be converted to business. Ragini MMS failed to gather commercial or critical acclaim. But the idea did manage to satisfy the first order of business for all advertisers — brand awareness. By the end of the campaign, Ragini ka MMS was even trending on Twitter. It was an idea that appealed to Raghu Khanna as well. Khanna’s inspiration, however, was a funny sign on the back of a truck.
It all started in 2009, when Khanna was on his way to Guwahati airport. He realised that if the signs on the back of trucks could be monetised, they would lead to a whole new world of advertising. It wasn’t as if Khanna didn’t know that the idea of advertising on vehicles was as hackneyed as the concept of billboards and posters. It was already being done without a lot of success. Khanna identified this situation as a failure in communication. Every brand needs an ambassador to deliver its message. So, “If there was something you needed clarified, who would you ask?” Something had to change. “The idea I brought to the table was that they wouldn’t be static ads,” he says. “They would be thought-provoking and exciting… the owners of these vehicles could be ambassadors for the brand.”
Thus, in 2009, Khanna launched the concept of advertising on private vehicles and fleet cabs through Cashurdrive. If you manage to spot a taxi dressed up in stone-washed Levis or an elephant rearing its head from the back of a hatchback and telling you to visit Thailand, you will know you have spotted Khanna’s handiwork. And for letting Khanna wrap these advertisements on the car, the owners get paid a monthly rent (See: How it works).
Like many successful enterprises, Cashurdrive almost didn’t happen. “I had managed to get admission into the London School of Economics,” says Khanna, “I had a few months to kill before going to London so I decided, just for the heck of it, to implement an idea I had while I was in IIT.” He tested the market and found there was an opportunity waiting to be cashed. “I abandoned LSE and set up shop, literally, in Delhi,” recollects Khanna. He borrowed Rs 1 lakh from his family and, in 2009, founded Cashurdrive (though he did not register it until 2010).
The going was tough. He made almost no money and kept getting knocked down when he approached advertisers. “No one was convinced by my pitch of advertising on private vehicles,” says Khanna. He had to begin by learning the basics of costing and media-buying before taking his ideas to the right companies. Khanna started focusing on companies in his neighbourhood in Delhi and started finding car owners in the same area, thus upping the all-important ‘recall value’.
Cashurdrive was starting to make money but it was still a long way off from where Khanna intended to take the company. He needed to evolve so that he could appeal to big-ticket advertisers. He started by addressing the need of the evolving car. “It is incredibly difficult,” says Khanna. “One needs to find the right design to map each type of car.” He even tapped into internet forums in search of a right printer who would give him a good vinyl print. That’s how he found Digital Prints Network, a company that specialises in vinyl prints. Cashurdrive needed that expertise and tied up with the Bengaluru-based enterprise. With a good printer in place, Khanna started providing, “solutions, not just branding.”
He took on budding designers and asked companies to let Cashurdrive design for them. He changed the advertising demographic. He started talking to college students to advertise on their cars and offered to pay them rent for the space. The model started to work and, through word-of-mouth, the company started to grow. For a while in 2010, Delhi saw a huge influx of cars with advertisements ‘wrapped around them’. The brands had spoken to and educated their new ambassadors so that they could answer questions and talk to people about the product. The car owners were asked to memorise prices and discounts. It worked. Today, Cashurdrive clocks revenue of Rs 20 crore and has over 200 companies as advertisers. Among them are Google and Pepsi.
The hitherto neighbourhood adwallah is now present in over 17 cities, holds the rights to advertise on Meru and Easy Cabs, claims to have grown 200% in the last year, and has a net margin of about 10%. Khanna though is deliberately keeping out of the valuation race to which start-ups often fall prey. “We are talking to VCs but nothing has been finalised yet.”
“The model works, no doubt about that,” says Krishna Kumar, CEO Media2Win, a digital advertising agency. “But the question is: can they keep it up?” Kumar feels the model is too labour intensive to work in the long term. “If you do it on buses, you can get them at the depot and put the vinyl on them. What about cabs? They run through the night and you can’t individually put a vinyl on them every few hours,” he argues. Besides Kumar feels the size of vehicles is too small to run a campaign, but he does concede that the lack of competition makes it easy for Cashurdrive. Several companies like Adometre and Carpaisa did tried their hand in this business, but were unable to capture the imagination of advertisers and are not much talked about anymore.
This is a point the 27-year-old Khanna also pushes through. “We have the first mover advantage and almost no competition,” he gloats. The edge could also be in the designing as well as vinyl solutions that Cashurdrive provides. Kumar, however, believes the company will find it hard to defend its monopoly once a player with deeper pockets enters the turf. However, Khanna is not worried about competitors. In the next three years, he plans to take his company to Dubai and Singapore and target cabs that frequent the airport. He adds, “I plan to keep the designers in Delhi so as to keep costs under control.”
Cashurdrive’s idea has been aped internationally in Australia and South Africa (with very similar sounding names — Cashurwheels and Brandurdrive) and even though they have made profits, they have not been able to keep their vinyl printers warmed up for too long. Khanna’s patience has seen him become one of South Asia’s biggest on-car advertising companies. He chalked out a road map and plans to double Cashurdrive’s existing base of 55 employees by adding another vertical — colour vinyls to his arsenal. While the future is anyone’s guess, as long as the cola manufacturers continue wrapping their publicity spend on public and private transport, Cashurdrive can just keep rolling it in.