The Indian Railways has a track length of 114,500 kilometers, covering 8500 stations on a 65,000-kilometer route and carrying around 30 million passengers every day. With these astounding figures it surely is one of the the world’s largest railway networks. In spite of the impressive list of figures about the Indian railways, access to quality, safe and hygienic food on trains has long been a major problem for the passengers. The food offered by vendors inside the train is known to be overpriced and there is always a question mark on how hygienically the food is prepared. TravelKhana caters to this unaddressed problem of the Indian rail passengers.
TravelKhana.com is an online meal booking platform for the Indian rail passengers which connects them to quality restaurants on the Indian Railway network. The passengers can book their meals easily via website, phone, SMS, or TravelKhana’s mobile app. It was founded in the year 2012 by Pushpinder Singh who is an IIT-BHU and BITS Pilani alumnus with around 15 years of experience in the technology industry. The Delhi-based startup offers a wide variety of food options from their selection of restaurants which are validated only after a proper check of the food quality. The travelers have the option of paying online through credit card or net banking, or they can pay by cash at the time of delivery.
We interviewed Abhinav Kushwaha, the CTO of the company, to know more about this technology centered startup.
Give us a snapshot of your professional journey till now.
I started my career with Citrix, worked there for a little more than 3 years on a webapp called Director. The variable I am, I tried my hands on UI, backend and mobile development there. After that I joined Flipkart in 2014, changed 3 teams in a little over a year to work on different things. And finally came TravelKhana last year.
When & how did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?
I have been working for startups, doing pet-projects since 2nd year of my college. We developed Tally clone on cloud in 2 months. We developed and maintained Codefest, which was the biggest online coding and app development fest then, after google Codejam in India, certainly only college students organized fest then during my 3rd and 4th year of college. In Citrix, I won the best app award for a hack I did in its Hackathon. At Flipkart, it was always an entrepreneurial environment, you own things you do, take decisions on how to do it and implement whatever new and crazy idea you have. I came to TravelKhana just to taste the disruption of the new industry that they are catering.
What were the early days at TravelKhana like?
I joined TK last year, and in the early days I had a lot of discussion with the team, to first understand how things have been done, what they are doing and what are the plans ahead. We composed the plan for the tech team and have grown to more than twice in tech since then. This took a lot of my time in interviews to find the right candidates.
Can you please describe what a typical day at office is like?
I generally come late and go late, following my flipkart culture. We have a plan to execute so we keep track of our daily work. A lot of coding and discussions are involved as well.
Can you tell us about the technology stack used at TravelKhana?
We have been hosted on Rackspace, but we are moving to AWS. Since I joined, we have been re-architecting the whole stack, making it more modular and maintainable. The new stack will have Java Spring/Hibernate based REST API server with MySQL db for now, a portal UI powered by angularjs. Our train server is also powered by Java Spring/Hibernate server. The UI code is hosted on node while development and on Parse for production. Android app is native.
Is there any technology that you’re personally betting on to help you scale up?
Making the whole stack modular and deploying it on independent servers allow us to be scalable. We are on the process of doing that. We will be exploring more to experiment with python/node to move our I/O operation on that and test their scalability.
How are you using Business Intelligence and analytics at your company?
We are using analytics for redesigning our whole site. We actually used it to modify the process as well. Until now, you book food selecting a restaurant and then the menu items but when the new version is out, the restaurant selection will be gone. Orders will be auto routed among the available vendors. This is a big tech and process change which we couldn’t have done without business analytics.
How else does technology help your company stand apart from its rivals?
The company exists because of it’s proprietary tracking system of Indian trains, and informing the vendors and customers about it so that the food reaches our customers warm and fresh. This has been our USP from the start, till date. Nobody apart from us has been able to crack this. And now we are fine tuning this algorithm for better service and customer satisfaction.
What has been the biggest technical challenge you’ve faced while running TravelKhana?
The biggest would be the incident when we were not been able to connect to government server for getting train and pnr details. Our orders stopped causing big revenue leaks and unhappy potential customers. We did a lot of fire-fighting for that to overcome. Now we have a system where we can recover from such incidents in minutes.
What are some of the attributes you look out for in prospective technology employees?
While hiring, I look for the passion to his job and the openness to try out new technologies. He/She should be willing to put an effort to execute a task before coming for guidance and should be able to work as an individual contributor as well as a team player.
How do you keep up to date with the latest happenings in the technology world?
Well, I am subscribed to a lot of channels on the web to check out what’s happening new in the world. I do my own pet-projects in my free time to try out new techs coming. Apart from that I have a few friends and we share our experiences among us.
What gets you excited about coming to work every day?
Since joining, I have planned out TK’s a year of tech projections. Looking to people putting it up piece by piece, keeps me exciting. We have a lot of teams dependent on us, looking at their faces when we solve their problem is really satisfactory and that motivates us to come and contribute daily.
What sets TravelKhana engineering culture apart?
We have an open culture in the team, we do the brainstorming together and then the people are independent enough to complete their task by themselves. They take the call on how to do it. We also started no fixed working hours and work from home, which was very well welcomed by the team.
Which TravelKhana value resonates best with you?
Solving the problem of the masses is what I’ve always looked for doing and TravelKhana is committed just to that.
Any piece of advice for the techies out there?
Always be open to new technology, look for it, test it and if it looks good to you, embrace it. Being up to date with the tech will keep your blood pumping. Also, have the right attitude, understand why you are doing what you are doing and learn how to do it best. Don’t just follow instructions, ask questions and speakup.