(January 29, 2023) With her initiative Vandana Suri, is making a world of difference to the lives of women. The awardee of Global Sustainable Development Goals and Her (2019) for her entrepreneurial venture, Taxshe, Vandana has been empowering women with an exclusive all-women driver-on-demand cab service in Bengaluru and NCR. “We train women how to drive and set them free. The more women are on road, the safer is the ecosystem. We train them to be independent,” she tells Global Indian.
The venture had been doing well until the pandemic hit hard. The transportation industry was worst-hit. Taxshe felt the blow too. Uncertainty loomed large when Vandana paid salaries for eight months without any business. With a debt of ₹70 lakh, the entrepreneur was not the one to give up, she was resolute.
As things started getting back to normal, her resoluteness, patience and faith started bearing fruit. Her business started blooming again. “Lot of things have changed and it brought new perspective to our work. It’s really taking shape very well now,” she says.
“In the last one year we have trained 1500 women in driving and have also come with a franchise model for women who have lost their corporate jobs in the pandemic, and want to do something new,” she adds. Currently 13 franchisee partners have signed up with Taxshe. “Four branches are operational and the rest will be operational in the next two months. They are based in Bengaluru, Pune, Gurgaon, Thane, and Hyderabad,” she reveals.
Empowering women forward
“People don’t have to tell me to fight their battles, I do it for them. Since childhood, I’ve been a fighter,” the entrepreneur tells. Narrating an incident she reminisces, “A girl in school who was good at karate, wanted to go to an inter-school competition, and our principal refused as there was a drawing exam on the same day. I spoke up for her. During those days, Doordarshan’s serial Rajni sparked in me a desire to stand up for the rights. My mother would say, ‘You have already become Rajni, now stop watching it!’” she laughs.
Starting Taxshe in 2014, Vandana put out her first post on Facebook, asking people whether they could provide references of lady drivers for an all-women taxi service. “To my utter surprise, the post went viral,” says she, “I was overwhelmed with 3,000 calls of potential clients.”
But the challenge was no woman with driving skills was willing to become a taxi driver. Women from poorer sections could have, but they did not know how to drive. “I became the first driver of Taxshe. I started a chauffeur model, drove other’s cars, picking and dropping their children. It was amazing that parents were so at peace with the idea of a lady driving their children around,” she smiles.
Taxshe, was incidentally triggered by a cab rape incident where the victim’s statement, “If a woman would have been driving me, this would have not happened,” deeply affected Vandana. Women were unsafe, and Taxshe was the answer. “Another major concern was the lack of toilets making it a non-women-friendly profession. So, I designed a flexible business model around ladies where there was no threat from passengers as they were driving children, and they had the luxury of working in the vicinity of their homes. It was business-friendly too as we got contracts for the whole year, thus a yearly income,” she adds.
Spreading the word
Reaching out to slums, talking to women and families, after devoting six months to even a year in proper training, Vandana manages a team of women professional drivers. “When I had sent them for training in driving schools, they were ridiculed. Empowering them, I started training them myself,” says Vandana. Her training sessions are more elaborate and comprehensive than the ones of the driving schools.
Such has been the demand for her service that Vandana likens it to being oxygen masks for children, corporate women and female late-night flight passengers.
Taxshe Breakfree and WOMB – turning drive into movement
Vandana then started a new business vertical – the Taxshe Breakfree that addressed women being stuck at home. “Just like the actor in Titanic who floated across even when the ship sank, we were able to sail across the pandemic. Invariably, we have a very high rating whether it is Taxshe or Breakfree,” she beams.
Getting in touch with educated women who had lost jobs, she roped them in as franchisee partners, and trained them in training others. To great happiness and encouragement ladies like an out-of-work 62-year-old school principal with 35 years driving experience started joining in. “We call her super naani. We have other franchisee partners too who have lost high-paying jobs. They are happy to join Taxshe Breakfree,” adds the social entrepreneur.
Then, another vertical – Women in Mobility Business (WOMB) was started to engage women with a strong network to motivate others to join Taxshe Breakfree. “WOMB women are like backend buddies of franchise partners.”
“We are inviting more and more women to join the mobility business,” tells the entrepreneur who believes that there is a lot that can be done in the mobility industry for ladies. “Mobility should not only be about technology, it should also be about safety. We women are going to talk a different language – that’s the vision,” she says.
The course of life
Born and brought up in Mumbai, Vandana’s family shifted to Bengaluru where she pursued graduation and chartered accountancy. After 25 plus years as an investment banker, she began her first entrepreneurial venture at a real estate consultancy. A year later, she founded Taxshe. “It was like a calling in life,” says Vandana.
“When my mother heard that I was starting a cab business, she fell off her chair,” laughs the entrepreneur. She calls her mother her backend buddy and critic. “Later when my brother Sushil joined in, as co-founder, she was assured that I must be doing well enough for him to join,” Vandana smiles.
Now the entrepreneur’s mother is proud of her daughter’s achievements and award – Global Sustainable Development Goals and Her for which she was chosen out of 1,200 applicants. “But she wonders will I ever learn to cook,” grins Vandana, the mother of a teenage son.
On rare off days, painting is Vandana’s go to, “I will pursue it after retirement,” she smiles. Of course, music and thumkas aside, she admits to being the first on a dance floor, and the last off it.
Chop Chop Boys and SingleSisterz are her other ventures that she wants to scale up – One trains young lads how to cook and the other helps single women rent together. “We want to work on an alternate family structure so that someone is there to take care of children,” signs off this serial entrepreneur with her pulse on social upliftment.