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Very few have forayed into these unchartered waters, but as they say, success follows those who take the less taken path. The same is true for Kumaran Alalasundaram, a trailblazer aiming to change the Indian cycling eco-system.
Cycling in India can be a challenge, with unruly traffic, pot-holed roads, and no separate lanes for cyclists. Yet, this community is growing at a rapid pace with numbers of people taking it up for fitness, to commute, and as an adventure sport. Keeping in mind the changing trends, ZAKPRO, a year-old start-up, is taking giant strides to transform this sport with their unique products.
‘Fun with safety’ – A new approach to Indian cycling eco-system
“When it comes to cycling, the awareness of safety is low in India,” says Kumaran Alalasundaram, founder of ZAKPRO. “We always try to make riders understand that safety aspects in cycling should never be compromised.”
“In India, riders have no choice but to take roads which are always packed with motor vehicles. Cycling on these roads is more dangerous, as motorists driving heavy vehicles and cars at most time don’t consider the safety of a cyclist.” Under such adverse conditions, ZAKPRO aims to bring a unique range of products which ensures and enhances the safety for riders, and also make their riding experience fun-filled with cool features. This is ZAKPRO’s new approach to the Indian cycling eco-system “Fun with Safety”!!
“With regard to Certification for Safety Standards, to ensure that we conform to the safety standards of European/US certifications standards for cycling helmets as of now, since we don’t have a respective Indian Certificate for the same. Like how we have the ISI certification for automobile helmets, we should also have a similar one for cycling helmets in India. This will help people understand the seriousness of safety while cycling.” – says Kumaran.
What is the idea and the driving force behind ZAKPRO?
The idea behind ZAKPRO arises from the triangulation of three main factors.
It does not come as a surprise that Mr.Kumaran Alalasundaram, an ardent cyclist, albeit not professionally, says “I ride for commutation and fitness.”
Elaborating on how it started, Kumaran says: “First, when thinking about launching my own start-up while working with Amazon/Prione. I was wondering as to what will be the right category that I should enter into. My core philosophy was that I should enter into a field where there is scope for innovations and scope for excellence.”
He also drew attention to, how Amazon is re-defining the physical retail in US by opening up a store for customers to shop and walk without having to stand in the counter for billing, citing an example on scope of innovation.
Secondly, he added “Currently the Professional Cycling Segment is very much in the naissance stage, wherein the awareness of professional cycling and the awareness of product innovations is limited.”
“In spite of the number of players in the cycling industry, I still believe there is a lot of scope for innovations in this sector. If you look at European countries, multiple cities will have separate dedicated cycling lanes. Also, the kind of products what they have compared to what we have is quite staggering. There is a huge gap between what cyclist need and what is available in Indian market, in terms of safety, quality and feature packed products. Considering the fact that cycling is growing as a community it needs a wide range of products to fulfil the requirements,” he explains.
Thirdly, citing his own interest in cycling, he said that these three factors triangulated in to the culmination of ZAKPRO.
Competing with giants
There were many and prime among them was competing with foreign brands having a dominant presence in the market.
Talking about the challenges he’s faced, Kumaran says, “most of the premium products are owned by foreign brands. Having ZAKPRO, an Indian Brand, competing with foreign brands in Indian soil was the biggest challenge of all. We found it really tough to get into this eco-system. The acceptance and awareness among people in recognizing new innovations which was another huge challenge.”
And, considering how difficult it was to break into this segment, Kumaran is happy with the way ZAKPRO has grown so far.
“We currently operate as both ‘Bricks and Clicks’ model, catering to customers through some physical stores owned by renowned retailers in the market and through online stores like our own website (www.zakpro.in), Amazon, Flipkart. We owe to our retailer partners who really kept confidence in our products and took them to the customers. That was the starting point !!”
“But it took us sometime to build the momentum. We worked very closely with the customers while making them understand the importance of our product, how its safety and other additional features are adding value. Now there are a lot of loyal customers who got attached to the brand. Those who liked the way we approached them have sincerely dropped multiple recommendations on our social media pages and the reviews helped us improve our brand presence in the Indian market. Our success story lies in the word of mouth or word of web as the case maybe. This entrusts us to deliver the best always.”
“Accordingly, there are three stages from product introduction - denial, acceptance, and acceleration. These are different stages in which your product innovations will happen and will propel. Now we are in the stage of acceptance wherein people have accepted that these features are useful and important.”
What are your core principles for your brand?
From Brand Perspective, we work on three principles fundamentally:
1) Product innovation - Whatever we do, we try harder to have a touch of innovation and novelty in it. Right from the products to events, we innovate!
2) Customer backward approach: We don’t start working on an idea in the drawing board. We rather start from our customers and then design the products and its features.
3) Customer obsession: We are proud to say, we have 100% concerns resolved. We work closely with the customer and ensure that their concerns are addressed at the earliest. Our customer anecdotes on social media are clear indicators for the same. We have set a record for early resolution of any issue, which we directly attribute to our customer’s satisfaction and loyalty.
These three-guiding principles also helps us make the right decision in times of trade-offs.
Wearing helmet not a matter of choice, but life
On being asked, as an Indian, we see so many people riding without helmets. Very few people can be seen wearing a helmet while biking, maybe five or ten wearing a technology-based helmet. Why do you think so many people avoid wearing them?
Kumaran replies that it is kind of boils down to what we see as “the mindset of people”, which definitely needs to be changed.
“If you talk about the buying behaviour of Indian consumers, they buy a cycle and say that we will come back to buy the helmet later. But ideally what should happen is, when you buy a cycle, the helmet should be bought along with it. Instead, they keep helmets as a choice. They don’t see helmets as an important component integral to safety. They presume accidents don’t happen in cycling which is a very wrong perception.”
He also shared an instance when his own customer’s life was saved in a major accident because of ZAKPRO’s helmet. The cost of negligence will be huge !!
Kumaran admits that this problem cannot be solved overnight. He says: “we need to change the mindset of people and make them understand the importance of safety while cycling – so as act of Corporate Social Responsibility, we at Zakpro are in the process of creating an awareness campaign in social media and also engaging with our retailer partners across each city to conduct a roadshow, wherein we will showcase to the riders on the importance of wearing a helmet.”
Taking riding experience to the next level
Later, explaining how ZAKPRO’s products will have a positive impact on the future of cycling, he said that presently implementing innovative ideas elicits warm reception and can be more efficient. “Our products are end results of such innovative ideas with several protective layers to the requirement of a helmet.”
“The first important layer is your safety. That is the reason why all our helmets ranging from INR 2300 to INR 13000 are certified and adhere to European/US Safety Standard. Secondly, the innovative features which enhances the riding experience. One such feature in ZAKPRO helmets is the embedded LED indicator,” he said, adding, “with the feature, riders can easily switch on the indicators to signal while taking a left or a right turn. Showing hand signals could be extremely dangerous as it would shake the stability of the cycle particularly for someone who is new to the cycling or even for experience cyclist while riding at a speed.”
While cycling, riders are not able to stay connected with their community. Be it attending a phone call, or in an SOS situation, their connection to their community is very limited or probably nil. As you know while on wheels, the rider cannot make/take calls or stay connected via social apps or even listen to music as is the case in other commuting vehicles like a car. Why then should such options be denied for a cyclist? asks Kumaran.
Now, you can find the solution to this in our 318 series helmets. The bone-conduction speakers present in our helmet will enable you to stay connected with your community. With multiple features, it will help you have the same experience of listening to music, and attending to calls and without deafening your ears from the traffic around. It also has a Walkie Talkie feature which will let the riders communicate with each other when they are riding together. This is what we call it as the scope for innovation: taking riding experience to the next level.”
Setting the trends
Kumaran further added that he is keen to spread the magic of cycling through organising various events, with a view to encourage cycling participation in the country.
ZAKPRO also have started to host cycling events besides promoting innovative products.
“Our primary aim is to get the products which is most relevant for Indian raiders. Second is to increase the number of cyclists in the country. For that, what we are currently conducting cycling events/challenges. To stay updated check our website on upcoming events.”
“Last year, we were part of the organising committee that conducted one-day event ‘Father of nation cycling event’, a huge hit which kick started our journey towards organizing events and we have moved far ahead from there.”
“Very recently we organised a cycling challenge called ‘ZAKPRO SUMMER SCOTCH’ in a bid to encourage cyclists to ride on a daily basis. This event attracted 500+ registrations from 3 countries with 300+ active participants. We ensured that there is innovation even when we conduct events. We offered personalised posters featuring the photo of each participant. This feature got a lot of traction and riders enthusiastically shared their posters with their cycling community. At the grand finale we closed the event with the warming down video featuring important milestones of the event. This event’s practises are being recognised as good practises by organisers of other events as well, as we are seeing a lot of events with personalised posters and event videos following same principles as we have done. We are happy to know that we are able to set trends and change the way things are happening around for good. This paves the way for the scope of excellence!”
Pandemic – a revival of interests in cycling?
Still, Kumaran remains optimistic about the current scenario. He believes this pandemic could spark a revival of the interests in cycling as more people are now returning to bicycles for fun and exercise. It could give a push to the resurgence in commuting as more and more people have started using bicycles to commute locally due to the lockdown.
According to him, right now cycling as a fitness regime has been witnessing a remarkable increase because of two main reasons.
First, the indoor fitness activities remain closed down across the country. As such, people want to venture out and try other options that are available. Well, cycling has been identified as one among the best options available. It fits the social distancing norms as it’s an individual sport.
Second, for people who have been staying indoors but want to get into fitness activities for the first time also, cycling comes as their immediate option. Such developments are paving the way for a high demand for cycles thereby pushing sales, which have gone up.
“On the high end, and what I hear from some retailer partners, is that cycle shops are running out of stocks right now. But I'm sure it will not stay that way. With consistent demand, the supply lines will gear up to meet the rising demands in the long run!”
Further, he believes that this is an opportunity for the cycling industry to bloom and customers should try their hands on the cycling sport. Now, the biggest challenge is, how to make people ride consistently and don’t stop cycling once the COVID-19 restriction are gone.
He stressed the importance to carrying forward this fitness regime even after the COVID-19 situation becomes normal.
“Will cycling move on or not? That’s one big If,” was however, his candid admission.
“Now the scenario is, in the place of 10 there are 100 people riding. I know for sure, this 100 is going to come down after the lockdown is relaxed and once the usual routine is resumed. The gyms are going to be opened, so are all other indoor sports as well. But to which point it will come down is the big question mark? This is where we plan to drive the intrinsic interest levels of riders through various activities so that the “want to ride” stays the same and hopefully the bounce back effect is at least 80 riders out of 100 do not back out and the situation is not back to square one.”
“And it’s also our responsibility as a brand, retailers and event organisers across the country to come up with a model that encourages people to ride on a daily basis even after the lockdown.”
Plans for the future
So, what does the future hold, for the ZAKPRO and more broadly for Indian cycling, in Kumaran’s opinion?
No doubt, India is a huge market for the cycling industry. Also with aspects like fitness, cost effective eco-friendly alternative to fuel-intensive modes of transport, adventure sport, simplicity in commutation, and a best lifestyle regime, there is definitely a bright future for ZAKPRO. With cautious cyclist on the way, we with our mission and vision want to ensure the safety of the riders and enhance their riding experience by continuously working on new areas, thereby introducing products to meet the emerging requirements.
“I believe that in making the country safer for cyclists, it is very important to put effort in encouraging the masses to adopt and accept cycling as an activity and an option to for commuting. A public supported initiative will will make it more sustainable and appealing to all.”
“We also have a steady pipeline planned for product launches in 2020 and 2021. Simultaneously, we have plans for event launches as well, for engaging customers and to promote and cultivate cycling as a behaviour. And last but not the least, with a focus on the bigger picture, Zakpro will work with entities to encourage people to commute using a bicycle. The broader spectrum is “how-do-we-increase-the-cycling-population-in-India?” and this would be our third vertical goal down in 2021. These are our game pitches in which we play with a winning spirit so as to exploit our scope for innovation and excellence in delivering the best and to be different from what is already available in the market. For the love of cycling.” he concluded.