FOUNDER STORIES: Sujoy Purkayastha, tuktuk
By Julie Jung
Who is Sujoy Purkayastha?
Sujoy Purkayastha is a computer science and math major at The University of Texas at Austin. His hometown is Plano, Texas.
In 2019, taking the Longhorn Startup Seminar & Lab courses with Mellie Price and Joshua Baer helped Sujoy get connected to the Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center. This experience provided him with many great insights and community, especially guest lectures from local Austin entrepreneurs detailing their experiences and perseverance with the development of their ventures. It was intriguing to Sujoy to have a shared experience with founders in their respective fields. Longhorn Startup inspired Sujoy to dive deep into the world of entrepreneurship. The singular moment that convinced him to become a founder was attending the annual Austin Startup Crawl at Capital Factory, “it really set off a spark in me.”
So what is tuktuk?
tuktuk is a carpooling platform founded by Sujoy and fellow UT Austin student, Akif Abidi. tuktuk aims to provide affordable and convenient rides for students to popular Austin hot spots.
After being fortunate enough to have access to friends’ cars during his freshman year, Sujoy noticed a decrease in his travel when he no longer had access to personal transportation in Austin. While Capital Metro offers many bus routes across Austin, time restrictions and inconveniences still exist. Additionally, pre-existing rideshareing platforms such as Uber or Lyft are unaffordable for UT Austin students on their college budgets.
The tuktuk team discovered that many UT students travel to common destinations such as downtown, Zilker Park, Hyde Park, and others. Sujoy, as a CS major, believed that creating a new new kind of ridesharing platform that operated on high traffic routes would be an impactful service for UT Austin students and other people in the Austin Metro region. He thought it would also be a great opportunity to learn about app development through practical application. What started as a side project soon became a committed job because of the unique entrepreneurial learning opportunities and constant acquisition of new skill sets the project demanded.
During the Spring 2020 semester, the impact of COVID-19, ended up providing Sujoy some silver-linings as he realized that this project could become something much bigger. It “gave me time to develop and understand the market of transportation and just how people transport themselves specifically in the city of Austin,” Sujoy says.
Experience with the HKEC Forty-Acres Founders Pre-Accelerator Program and McCombs Entrepreneur Summer Fellowship
The Forty Acres Founders Pre-Accelerator Program provided Sujoy a different outlook on entrepreneurship because it presented a linear format for startup development that gave students with projects in different industries and starting points a process to follow. The program helped Sujoy answer questions such as “Have you reached product market fit?” or “What is the real problem, pain point, and solution?” Forty Acres Founders was essential to Sujoy in giving him the confidence to pivot and re-evaluate errors with his approach and platform.
Ultimately, participating in the program gave him courage to seek out peers and mentors and begin networking in the Austin community. As a new developer, he found it to be nerve-wracking to talk to people about his product at times. However, his passion for his project helped him have meaningful discussions about potential users’ transportation experiences, identify a common set of places where most UT Austin students travel, and gain more software knowledge. His approach was to focus on a niche thing, learn enough, and then execute.
The McCombs Entrepreneur Summer Fellowship (MESF) also helped Sujoy and his team focus on developing a formal business plan. Despite numerous surprise costs, having the fellowship helped keep the project afloat and narrow focus to solely on developing the MVP (minimum viable product).
Furthermore, the MESF was integral to the progressing of the platform’s finance and research aspects. Sujoy initially undervalued the importance of research in the early stages of his venture, but the fellowship gave him the opportunity to take a step back and analyze real user problems and how exactly tuktuk could solve them. To Sujoy, it was a “necessary shift to push back computer science tendencies to just launch and pause to think critically.”
What other HKEC and UT resources have you used?
Having zero experience with legal related matters, HKEC Entrepreneurs-in-Residence Law Clinic office hours helped Sujoy pinpoint potential legal hurdles, and prevented the team from several legal issues found later on, such as commercial insurance and user safety. This experience helped the team pivot to suggestion accommodations and prevent damage claims.
HKEC Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Matt Thomas, was a great mentor for the tuktuk Team. When preparing his application for the Forty-Acres Founders Final Pitch, having an experienced entrepreneur’s expertise and outsider perspective was crucial to Sujoy’s final application.
Additionally, MBA student Chaitanya Pawan, an HKEC Graduate Assistant, provided the tuktuk Team with lacking knowledge in market analysis and problem analysis, tools that proved to be instrumental in tuktuk’s progress through the Forty Acres Founders course.
What’s next for Sujoy and tuktuk?
Working on this venture has provided Sujoy with many unique opportunities. He showcased his entrepreneurial drive and demonstrated experience building tuktuk during his interview with DELL and landed his first corporate internship. The risk-taking aspect of startups and time management demonstrated his abilities as an independently driven and hard working individual.
After two years of pandemic-related setbacks, tuktuk is excited to begin the first trial run in September 2021 and have a small badge of drivers working with them on the trial routes.
As for Sujoy’s personal plans, he is preparing to enter the job force while also continuing to move tuktuk forwards. He is currently applying for incubators and accelerators with Sputnik ATX and Y Combinator.
Pointers for current students that are looking to pursue entrepreneurship?
Just do it; there are a lot of people fearing failure. Sujoy says “the great thing about startups is the fact that there’s nothing lost if you fail.” He suggests actively applying for a pitch competition. “The ride is never over in the UT entrepreneurship community-it’s not like football season.” The more you pursue it, the more opportunities will come to you.
When asked if he considers himself an entrepreneur and what entrepreneurship means to him, Sujoy replied, “I see myself as a full time student and entrepreneur. An entrepreneur to me is someone who operates and manages a business and takes a significant amount of risk when creating a business. For me, it’s quite exciting because there’s more to gain than lose. That’s why I’m enjoying the journey so far.”