Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Monsoon Maintenance: Roof For Two Goes After Indian Market

If you see a couple of guys riding around on a motorcycle with a weird contraption over their heads, don’t worry, it’s not the latest fraternity hazing ritual. You might have caught a glimpse of a local startup testing out what could be a very global product. Especially if it’s raining.

Boston-based Roof For Two is developing a collapsible, detachable roof that can be pulled over a motorcycle in a few seconds to protect the rider(s) from heavy rain. Yes, it’s kind of a quirky idea. But it just might work. The seven-person startup, which is a finalist in the MassChallenge incubator program, came out of Tufts University, where it won first place in the Tufts $100K business plan competition this spring.

The idea came from founder and CEO Karan Randhawa, a native of New Delhi, India, and a recent Tufts grad. He was working in New Delhi and noticed that his colleagues were coming in sopping wet during monsoon season. Many people there rely on motor bikes to commute, yet there isn’t much they can do to shield themselves from the incessant rain except to use a poncho, umbrella, or other improvised method (see photo above). So Roof For Two is targeting Indian consumers exclusively for now.

The company’s bike roof is designed to protect up to two riders from the top, sides, and back, says co-founder Max Pinto, who serves as chief marketing officer. Pinto says the material is “very lightweight,” and the system is designed to be safe for speeds of up to about 100 kilometers per hour (and maybe faster in the future).

Roof For Two has just filed a provisional patent on the technology. Until now, it has been pretty cagey about the details. The startup is in the process of finishing its third prototype and has been testing and tweaking various models—hence the bike rides around the Boston area. (The team bought a motorcycle that resembles the most popular bike in India to do its tests here.)

Pinto might not have the best last name to represent a transportation-related company (as those of us alive in the ‘70s will attest), but he makes up for it with his drive, enthusiasm, and general worldliness. He’s a native of France and has lived in the U.S. and Argentina. And he says the Tufts competition, entrepreneurship classes, and all-night work sessions helped the team learn how to craft its business plan and better understand the market it is going after.

The dynamics of the Indian market make it “drastically different from how you would market to Americans,” Pinto says. “They think differently,” he says, pointing out that the Indian middle class is broken up into many tiers, and each has a distinct mentality. (He didn’t get into specifics yet about how the company will sell its hardware to the different tiers, but I presume that as usual, it’s about understanding the problems of each customer and solving them in a reliable and affordable way.) About his current incubator experience, he says MassChallenge is “fantastic” and has opened a lot of doors for the startup.

By late August or early September, Roof For Two plans to build about 25 prototypes and ship them off to Delhi, where Randhawa is based, for consumer testing. If all goes well, the company will then look for a first round of outside investment to help it produce 100 to 200 prototypes for further testing.

For now, the startup has a simple goal, which is reflected in its tag line: “making monsoons manageable.”

By the way, it looks like rain is expected in Boston on Sunday and Monday. So keep your eyes peeled.

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