Servicing The Service Men: This Pune-Based Startup Helps Armed Forces, Veterans Fly At Cheap Rates

Image Credits: Facebook/udChalo

'Servicing The Service Men': This Pune-Based Startup Helps Armed Forces, Veterans Fly At Cheap Rates

‘udChalo’ focuses on delivering convenience, affordability, and accessibility to a large captive customer group of about active 2.8 million armed forces and veterans and their dependents.

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Ravi Kumar describes his biggest identity is that he is a 'fauji' (soldier's) kid. He believes that there is a vast difference in how army and veteran families lead their day-to-day lives, as he has experienced defence culture within his close-knit circle.

Coming from an army background, he knows every struggle in the life of soldiers and their families. Travel has always been Kumar's pain point, despite it being crucial to the life of service members.

He says that a Jawan often gets last-minute leave sanctions and the MCO quota has limited seats. Due to the unavailability of seats, jawans end up travelling in unconfirmed tickets or the general compartments of overbooked trains. This amounts to around one lakh people from the Armed Forces travelling by railways every day.

"Almost 48,000 seats went vacant on all the airlines. Someone had to bridge this gap and address the problems of this segment," he said.

Seeing the plight of army men, Kumar came up with the idea of a startup udChalo.

Serves 2.8 Million Armed Forces

It is a consumer tech startup with the motto of 'Servicing the service men'. The brand focuses on delivering convenience, affordability, and accessibility to a large captive customer group of about active 2.8 million armed forces, veterans, and their dependents.

In 2015, udChalo started with its ticketing services after seeing the plight of jawans and soldiers during travel. This Pune based platform started by helping book domestic flights at a 50 per cent discount to the Indian armed forces, veterans, dependents, and SSB candidates.

"On one hand, we were helping the ailing aviation industry, who traditionally relied only on business and leisure travellers, to get a new customer base, and on the other, we were making travelling more convenient for the forces," Ravi Kumar, Founder & CEO udChalo told The Logical Indian.

"For the longest time, the group of 30 million armed forces along with dependents and veterans were never considered as a target audience by the airline industry. This segment too wasn't ready for a shift. While we introduced the service, we fought a battle of acceptance for change as many were just content with the traditional way of travelling," he added.

It took years for udChalo to convince defence personnel to be open about air travelling irrespective of their ranks and designation in their service. The startup started off by booking only about 1200 air tickets in the year 2012 and over the years, it booked about 10 million tickets.

'udChalo's Initiatives

Since its inception, udChalo has tried to address every issue of the armed forces through various initiatives like:

The Shradhanjali Initiative provides a free ticket to Next of Kin (NOK) or one person accompanying mortal remains of fatal battle casualties.

The Utkarsh Program empowers women from the defence family and allows them to utilise their time from the comfort of their homes.

The Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre's initiative supports the paraplegic and quadriplegic members of the soldier community. A remote call centre is operated from the centres in Pune and Mohali and they are in line with soldiers' schedule, thus ensuring zero discomforts and hugely empowering them to learn and apply new skills and rebuild their confidence.

The JudChalo Initiative was created to spread awareness among troops regarding new Leave Travel Concession (LTC) rules or how to avail LTC benefits using this platform. The program is made for ex-servicemen, defence wives and dependents to showcase their mettle in business development and marketing.

Ensuring jobs for retired armed officers by helping veterans get back to the mainstream business once they retire from the armed forces. Due to this placement service, many corporate offices are working closely with udChalo to fulfil their talent management requirement.

Internship programs for new army students: It helps develop life skills at the grass-root level where students from army colleges are given an opportunity to work closely with retired army men and help them excel in their skills and prepare for future job roles.

Kumar said that the COVID-19 pandemic came with its other set of challenges. Due to travel restrictions, there was an initial dip in the revenues, but the company bounced back to close to pre COVID sales as travel restrictions were lifted.

"Now, we have expanded the business beyond ticketing with financial services, RealTech and e-commerce," he said.

"It was interesting to know that due to posting in remote areas, soldiers frequently miss the ITR filing date leading to fines. Therefore, we launched ITR filing services and soldiers can file their ITR through our website and offline counters," Kumar said.

The next pain point that udChalo observed was putting their investment in the right property. Often heavy workloads and low number of leaves lead to soldiers investing money in the wrong properties. Therefore, the company launched housing so that the customers could invest in the right place.

"We follow due diligence before offering houses to our customers. We also provide electronics to customers through our portal. Providing electronics items and brands was our step towards providing e-commerce products to our forces," Kumar said.

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