Bengaluru-based Locus is a logistics firm that helps businesses track deliveries via an API that provides live tracking and a full dashboard to track the movement of delivery executives, plan out routes, and see where there are unexpected delays. But the company was actually born in 2015, and at the time, it was a women’s safety application called RideSafe. It’s been an unusual journey, and Nishith Rastogi, one of the two founders of RideSafe and Locus, met with Gadgets 360 in his Koramangala office to explain how they got there.
The office itself does not have any signs on the outside, and is on top of a couple of car showrooms. Inside, it’s bustling with all the typical signs up a startup office – open seating, people scribbling away on whiteboards and glass walls, the ubiquitous table tennis table and video game console, and even a secret room that is accessible only with the right password. There’s a conference room where all the lights are Philips Hue bulbs, which change colour whenever someone tweets about Locus.
The company, started by two former Amazon employees who worked with the AWS team, actually started with a product called Pinchat, a location-based chat application. The app is still around, and allows you to find people nearby on the platform, with whom you can chat. It’s an idea that seems to come up from time to time without having really caught on in a big way. The next step in their journey, Rastogi says, was RideSafe, which was built after the December 2014 Uber rape case in Delhi.
“Why I made it was, after the Nirbahaya case, and the Uber case, I felt that it had become very unsafe,” explains Rastogi, “and then one day my sister was coming here and she took a cab, and I just felt uncomfortable, and thought what can we actually do?”
“Now, there are a lot of women’s safety applications available, but, they’re just marketing,” he continues. “They’re sending an alarm after something has gone wrong, you’re being attacked and you’ll unlock your phone and send an SOS?”
Tracking deviation, not location
To get around this, Rastogi and his business partner Geet Garg started working on a route detection engine. RideSafe has access to your location, and you need to enter your destination into the application. You also set up people who have access to your trip. So far, this is all pretty familiar – you can buy products that let others track your location, or even share a trip using Google Maps and other applications.
The difference here is that RideSafe tracks deviation, not just location. There’s an “expected” route that you’re supposed to take to get to your destination, and as long as you’re on this route, the assumption is that things are fine. But if you leave this route, the app will try and calculate whether you’re taking an alternate route to avoid traffic, or if perhaps the signal has been lost temporarily due to a flyover or a tunnel; and if the deviation doesn’t line up with these possibilities, it sends an alert right away.
It’s an interesting idea, but Rastogi says that it never really caught on. “We still keep the server running,” he says, “so anyone can use it if they want to.” The number of installs, according to Google Play, is somewhere between 5,000 to 10,000.
Although RideSafe might not have been a huge hit, it did work as a proof of concept, and Rastogi says that the company started getting calls from others who had issues around logistics.
From women’s safety, to tracking trucks
Food delivery startups were among the first to get in touch.
“People already had tools for tracking a location, but that’s great if you’re a customer and you want to know where your order is,” he says. “But if you’re the company that’s tracking thousands of orders, you need to know who was late, by how much, who didn’t go on the plotted route, who didn’t stick to the plan. And you need to come up with the planned route in the first place.”
If you’re a company like BigBasket or LensKart then your core technology is being developed to solve the problem of managing groceries, or optimising the supply chain for glasses. Developing technology for the delivery logistics is a secondary issue, but a hugely challenging one.
That’s where Locus enters the picture. The company has approximately 25 large clients, Rastogi tells Gadgets 360, and this is proving to be a much more reliable, and profitable business than RideSafe ever was. Navani says he can’t reveal the names of all of his clients, though some of the well known ones include Urban Ladder, Licious, and LensKart.
“The companies need to measure deviation to make sure that the delivery boys are doing their job properly,” says Rastogi. “They need to see if a truck is going on its route or if it’s stopped – is it the lunch break when the driver will stop or has he stopped for some other reason?”
Cement is 40 percent logistics
That’s not all though – tracking is just half the equation. The company also has tools to plan the routes for the vehicles, and even tools to plan the loading of vehicles. Rastogi shows us a device that’s been created by Locus, which uses lasers to measure the dimensions of a package. “This allows us to maximise the volumes that can be put into a single truck,” he explains, “and we can also work out the way it should be arranged, so that the items will be organised in such a way that is close to the order of delivery – the first item to be dropped should not be all the way in the back.”
All these tweaks have a real impact in the world of business. Rastogi points out that companies are now moving from 48 hour logistics to 24 hours, and this means that you have to be able to plan on the level of individual trucks, with dynamic route planning and reporting. Locus has proprietary software it uses for these decisions, and for its packing engine.
“This matters a lot to the businesses we work with,” says Rastogi. While we’ve mostly talked about tech companies, he admits that many of the people he’s working with are older businesses with a strong presence in the brick and mortar realm, and it’s there that Locus is able to really make an impact, he adds.
“Something like cement, around 40 percent of the price you’re paying comes down to logistics,” he says. “We are able to help companies save a percentage of that, and we’ll charge a percentage from the savings, so it’s win-win, for us, for the company we work with, and the end-consumer.”