Inspired by unreliable school buses, a fifty-year-old mother founded a $1.3 billion firm. “Aha!” moment struck.

By flymultimediaghana Mar12,2024
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The seasoned software product manager at firms like eBay and Oracle had to go into crisis mode and abandon all work if her children’s transportation plans fell through.

Inspired by unreliable school buses, a fifty-year-old mother founded a $1.3 billion firm. "Aha!" moment struck.
Inspired by unreliable school buses, a fifty-year-old mother founded a $1.3 billion firm. “Aha!” moment struck.

She eventually decided to pause her work in order to raise her four children after reflecting on her own mother, a former teacher in India who had dealt with the same issue decades earlier.

The solution Narayan came up with was to quit her job and start Zum, an AI-powered electric school bus service that debuted in 2015. Initially, it functioned something like a self-funded Uber, using a group of approved private drivers to transport children to school. Using Zum’s app, parents scheduled rides in advance and monitored their child’s whereabouts.

Parental culture in the Bay Area soon embraced it. According to Narayan, 50, “the demand was super clear,” CNBC Make It reports.

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Then, in 2019, she requested that a few nearby schools tell parents about Zum. Rather, the schools proposed to hire Zum as a fleet of privatized school buses equipped with tracking and electric vehicles.

Narayan had to make a decision: follow through with her mother’s initial idea, which had a distinct market and strong demand. or fully restructure Zum’s infrastructure and services before going up against more established, bigger bus companies?

Since school buses are used by almost 25 million students in the United States, the consumer base would be larger. But pursuing them might cause her business to fail.

She accepted the chance. After five years, Zum is estimated to be worth $1.3 billion, and on Wednesday, Narayan was added to the first-ever CNBC Changemakers list. According to Narayan, the business has contracts worth more than $1.5 billion with more than 4,000 private and public schools in California, Washington, Texas, Illinois, Tennessee, and Maryland.

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Here, Narayan talks about how she came to that tough decision, why it worked out, and what advise she would provide to anyone who is faced with a decision that seems to be pitting emotion against reason.

Narayan: Because there was a personal tale connected to the foundation story, it took me a while—roughly eight months. I was sitting here in the heart of Silicon Valley, the epicenter of innovation, facing the very same challenge that my mother had in India.

I was aware that working parents’ lives were being transformed by Zum’s initial model. Working women would write to us describing how they returned to work, began to advance more (since they were not rushing home at 4 p.m. to pick up their kids), and received promotions.

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