Branding on Taxis, Trucks, and Buses is A Rs 32 Crore Turnover Business for This IIT Grad
Nine years ago, Raghu Khanna started his business with the help of two people and an initial capital of Rs 20,000 given to him by his parents. Today, Raghu is a millionaire; his company’s yearly turnover is around Rs 32 crore.
You may have seen advertisements of various brands on radio taxis like Mega, Meru, Easy, Tabcabs, and wondered who started this trend. The answer is Raghu Khanna, CEO, CASHurDRIVE Marketing Pvt Ltd, who came up with the concept of ‘transit advertisement’, a kind of a sub-branch of outdoor advertisement.
As of now, in a month, his company does branding for around 10,000 radio taxis, 45,000 auto rickshaws (30,000 in north India and 5,000 each in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai), 30-40% of the 600 trucks of VRL Logistics and around 100 corporate, private and school buses.
They have 500+ prestigious clients including names like Standard Chartered Bank, Citibank, Central Bank of India, Punjab National Bank, Dena Bank, UCO Bank, LIC of India, United Insurance, National Insurance, Subway, Pizza Hut, Reebok, Times Now, Google, Pepsi, Coke, Nestle, ITC, Somany, Vimal, Sunburn (Event) and giants of the telecom sectors like Vodafone, Airtel, Reliance and more.
In 2008, on his way back home from the US Embassy in Delhi, the then 22-year-old IIT Guwahati alumnus, who had gone for a visa interview, got caught in a traffic jam.
While looking outside the window, his eyes got fixed on a slogan written on the rear of a truck. From there his mind went to thinking about advertising on cars... And he has never looked back.
Raghu, now 32, defines himself as someone who can make money out of things that are going waste. “We do the branding and servicing for vehicles across the nation. We target all formats, taxis, private buses, corporate buses, school buses, auto-rickshaws… anything that has wheels,” he says.
CASHurDRIVE is a Private Limited Company with his mother and him as the directors. There is no third party involvement and they have 100% ownership. “This is my first job!” Raghu laughs.
Having invested Rs 20,000 on designing the website in 2008, he initially named his company Brand on Wheels and changed it to CASHurDRIVE a year later. His staff strength has increased from three, including him, to 88.
But, much as this sounds like a dream run, success is unachievable without challenges. “The whole idea is to make money from depreciating assets. But setting up something new is very difficult,” says Raghu. For the first three years he found it difficult to convince car owners, taxi companies and potential advertisers to tie up with him.
“Suggesting an altogether new media to advertisers was tough,” he explains. “They wanted to ensure that their investment does not go waste on experimental projects. Businesses were already reeling under the effect of the Economic Recession in 2008-09. Those were testing times….”
In fact, his business became operational only in 2010, from his office in Preet Vihar in East Delhi. That was when he got Reliance Mutual Funds as his first client. He convinced a friend who was an insurance agent to use his car for advertising. Reliance continues to be their client even today.
makes the creative on vinyl sheets for clients and then makes a presentation to show the client how it will look on an actual cab. Once the client is satisfied, the advertisements start rolling out.
The company operates from its four branches in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chandigarh, but they also have satellite offices in Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata.
Raghu actually hails from Shimla and is an only child. His father Bhupendra Kumar Khanna was a Political Science professor in Himachal University until 2012, and mother Parveen Khanna was a housewife till she took an active interest in his business, and has played a stellar role in Raghu’s entrepreneurial journey from the start.
Raghu studied in St Edward School in Shimla. Though he was good at extra-curricular activities, he was not good at studies. In class six, he even failed Hindi and History!
Mrs Vij, his Hindi teacher and House Mistress, played an important role in his life. Raghu had failed Hindi by only two marks so he went to her to ask for grace marks.
“I explained to her that I was very busy with my dance practice, which I was really good at, and had won the school competition,” he remembers. “She said: If I give you the grace marks today, you will make a habit of it. That changed my life.”
After class six, he started improving. He came third in class eight and started believing in his potential. After school, he went to Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College, Chandigarh, to finish his higher secondary in the science stream.
From here, Raghu excelled in studies, and soon joined IIT Guwahati. But his IIT story is not simple. He got admitted in the Bachelor of Design course but discontinued the course after six months because he did not like the subject.
He again wrote the IIT Joint Entrance Examination in 2004 and ironically got through the same IIT branch, Guwahati, but this time his subject was Civil Engineering. “All my batch mates became my seniors,” he smiles.
His study graph had another twist in 2005 when he changed his subject again. “I was in the top 10 percent in IIT Guwahati,” Raghu explains. “If a student in his first year comes in the top 10 percent, he gets a chance to change his subject so I changed my course to Electronics and Communications. I was the only guy in IIT Guwahati with three identity cards!”
He did two Research Internships during his IIT days, one in Rome in 2006 and another in Paris in 2007. “I was the only student in my second year batch to go abroad on a paid internship,” says a proud Raghu.
After IIT, he had plans of going to London School of Economics for his Masters but he never made it. “The real purpose of pursuing a Masters was to start my own business after coming back to India,” explains Raghu.
There were multiple options open for him so why did Raghu want to become a businessman? Perhaps the answer is in the genes.
His grandfather Late R L Khanna had a distributorship of milk and bread in Himachal Pradesh, a sizeable business, which his father helped in running. After his grandfather’s demise and post retirement, his father still looks after this business.
“There is lot to be learnt from Ram Bazaar in Shimla,” says Raghu. “As a child, I grew up observing shopkeepers and learning how business was conducted.”
Whether it was his grandfather or the subzi-walas of Ram Bazaar, he learnt business tactics from a very early age.
Though Raghu had applied for his visa, his plans to go to USA in 2008 got scrapped too. The reason was his friend Harman, who inspired him to stay back in India and start CASHurDRIVE. Harman himself runs a company named WIZIQ that has an office in the US and his company is well funded by EduCom.
“I went to him for suggestions and he questioned my reason to go to the US,” recalls Raghu. “He told me I would become a ‘Skype-son’ and it was better to stay back and be with my parents.”
Raghu has never regretted this decision. His business picked up year after year, but, for him, the luckiest year so far has been 2014. He got married to Pallavi that year, and he also moved to a bigger office in Noida from Delhi. The couple now have a two-year-old son, Sahir.
His plans for the future are mobility-wise diversification of the whole business and digital advertisement. Apart from making money, travelling is his other hobby.
"I am more a backpacker though,” he says, “I go with no proper hotel bookings at all.” He says he is a beach bum, and prefers to go stay at a beach somewhere. “After 15-16 years in Shimla, I’ve had enough of the mountains!” he laughs.
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