Passerby launched its hyper-local platform in early 2020, to connect local businesses directly to the users. They connect you to almost any businesses fathomable. Big or small, groceries or cosmetics, restaurants or rations, doctors or even just someone to help around the house with chores … anyone or anything; one may possibly need can be found through a quick scroll on PasserBy’s platform.
Hearing this description, one might be forgiven to think that the business arose in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown has certainly made the timing of such a launch propitious, at least on paper. But upon closer inspection, you realise that PasserBy is in no way a new player. It has existed behind the scenes as a Customer Relation Management software for years now, serving as a flag bearer of innovation in the industry. Passerby is the result of several progressive iterations achieved through the painstaking work of Aniket Malshe and Sopan Shewale.
Aniket and Sopan aren’t your typical, 30-something vacuous, tech-entrepreneurs. They are seasoned veterans of machine learning who anticipated the, now commonplace, trend of using data mining and analytics, almost half a decade ago. The initial idea was to cater to restaurants. They wanted to provide restaurants with a CRM tools & Point of Sale system for better queue and table order management. Their goal was to cut down waiting times at the restaurants, predicting customer visit durations and identifying loyal consumers who make multiple repeat visits. Unfortunately, looking at even the mildest technological change with askance is perhaps the only thing more Indian than cricket. They received a lot of push back from the industry, who could not yet understand the need for such a system. Aniket recalls one interaction with a business owner where he suggested that they start a loyalty programme- Targeted towards frequent customers to charge them less through offers and discounts, unlike the prevailing business model which tried to charge repeat customers more. The response was one fraught with antipathy and bewilderment from managers.
Despite the dithering response, they bided their time and kept tweaking their model, continuously driven by their goal of “ maximum efficiency and proper time management.” In just 2 years it would seem their fastidiousness paid off. With better access to the internet and longer exposure to the shared economy, temperaments switched in their favour. Aniket himself admitted that there has been a “tectonic shift” in the mindset of Indian businesses. Having a keen finger on the pulse the duo quickly recalibrated their business as well. They morphed their business into a completely cloud-based comprehensive CRM platform that now people could not only use to better plan their trips to the restaurant but also order food. For the businesses: they provided real-time scheduling options for consumers like with Basecamp, an efficiency and resource planning tool in the vein of ERP software like SAP PR4, and offered loyalty programmes and discounts akin to Eatigo to attract more customers during downtime. For the end consumers, the average joe trapped in their apartment amidst this seemingly never-ending plague, they now provided food delivery options, along with their previous functionalities, like Swiggy and Zomato.
Given the latent resentment towards the increasingly heavy-handed approach of the food-delivery industry stalwarts ... restaurateurs enthusiastically albeit ironically welcomed Aniket and Sopan. Unlike other home delivery platforms, Passerby does not get bogged down in logistics of delivery. Despite that, restaurants endorsed the platform without hesitation. The current food-delivery market has essentially devolved into a duopoly, each vying for hegemony by the depredations of the other. The inefficiency of multiple drivers going from a restaurant to the delivery vicinity is not something Sopan and Aniket wanted to emulate. Their focus has always been on efficiency and better customer management and turns out restaurants appreciated the same values.
Never one to rest on their laurels, observing the positive feedback from the app Aniket and Sopan immediately started planning the next steps for their business. Having built a sophisticated software for delivery they pondered on its logical extension and, hey presto, the current version of passerby was born. If one can get food delivered, why not groceries or pharmaceuticals? Everything was mise en place to extend it to those services. All they needed was a robust UIUX platform for the users.
The initial Beta-version Passerby platform turned out to be cluttered, unaesthetic and rather difficult to navigate. Realising the urgency of a better user platform and encouraged by the buzz surrounding a certain new design studio, Aniket reached out to Lights Out Studio. The Studio understood the centrality of the platform to the entire business and closely collaborated with Passerby’s team for a complete design overhaul. The designing process of the application was fraught with new challenges. Given the enormity of Passerby’s catalogue; it was imperative to simplify user navigation, information architecture and front-end design across all modules for a seamless experience.
After preliminary analysis they found the initial mobile application considerably lacking on all these fronts of user experience design. Hence for the Studio, starting from scratch, relied heavily on ideation and innovation in ascertaining the new app in terms of UX research and Front-End design (UI) to better user experience, gain higher service orders, provide better visibility of the products and vendors. The team at Lights Out focussed in on catering to the requisite goals of the platform: allow businesses to list themselves and then offer the full e-Commerce experience to their users vis-à-vis checking-in, booking, browsing, ordering, making payment online and even delivery tracking. Decreasing the user’s learning curve was also of particular importance because, the novel nature of Passerby, ease of use would vary drastically across demographics, personalities, interests and tech-savviness.
After several months of careful designing and trials the app was launched in February 2020 to a laudatory response from Pune residents. Aniket and Sopan will soon expand into the Pune-Bombay metropolitan area and hope to increase coverage to all the major cities within the year. They are also tirelessly working to find creative solutions to cater to the new reality of a pandemic ridden world. They recently opened a section purely dedicated to locally farmed fresh produce, with an aim to bring gourmet ingredients while supporting farmers through this trying time. Passerby is deeply committed to aid local businesses and farmers by providing them with a platform, helping them with marketing and training, increasing their visibility to the users and then getting orders directly on the platform for them. Passerby has also started to help them with coordination of the deliveries.
Where this would traditionally be the end of a company’s journey, Passerby’s story is far from complete. During this pandemic, many companies have entered the fray to provide hyper-local services, with several industry bigwigs like Amazon and BigBasket extending their services. The team at Passerby, despite already providing a more comprehensive and exhaustive list of services of superior quality, has already chalked out a manoeuvre to stay ahead of the curve. Still driven by their commitment to efficiency and better time management they will soon introduce an AI feature. These additions will not only make the app function as a store for everything but also be your personal assistant. The AI and voice command (control) features will make scheduling for grocery runs or dine-outs easier through reminders and auto bookings for repetitive activities. It will make shopping easier by anticipating your needs and giving you prudent advice on what items to buy. It will inform you of all the best local options and call and deal with them on your behalf. But beyond all of these very useful features, another point of respite for Indian consumers might just be that being developed in India, the AI will finally recognise our accent and stop accidentally calling some random number or uploading the wrong files to the cloud!
Passerby serves us with a truly futuristic solution for our day-to-day chores. It is a company to look out for, and with innovative leaders like Sopan and Aniket at the helm, they will soon be taking the country by storm.