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by Nakul Khanna, 1Y 2018

An MIT study says 3,000 ride-sharing cars could replace every cab in New York City. Clearly that hasn’t happened. Why could that be?

My Kellogg Strategy & Organizations professor would ask me: Is it an incentive or a coordination problem? I would say both because it is very difficult to coordinate with people and secondly the savings of 10-15 percent over the full fare of an UberX or Lyft Line are not sufficient to incentivize users to make the switch, not to mention how trust & safety are additional barriers to sharing rides. This is where my startup Instago comes in.

Entrepreneurship at Kellogg: ride-sharing via the Instago app

When I came to Kellogg, I noticed students messaging each other on platforms such as WhatsApp, GroupMe, Slack, etc. to share a ride. There were other tools, more cumbersome tools as well. The lightbulb in my head went off. I pivoted my startup to a private carpooling platform that allows people from within a community to find others going in their direction at the same time, while keeping the fare-comparison piece intact. This instantly reduces the cost by at least 50 percent, if not more, when you find a single match, and up to 75 percent when you get matched with three people. Additionally, because these are all students from your university, the trust piece is kept intact.

In October, I got into the Zell Fellows program as a part of the Emerging Markets track. As a part of the program, I received significant financial support and mentorship. We were encouraged to test the validity of our ideas in the cheapest way possible. My first MVP was a simple spreadsheet, which received over 200 responses over Thanksgiving break. That made me realize there was definitely an opportunity here, and I replicated that exercise over spring break while the app development was underway.

Pairing classes with experience

To help me further validate my findings, I took classes such as NUvention Transportation, which had some of the best guest speakers from companies ranging from Ford to Uber every week. Some technical literacy through KIEI-924: Intro to Software Development and Professor’s Sawhney’s Product Management class were critical along with some great strategy classes, including Competitive Strategy & Industrial Structure and Entrepreneurial Finance & Venture Capital to get the idea off the ground.

The second goal was realized when the former dean of innovation agreed to sign Kellogg up as our first customer and allowed us to take an independent study credit to focus on our app build and launch. The Zell program then took me to Israel over Spring Break and allowed me to identify additional markets to launch Instago in the future. I met former Zell alumni from Kellogg, the University of Michigan and IDC in Israel and built great connections.

In my final quarter at Kellogg, I doubled down on taking classes that were squarely focused on my interests and would add immediate value to Instago. The New Venture Launch class offered a financial grant and focused on refining pitches to fundraise by the end of the quarter. I got my most valuable piece of feedback last week from my professors, and am adapting Instago to incorporate it in our next release.

I am glad to share that Instago recently launched. After months of brainstorming and effort, we have received $20,000 in grants from Kellogg to date. Recently we also were selected as a semi-finalist for the Northwestern VentureCat competition, which awards more than $100,000 in prize money. Looking back, it couldn’t have been possible without the support from Kellogg and the Zell Program.

The One-Year program definitely was the best fit for me as it allowed me to learn the skills that I lacked and get back to the outside world and execute. I would say it also forced me to be intentional and conscious of my opportunity cost – both in time and money. As my journey at Kellogg draws to a close with fewer than 50 days until graduation day, I can say for sure it has been the most transformational year of my life.

Nakul Khanna is the co-founder of Instago, a current One-Year student, a Zell Fellow and an admissions reader. Prior to Kellogg, Nakul worked at Google and Uber in India and received a bachelor’s degree in business studies from the University of Delhi.
The Instago app can be downloaded on iOS & Android