In March 2020, Cityflo was gearing up for its best-ever phase. The Mumbai-based bus commute startup had finally, after months of investor rejection, closed an $8 million funding round — far more than it had planned to raise. Summers are the best period for the company, as corporate employees flock to its air-conditioned services, abandoning local trains or their own cars.
But the best laid plans go awry, and how. This is the story of a transportation startup during the pandemic — the title of a horror movie, some would say — how it battled, survived, learnt lessons along the way, and is now looking to thrive. It is also the story of building a startup away from the limelight, building against many established principles of startups and venture capital, and how despite not being an outright success, it has made a noticeable dent in its space.
Founded in 2015 by IIT-Bombay graduates Jerin Venad, Sankalp Kelshikar, Rushabh Shah and Ankit Agrawal, Cityflo aggregates buses that ply between Mumbai’s suburbs and business hubs in the mornings and evenings. It works with bus owners on 4-5 year contracts and pays them monthly. Cityflo is trying to solve one of Mumbai’s (and arguably the world’s) biggest problems — traffic and the nightmarish experience of getting to office and back from the suburbs. Long, unmoving traffic jams and overflowing local trains are almost an ironic part of Mumbai’s culture