Madhukar Borse has been driving an auto-rickshaw in Pune, India since 1997. He used to earn about $10 a day–until last year, when he doubled his wages. The difference? Working for Autowale, a startup that’s organizing the chaotic world of motorized rickshaws, starting with Pune, a city of 7.5 million. With a quick call or tap on an app, Autowale sends a driver to your location for pickup. At a cost that’s 25% to 50% less than a cab, it’s Uber for the common man.
And maybe a tad smarter than the San Francisco-based ride-sharing service that now operates in 14 Asia-Pacific countries. Yes, Uber overshadows Autowale–it’s in ten Indian cities to Autowale’s one; its annual revenue, at $1 billion-plus, swamps Autowale’s expected $1 million this year. But the Indian startup has shown more flexibility in dealing with customers and regulators. “We work to change the ecosystem without challenging the system,” says Janardan Prasad, a cofounder of Autowale (Hindi for “auto driver”).
Auto-rickshaw travel is a $10-billion-a-year business in India–but highly disorganized and inefficient. Flagging down a driver and haggling for a good price are a bother for passengers; hanging around a street corner waiting for customers makes for an unpredictable living. So Prasad and Mukesh Jha, both 34 and engineers from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur who had worked abroad during their 20s, decided to tackle the problem with algorithms.
Check out the full story at Forbes.com or in the print edition of Forbes Asia December 2014 edition.