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Fri 6 Sep 2019 12:08 AM

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Entrepreneur of the Week: Gaurav Sharma, co-founder, Open Bonnet

The Dubai-based portal provides car owners with a list of certified car repair and servicing workshops, while also offerng regular updates and feedback on the vehicle's status

Entrepreneur of the Week: Gaurav Sharma, co-founder, Open Bonnet

What were you doing before launching Open Bonnet?

I started my career working in Indian communications consultancy, creating and executing marketing strategy for several prestigious clients including Ministry of Tourism, Air Sahara, Jindal Steel etc. After my MBA from Singapore, I came to Dubai and switched to what we called ‘the client side’ – managing retail banking products for banks like erstwhile First Gulf Bank and Mashreq Bank. My keen interest has been to develop strategic partnerships and co-branded loyalty programmes.

How did the idea for Open Bonnet come about?

As car owners in UAE, we had always experienced issues like lack of knowledge about the options for car service, lack of trust on whom to choose and the whole inconvenience that going to auto-garage hubs carries for a working professional. So much so, that I sold my first car immediately upon expiry of its warranty period and saw many of my friends do the same. This is when me and my close friend, and now Open Bonnet’s co-founder, Maninder Singh, started brainstorming on what pain points can be addressed through enabling technology in this sector. And that’s how we brought the idea of Open Bonnet to life.

Why does the market need Open Bonnet and what makes it unique?

There are 15,000+ car garages and service providers and three million cars in UAE. If these two parties have to efficiently talk to each other in a convenient, transparent manner that assures quality then it’s got to be technology to act as the enabler. Open Bonnet is fundamentally based on these three pillars and is unique since it’s the only service aggregator that offers an end-to-end digitised service experience.

What is your business model? How will you monetise Open Bonnet?

Just like the name, we are an open platform for both workshops and car owners to join and have no entry barriers. We connect the buyer (car owner) and seller (workshops) and let them do the transactions with a richer experience. Our sellers contribute some part of their revenue towards Open Bonnet and this is how we have currently monetised the platform. As we grow, we have our eyes on several other revenue streams that will be built around this core model.

What are your main challenges when it comes to operating Open Bonnet in the UAE?

Most of our key challenges are what would be typical for any tech start-up, like scaling up, creating awareness etc. Being in UAE in fact has its advantages for us due to the high mobile and net penetration rates, thriving auto industry and government / investor focus on technology based innovation.

But yes, for early stage start-ups like us, the cash flow issues do get multiplied in the UAE due to the relatively higher cost of living and operating.

Tell us a little bit about your funding journey. How is the business funded and what has been your experience in attracting investors?

Open Bonnet is so far self-funded by its founding partners and this was a conscious decision we took at the beginning of our journey to first bring the platform to market. After our launch in April 2019, we have got very positive feedback from the industry and we have now started considering our options for raising funds needed to scale up.

How has Open Bonnet been performing since its launch?

We have been able to make a lot of inroads in the market and, as a testimony to this, we have enrolled 50+ active workshops and service providers with us already. That’s a sizable number of options for car owners and is spread out across all major emirates. A lot of campaigns and plans for car owner awareness creation are currently being laid out and we hope to conquer this frontier as well very soon.

Any expansion plans in GCC and beyond?

Yes, the markets in GCC have lot of similarities and hence expansion of a technology platform in the region is a logical next step. While this is on the radar, as of now all our efforts are solely focussed on creating a winning platform in UAE first.

What are some new trends in the automotive sector in the region?

Auto aftermarket is a key area of focus right now for car manufacturers, especially due to the slack demand for new cars since a few years now. We see many multibrand service chains coming up in the region and these are mostly backed by major authorised dealers. This is good news for car owners as it improves the quality of services while bringing down the overall cost of repair.

Besides this, a lot of efforts are being made by manu-factures on adding conn-ectivity features in cars. In April 2018, Skoda launched KODIAO in the UAE with a state-of-art infotainment system and cutting-edge connectivity features. In January 2019, Mercedes-Benz launched Mercedes Me Connect technology in the Middle East. Harman and Daimler have co-developed the augmented reality-capable infotainment system in Mercedes-Benz A Class – 2018.

What are your predictions for changes in automotive sector?

The automotive industry is mainly buzzing with four letters – C A S E. That’s short for Connected, Automated, Shared and Electric. While the C and S are rolling out now and are clearly impacting our lives positively, I think there is substantial time before A and E become mainstream. In the car servicing domain, real time tracking of vehicle perform-ance through use of telematics will affect the way we think about car servicing by offering remote assistance in emergencies. Predictive maintenance will be pushed by workshops and dealers through these connected technologies.

How was it breaking into the online/e-commerce sector in the UAE?

While the UAE is connected online very well and people are receptive of businesses that simplify life, when it comes to the automotive sector there is a huge behaviour change that needs to be brought in. Be it the practices and policies of a garage or the expectations of a car owner, a gradual education curve needs to be created to let them absorb the possibilities that can exist when they go digital. This is natural and bound to happen – there are 35,000+ parts in a typical ICE car and a regular car driver (including me) is not able to understand what has gone wrong or what new consumable might be needed in my car. Having said this, we believe that once this education curve is crossed, there is a big opportunity that lies ahead of us. Even in e-commerce space there is huge opportunity and with the  recent arrival of Amazon in the UAE, automotive accessory sales promise to become more exciting.

If you could go back, what would you do differently with Open Bonnet?

Considering our journey has just started, there is not much going back to. I would certainly have liked to get into this space much earlier than 2019.

What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?

That’s a tough question. There are so many inspiring people who have been guiding lights in moments of confusion. I can summarise all their advice in the one comment my five-year-old son often makes unknowingly out of his Paw-Patrol craze – “No jobs’ too big. No pups’ too small” – meaning Open Bonnet’s aspiration of being the central player in auto aftermarket is well on track!

What is it really like being an entrepreneur?

It has been a very fulfilling journey so far. We have learnt and have grown a lot during this short time. You have to wear multiple hats all the time – start with being a marketer, change a hat and become a finance manager, change another hat and transform into a creative designer, yet another hat will make you a legal expert and this goes on and on. You have to be your own critic and your own admirer at the same time.

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