QUEEN'S ROAD: Using GPS and Google Maps, GottaGo lists out washrooms closest to you, across restaurants, hospitals, malls, railway stations, petrol pumps and other spaces.
It is mapped out by a network of volunteers as well as trainees and interns working with its developers StartupGarage Ventures. Mumbai, Pune, Delhi NCR and Chennai are the other cities that currently benefit from the app.
Though the Android app was only launched last week, Kunal Sheth, working from Mumbai and Delhi, hit upon this idea, thanks to personal experiences since 2010.
“Back then, my niece was four, and I remember an emergency situation,” he says. That’s when he and a few others worked on a website called p911.in. “The ‘p’ was obvious, and 911 because that’s what you dial for emergency in the US,” he goes on to explain.
However, this didn’t really click the way he had hoped: “For one, not many Indians associate 911 to emergencies, but we thought the foreigners would respond.”
Looking back later, he realised that people are unlikely to go to a website and look up loos in case of an emergency. So after smartphone use had increased in the cities, last year, Kunal thought he should explore the potential of an app, capitalising on the functions of Google Maps.
“First thing, when I spoke to some girls in the team, they said that they would not instal p-anything on their phones, so we did a survey, and ‘GottaGo’ was suggested by a 14-year-old,” he says, adding that he and his team worked on three iterations before coming up with the current version.
“We wanted to minimise the clicks, so now, one tap and you have it.”
With the change of name, the purview of the app also increases, he says. “The name is general enough for me to include other services as well — delivery, for example,” he says. In the early days of the Internet, during the late 1990s, he had started a website for online grocery shopping. Like its restroom service variant, it was ahead of its times. Now, though, Kunal is looking at expanding the services, but doesn’t wish to share specifics yet.
Talking of expansion, the start-up is also studying travel patterns in the country, and will include two more cities in a couple of months.
The app allows you to rate the washrooms you use, so that the developers can keep it up-to-date. “Even with our dedicated evangelists, as we call them, we can’t possibly cover the entire area, so we decided to crowdsource this,” he says.
However, before acting on negative user-feedback to take a space off the list, it has to be verified, he adds. “Since we also list stores and restaurant chains, it could be competitors who tell us that the restrooms aren’t clean, so we want to be sure before we take them off,” he says.
From what they’ve heard, the app has been useful to women and children. “I had heard that women need clean restrooms because of the risk of infection. But a pregnant woman needs better, a woman from Chennai who was carrying told me.” So now the they are planning to make doubly sure that only the cleanest washrooms are listed.
Meanwhile, they have also filed an RTI petition for data on government-run toilets, free as well as pay-and-use ones, so these too might soon be included. “But the trick is that we have to make sure they are clean,” says Kunal.
Point out to him that the app sometimes makes the closest restrooms seem farther than they are because of one-ways, and he says that the team is working on it. “Maybe we could ask users if they are walking or driving,” he says.