Driving through the journey of Summer Internship in Analytics
Summer Internship program at B Schools provide us an excellent platform to experience ups & downs and challenges involved in a real corporate life. It’s a real examination of all that we have been learning throughout the first year of our MBA program. This learning experience increases multiple folds if you grab an opportunity to work for a startup. Unlike most of the well established companies, they give you an opportunity to start things from scratch, implement ideas and measure the impact of your idea. There is no specific line of action; you are given full freedom to explore the skies of your imagination.
For me, this journey started almost a year back with my selection into the Summer Internship program of TaxiForSure (TFS), an online cab aggregator. This Bangalore based startup enables various taxi operators with technology to ensure that customers get an easily reliable, accessible and safe taxi ride ForSure.
The internship started with a regular two days induction program, the first place of interaction for all the interns from various B Schools across the country. Multiple informative sessions were conducted by the vertical heads on the industry, history of the company, its mission and vision and on the idea behind the startup. Sessions break were equally informative but a bit more fun as we all walked through our first year MBA experiences. Apart from learning about campus cultures across various B schools, we also learnt quite a lot about the industry, its working and areas of growth where the company is focusing, by the end of this program.
We also got an opportunity to interact with the two founders of the company, Raghunandan G & Aprameya R who shared with us their part of story where they started in a small room with 5-6 employees in Bangalore two years back to spread their presence across 4 cities and over 200 employees till now. They talked about the hard times they faced to make their dreams come alive. Each time they learnt from their failures, but never gave up. They believed if you have never failed, you have never lived.
“In God we trust, all others must bring data “
– Edwards Deming
I was recruited to work with the Analytics team as part of my summer internship project. While most of my batch-mates were banging their head against their laptop screens all day long staring at excel sheets, I was busy dealing with data that was beyond the scope of excel sheets to handle. I was given the responsibility of deriving business insights studying past 18 months data and propose solutions to a few most challenging problems in Taxi industry. Business model of TaxiForSure forces it to deal with dynamic demand and supply of cabs. We were dealing with situations where we were forced to decline an incoming cab booking inquiry irrespective of having free cabs available in the system. Unavailability of free cabs at the right place and at the right time was a major concern for the company. It was directly hampering the growth of the company by obstructing its true growth potential. The problem we were dealing here was an optimization problem. An optimization related to demand and supply management. In simple words, the problem could be described as how to use the available fleet of cabs in the most optimal way possible so as to maximize their daily earnings.
The objective of the project was to design sophisticated algorithms to handle seasonality involved in Taxi business and improve the number of bookings per day. Algorithms should also deal effectively with the constrain supply of cabs problem residing throughout the industry. Thorough understanding of business was important but not sufficient to completely crack this problem. It required additional expertise in analytical tools used for complex problem solving. Logistic regression, predictive modeling and simulating each day’s activities were a few of the analytical concepts used to design the solution. Details of the solution proposed and implemented to address the problem cannot be furnished here due to confidentiality issues. Proper guidance and timely reviews were the most crucial part of the project. Informal review meetings which were more of a brainstorming sessions were conducted by the vertical heads regularly. Overall environment was quite friendly and all innovative ideas were discussed thoroughly and embraced with open arms.
The biggest challenge for me on this project was to cope up with the scale of data available. Coming up with the algorithms to deal with aforesaid situation was relatively easier than actually testing it with the data set available. We were dealing here with last 18 months bookings data (more than a million record set). Things needed to be triple checked before data could be processed under simulator which took hours to complete simulation and bring out insights. If something went wrong in between, there was no option other than to fix things and start all over again. Not to mention that all the earlier efforts would go in vain in the later case. Most of us think that management study is all about dealing with spreadsheets and presentations. But to surprise them, friends there exists an altogether different world of data, much more complex and complicated than what a regular spreadsheet software can handle.
Work hard and party harder is well integrated into the culture of TaxiForSure. We as an intern also couldn’t refrain ourselves from imbibing into this culture for long. We thought of creating a history at TFS and answer to it was Alfresco (A team building event completely hosted by Interns for all TaxiForSure employees). The event was welcomed whole heartedly by all and it was a grand success. The event gave us all the some of the best lifetime memories at TaxiForSure.
TaxiForSure has a strange policy of giving preference to the unsuccessful entrepreneurs while hiring. The reason to this is quite simple. These are the people who have seen all aspect of business end to end at a very young age. It is not so that they lacked capabilities, but they couldn’t succeed due to unfavorable market conditions. The result of such a policy made the place so lively all the time. It was too difficult to find empty conference rooms anytime in the office as most of them were already occupied with heated discussions of these young motivated but not so successful entrepreneurs. Each of them had a story to tell, a story of their success and failure. Listening to the learnings of these people was a great experience for me in itself.
My two months journey at TaxiforSure is mixed with emotions. I returned back to college with a lot of learning not just on technological front but on non-technical aspects of business as well. Being part of an entrepreneurial culture, I learnt more from the mistakes of others than of my own. The place made me realize that the true purpose of a B school education is to create opportunities for others than merely looking for lucrative job options for self in top companies.
Thank you TaxiForSure for providing me with such a learning opportunity.
(This post is specifically written for Summer Saga 2014 contest)