When his father passed away in 2016, Mazhar Haque inherited a car rental company named Express Rent-a-Car. It was a well-off business generating enough profit a similar business would. But Mazhar was not just satisfied with it.
He was not particularly brooding over profit. Rather, it was about the backdatedness of the business model.
Mazhar wanted to grow his business. Soon after he assumed ownership of the rent-a-car, he thought of doing something bigger than it was. He wanted something that traditional rent-a-car companies do not have.
He spent the initial years planning how to expand the business and how to reach the masses.
From this experience, Mazhar knew what a traditional rent-a-car business lacks. He also feels that Bangladeshi rent-a-car services are not updated and have not integrated modern solutions.
With a view to digitise the business model, he established a startup named Highway 360. According to Mazhar, it is the first of its kind.
Traditional rent-a-cars do not have an up-to-date website to start with, let alone apps in the Google Play Store or Apple Store. These car rentals operate mostly via offline channels. For example, someone willing to rent a car will have to call or visit a rental service provider in person. This process needs manual input, meaning that you have to bargain on the terms and conditions.
Renting a car through smartphones
Just like Uber, Pathao and Sohoz, one can now hire a private vehicle easily on their smartphones. But unlike these rideshare apps, Highway 360 is a digital transportation service provider that rents out vehicles for long-distance travels outside the city.
"We are not a ridesharing app and do not provide the services Uber, Pathao and Sohoz provide. Our model is totally different and we provide service only when you want to go outside the city," said Mazhar, CEO and co-founder of Highway 360.
He added, "If I must name our competitors, they are the local and individual rent-a-car services. We are more cautious about the local ones as they can change the rent based on the demand and their wishes."
Highway 360 vehicles can be rented out to go anywhere in the country from Dhaka city and back. However, the in-between space, for example if you want to go to Sylhet from Khulna, is not currently under consideration.
It would take more time and resources to do so. Mazhar admitted that connecting every city and district of the country will take a long time.
Highway 360 also offers exclusive wedding and travel packages. "We have a versatile collection of wedding cars and we offer flower bouquets and other arrangements exclusively for the wedding party," Mazhar said.
Besides, Highway 360 also has attractive tour packages ensuring the highest possible security while keeping the expenses reasonable.
"We have 31 package tours specifically designed to tour Bangladesh's most famous places with the highest tourist attractions such as Cox's Bazar, the Sundarbans, Bagerhat, Sitakund and more," Mazhar told the correspondent.
Explaining how the tour packages were designed, Mazhar said, "We pinpointed and pre-listed some of the famous places, for example, in Sitakunda, to ensure that when customers select Sitakunda, they can visit all the pre-selected places."
If I must name our competitors, they are the local and individual rent-a-car services. We are more cautious about the local ones as they can change the rent based on the demand and their wishes.
This system enables the driver to follow the rules so they cannot claim at the last moment that a location is out of their zone.
The idea was born out of need
The main focus of Highway 360 is to expand outside the scope of Dhaka. Customers have to face many difficulties and hassle when they want to go outside of Dhaka. Highway 360 was established to bypass all such inconveniences and ensure ease of transportation for the customers.
"I decided to start an app-based business with this thought in mind. It is basically digitising or modernising the existing business model. Fortunately, under the supervision of my father, I had prior experience of working, buying cars, maintenance and managing drivers," Mazhar said.
Mazhar's goal with Highway 360 is to simplify car rental service. He first shared the idea of Highway 360 with Ismail Hossain, a friend of his father who worked with him for a long time.
"When I first shared the idea with him, he was ecstatic and gave the nod to go ahead. We then sat with a friend of mine who programmed the app and built the website," Mazhar told the correspondent.
Mazhar and his team had been analysing the idea of Highway 360 for almost a year. They tried to understand every bit and detail of what may come if they proceed with this venture.
"Then we merged Dhaka routes with the routes of other divisions and districts. After that, we came up with a fixed, all inclusive rate so both the customers and drivers have nothing to complain about," he explained.
Unlike ride sharing platforms with two separate apps for the riders and drivers, Highway 360 directly connects the drivers to a rider via an additional middle panel that manually handles the ride requests.
"We connect the two groups and as a result we can ensure both the customer's and driver's security," Mazhar said.
Currently, Highway 360 has 150 dedicated drivers of their own from every district of Bangladesh. More than 200 vehicles of different sizes and categories are registered under this digital car rental service. Highway 360 is providing its services in 570 upazilas.
"We are hopeful. We are rapidly scaling. Although we are not accepting external investments right now, we are still progressing. We want to go slow but we eventually wanna catch up," Mazhar said.
Highway 360 has already reached 2.5 million people on Facebook with around 1,000 active customers.