LitCabs set to disrupt the transit OOH in Mumbai

Four Mumbai youngsters have come up with a start-up to promote backlit advertising on the city’s iconic ‘kaali-peeli’ taxis. In a conversation with Sujith Ail, Siddhartha Shekhar, founding partner of LitCabs shares the journey so far

20 May 2019 | By Sujith Ail

Siddhartha Shekhar (on top carrier), Aditya Thorat (left backseat window)

LitCabs was started by four people. Who and what did they do?
Yes. I did my majors in financial markets and graduated from the Cathedral & John Connon School in 2015. Jyotiba Patil studied fine arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and also studied financial markets and graduated from the Cathedral & John Connon School in 2015; Aditya Thorat is a graduate from Jai Hind College who did his a BA in Economics in 2016; and lastly Arjun Meghe, who studied business management at Brunel University London.

How did you come up with the idea of mobile OOH on kaali-peeli?
When Jyotiba Patil was pursuing his degree in fine arts in New York, he took inspiration from the already existing taxi-top advertising model on the New York cabs. He pondered as to why, in a city like Mumbai that has such a well-established taxi culture, no one had tried (or succeeded) in creating a business for which the demand would definitely be tangibly visible.

How did you encourage taxi owners to partner with LitCabs?
Building relationships is an extremely crucial aspect when working with taxi drivers. We spent a lot of time and effort in building bridges between our views and the taxi drivers’ in the early stages of our development to convince them that we were the best fit for them. At the end of the day, they aren’t our employees, but vendors for our advertising platform and that commitment is highly impactful when gaining their trust and business.

Funding is a crucial aspect for a start-up. How did you manage it?
LitCabs is completely self-funded. All four partners have contributed family capital to this effect.

What are the metrics that you use to measure and how do you provide ROI to your clients?
When it comes to outdoor, or transit media, measuring footfall / eyeballs and conversion to sales is highly inconsistent because there are no real metrics to analyse the same.

To this end, LitCabs has taken two distinct measures. First, all our taxis are affixed with a GPS system. When a client books our cabs, he receives a login through our online portal to manage his fleet of taxis. The client has unrestricted access to the routes that the taxis have travelled, the number of kilometres travelled, as well as the number of hours their advertisement has been lit for. Further, we have a heat map that tracks how often a particular advertisement has moved in the same area multiple times a day along with a measure of peak traffic hours that would give a client an idea of how many unique and cumulative impressions their advertisements have been exposed to.

How did you provide conversion to sales information to your clients?
To tackle the hurdle of conversion to sales, we recommend that clients have ‘promo-codes’ or text prompts that are associated exclusively with LitCabs. This would, thus, be the best medium to calculate how many impressions have actually been converted to sales.

Compared to conventional mediums of OOH, how will LitCabs provide a better reach for your clients?
Kaali-peeli cabs have a host of advantages compared to other taxi aggregators, especially for advertising. The first and most pressing advantage is the fact that these cabs are always on the street at any time of the day or night. When they are not illuminated and running, they are parked in a crowded area where pedestrians and passersby alike will have an unrestricted view of clients’ advertising.

Some of your kaali-peeli cabs may be working as shared cabs along the same route. How does that help?
Yes, our fleet of taxis also consists of shared cabs. These cabs have specific routes that they undertake throughout the day. They have a 4- to 5-km radius; they usually start off at a railway station or an office space and end up at a shopping mall or other highly crowded areas.

Then they go back to the initial point and travel the same route over and over again. Essentially, they provide for targeted advertising in specific areas and reach an audience that could not be matched by other forms of outdoor media.

They also have the added benefit of repeated exposure, greatly improving the recall value of recognisable brands, and help make brands recognisable.

What has been the most challenging part of your whole project?
Getting permissions and legal licenses to do something like this is a cumbersome process. Not only is it time consuming, it also requires a lot of paperwork and constant follow up. This is largely due to the fact that since this is a project that is new to the city in terms of both structure and implementat-ion, a lot of prerequisites must be followed in order to gain confidence from the public as well as the concerned authorities.

The first instance when you realised your idea is going to be a hit?
There was no real first instance per se. The real task of any company is to build a brand. We are still in the process of doing it. It’s a long-term goal. We’re still in the nascent stages, and hopefully, sometime in the future, we can say that our brand is here to stay.

Did you do any market study before implementing the idea?
We hired a market research company to ascertain the demand and viability of the idea that we had conceptualised back in June 2018. The results were largely positive.

Additionally, we spent over three months on market research trying to ascertain accurate numbers regarding impressions created, routes travelled, and kilometres clocked. All of which has now since been inculcated into our GPS portal that clients have access to, so as to manage their fleet.

What are the substrates and printing technology used for making the signage?
Our panels are fitted with a backlit design. The clear non-reflective sheet on top absorbs the glare of the sun allowing the viewer to clearly see the print during the daytime. The frosted acrylic sheet carries the print on top of it and it disperses the light from LED strips evenly across the panel. The LED strips inside the panel are waterproof and powered by the car battery.

Your panels have in-built lock mechanism for the backlits. Please elaborate.
Our panels are designed in such a way that tampering with our print or the panels is next to impossible. 

The in-built lock mechanism ensures that removal or altering of our panel cannot occur and assures clients that their advertisements will retain their quality throughout the period of advertising.

As of now, LitCabs makes use of backlit static displays. Are there plans to go digital? Or you prefer print over digital?
We are doing some research into digital platforms for advertising, but in our opinion, currently, the aesthetic appeal of our panels outweighs that of digital design. The pixelated effect of digital print doesn’t outweigh the convenience of being able to change advertisements remotely.

Further, our logistics team is highly equipped with the skills to maintain and change advertisements at a moments’ notice which exemplifies our efforts to commit to print designs.

However, we are not closed off to the idea as all good practitioners constantly look for improvements to their designs.

How are you making your presence felt in the advertising industry?
The only way to make yourself known in such a competitive space is by providing a service that others currently cannot, and we believe that is what we are doing. Using our own advertising space as a marketing tool, and expanding as quickly and efficiently as we can are two main ways in which we aim to break into the advertising space.

What are your expansion plans?
Our panel design works exclusively on the carriers of Mumbai’s black and yellow cabs. To put it differently, the cabs of other metropolitan cities do not have the same (if any) carriers atop their cabs. Expansion beyond Mumbai is not currently within our sights, but if we dominate the black and yellow taxi advertising space in Mumbai, then the sky is the limit.

In the short-term, our goals and motives are very clear. After much deliberation, we have discovered that our long-term goal mostly revolves around being a new-age advertising agency.