I AM YOUR CABBIE
Imagine a world, where you are not worrying yourself to death, when your daughter or wife is out on their own, in this big bad man’s world. Where there is no #metoo story hovering around the social media, where there are no Nirbhayas anymore. Till that dawn breaks, we will need to shake ourselves out of our comfort zones and keep on striving to provide solutions, real solutions and not just the lip service or drawing room activisms. Today’s guest of our ‘Pink Muscle’ is one such change maker, a woman who dared to say: I can and I will. Meet Vandana Suri, CEO of Taxshe Services Private Limited, a non-conformist, rebel, a true feminist of our times. Starting Taxshe, a solutions-driven social enterprise for the needs of women has been a life-changing decision for her, leaving a lucrative, highly successful career in finance spanning two decades, as a chartered accountant, an investment banker and Head-Finance in Whitefield Honda, a big name in car dealership in Bangalore. A Cabbie as she calls herself, a single mother, a role model for many like us, she shares her very inspiring journey in this interview with our correspondent Deepti. Q Taxshe cab services started on 13th Jan, 2015. What made you leave your illustrious career in finance spanning 20 years and start this company? Vandana: On the face of it, I can recall a rape incident in Delhi in an Uber, the headlines next day by the victim appeared as: “If there were a woman driving me, this would not have happened”. This sentence triggered in me the fire that had actually been burning over the years, being a woman, just like every one of us who feels unsafe and vulnerable. This unfortunate incident was the spark for me to take charge and bring about the change. Everything else just blurred into the background. Q Once you had the concept in your head, how difficult was the implementation, especially the funding part? Was it easy to break-even? Was there any competition in your niche venture? Being a woman, was there any hindrance for you? Vandana: We are still bootstrapped – funded by family and friends. Formal funding is something we have not received as yet, simply because everyone wants the crop, no one wants to sow the seed and wait for the crop to grow. But am sure the time will come for us as well, it’s about time people re-iterate their faith in long term and not quick fixes. We have broken even, and in profits in the 4th year of our operations. This only proves sustainability and stability of our business. As for competition, our venture has the stamp of reliability and commitment, we have not missed a single drive in the past four years. It’s been a 100% deliverance, keeping children safe en-route to schools and tuitions. The demand way surpasses the availability of women drivers, hence competition in this space would actually result in a healthy word, ensuring more safety for the next generation. I would really love to see a robust competition in the space of women-driven transport; it’s a goal we would love to achieve very soon. Q Your workforce is very motivated. Since it has a very poignant social cause attached to it, what were the various factors that led you to hire your team? Vandana: We selected women who had the fire to be leaders; each of them knew she had it in her to make a change, just never got the opportunity. So we gave all of them this opportunity to be change makers. We made them realize that this was not just a job,but their mark in history, changing the safety scale for the kids. It was about them taking charge and keeping the next generation safe. Q Could you please tell us about the challenges you faced initially, as this was first of its kind venture? After all, this is primarily a male dominated employment sphere. Vandana: Yes, quite a few challenges. At the onset, no woman wanted to become a driver. Middle class women took this to be a blue-collar job, while the under privileged women never thought of driving as a career itself, it was incredible to them. Plus the regular cabs like ola/uber and others did not offer her the safety. If she wasn’t safe, she wasn’t going to get into this at all. Odd timings, risky clients, low education were a huge deterrent. This fear also resonated with their families. It took us a lot of counseling and designing a model in which she herself was safe, to bring her into the system. Q What is the professional training your staff goes through? Do they need to be literate? Is there any self-defense training that they go through? How do you take care of their safety? Vandana: Professionally, we train women over 6-8 months in driving skills; the regular driving classes of 10-15 hours available in the market just doesn’t work. So, we had to devise our own in-house training modules to bring them to a professional level of driving. Basically, we incorporate 3 years of experience in our 6 months of in-house training. Beyond the driving training, we also train them in self-defense, first aid, grooming, and legal support. These ancillary trainings are very important for building up their confidence. Also, I would like to add here that our girls need not be literate. I am a strong believer in the fact that literacy does not necessarily mean school educated. On the contrary, it is about survival skills. As for the drivers’ safety, we ensure the same with our model itself, we drive only women and children. We mitigate our own risk this way. Even with the vehicle branding, we underplay it a lot, we don’t have banners of pink on our vehicle, we don’t want to stand out as being a women-driven cab and call for un-necessary attention in the night drives. So while this goes against the worldly concept of branding, safety of our valued clients as well as the safety of our women drivers is of key importance. Q Could you please tell us something about ‘ROO’? Vandana: Our business is designed around women driving women and kids. We decided that this was the branding not only as a woman driver, but as a woman taking responsibility as a caretaker, as an alternate mother. So we decided to brand the women drivers as Roos – stemming from the word “kangaroo” a strong and caring animal. We did away with the word “Driver” and alternated it with a caring “Roo” Q Could you share with us your most memorable moment of your journey with Taxshe? Vandana: There have been millions of memorable moments for us, each and everyday, driving 600+ kids to and from schools, their chitter chatter, the Roos comment everyday on what the kids spoke, they are engrossed in the sheer joy of doing their work. A big acknowledgment for us was winning an award from the World Bank in April 2019. This was under their SDG’s and Her Contest, and we became the winner among 1200 applicants and 88 countries. This was a very big recognition for all of us, all our team, and we had achieved this from literally a 50 -square feet humble office! Q Were you always a strong-willed and decisive kind of a personality? Please tell us something about your childhood. Vandana: Oh yes, I was quite a pain! I was extremely gutsy and bold, never minced my words, never worried about how others would take it; all that mattered was I spoke what I believed was right. Diplomacy really didn’t exist in my dictionary then, and quite often I had my foot in my mouth! Looking back, I think these are all traits of leadership, which were just bottled in, and closed in this “look good” world. Years later, Taxshe opened the cork to this leadership and gave it proper direction. Q How do you balance your work and home, being a single Mom and CEO of a fast-growing social venture? Do you think a support system is really important for any working woman? Vandana: Balance in my opinion is a very subjective word. For the world it may mean something, for me it may mean something else. My family knows my mission here, they are totally in sync with this revolution arising from their own home. My son is extremely proud of his mom being a “cabbies”! Yes, support system is very crucial for every working woman. In my case, my mom has been my backbone, I would call her the ‘mother’ to my child, while I have taken over the ‘father’s’ role. I would never have been able to fly high if not for my mom being there for us. Q Any message you want to give out to the women out there, who want to startup a business? Is it any tougher or easier for them being women? Vandana: I don’t think it is tough or easier for anyone, I don’t think there is any gender bias to this. All I know is that it takes literally ONE minute to carve your next path; you make a decision and the path opens up. First of all, I would advise anyone before starting a new business to keep at least two years of living expenses aside before you jump in. It takes a good 2 years to be anywhere close to stability, there is no such thing as quick gains. Moreover, please don’t sit and wait for an investor to come in, you just never know when someone comes or doesn’t. Build your business in a way that is headed for profitability, stability. Don’t get swayed by how many millions are coming into the funding space; all that is a myth till it actually hits your account. Don’t wait for the funding, make your business fund for its own operations. Thank you for your precious time; we wish you all the very best for your team and your future endeavors.