DraVA – disrupting the disrupters

  • Scoring and mentors enable driver improvement via app
  • Potentially disruptive telematics-driven partnership with insurer

DraVA – disrupting the disrupters

IN the Ask Your Target Market (AYTM) poll that DraVA Driving Coach co-founders Koh Mui Han and Shanmuga Pillaiyan (pix) conducted in Malaysia last year, 87% of the 200 people polled considered themselves good drivers and had a consistent perception that the others on the road were bad drivers.

According to Koh and Shanmuga, this perception largely stems from the fact that there is a lack of objective means to gauge how safely people really do drive. “The first step in the journey to improve one’s driving is to realise and acknowledge that you are not driving safely. This is why we came up with the DraVA Driving Coach app to monitor driver behaviour,” says Koh, who is chief executive officer of Change Dynamics Sdn Bhd, which owns DraVA.

DraVA Driving Coach is an app that runs in the background while the user drives. It monitors speed, braking and other driving behaviour such as swerving, usual routes taken and driving time to enable assessment of risky behaviour and traffic violations and scores the drivers on key indicators. The app also allows a link to another person - a ‘mentor’ such as a parent – who can see the scores and information on driving behaviour.

The app is free with in-app purchases, such as the geo-location function, acting as a revenue stream.

However, the real catalyst behind the co-founders’ interest in driving safety and development of the app was a tragic road accident that claimed the lives of two old friends. The incident had quite an impact on the co-founders, and triggered not only their research on driving behaviour but also their journey to better understand the startup world and how they could make the idea for the app a reality.

Koh and Shanmuga attended the MaGIC Mega Startup Weekend in May 2016, a weekend workshop run by the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre, where they went through market validation exercises.

“Our research showed there was a genuine need for this tool – road accidents are consistently happening in Malaysia and it’s a big problem. We genuinely believe that if we start profiling drivers, people will become better drivers. That’s the end game,” says Koh.


Koh and Shanmuga are targeting DraVA at young drivers as they believe that this is where the most impact can be achieved. Besides the higher likelihood of adoption of the technology among young people, there is the fact that it is easier to inculcate the right driving behaviour in new drivers than change the habits of older drivers. Further, this is the group that they believe needs the app most: the Malaysian Road Safety Plan 2014-2020 states that the age group involved in the highest number of road accident fatalities is 21-25 year olds followed by 16-20 year olds and 26-30 year olds.

The DraVA app will allow young drivers to self-monitor and improve their own driving habits and also allow parents to monitor the driving behaviour of their children who have just learned how to drive.

Of course, anyone can use the app. Koh says that users include people who want to monitor the driving of a younger sibling or aged parents.

This mentor-mentee link has opened up more opportunities for DraVA – it has recently entered into a partnership with Safety Driving School, one of the largest driving schools in Selangor. The DraVA app will act as a value-added option for both students and the school.

Shanmuga explains that instructors registered as mentors will have a clear record of all lessons conducted and will be able to track students’ progress through the app. As the app allows multiple mentors, parents can also track their children’s progress and be assured that they are competent drivers by the time they are tested.

Not-so-sexy disruption

The partnership with the driving school also means that DraVA will be able to collect a large amount of data from users, which will benefit the app – machine learning and data science will allow it to improve scoring within the app.

It will also contribute to another project and potential partnership with an insurance provider that DraVA is working on. This dive into telematics-based insurance is timely because of the proposed phased de-tariffication of the local general insurance industry that has created the need for vast amounts of data on driving behaviour for insurers to use to create insurance policies.

And while Malaysia’s proposed de-tariffication has attracted myriad telematics players, both established companies and startups, Koh claims DraVA has a leg up over all of them simply because it is a software play. Currently, all other telematics systems involve installing some kind of hardware into cars to collect data, which involves high costs. Because DraVA is an app and data can be obtained from a wide range of drivers, costs are minimal while results are big.

At the moment, DraVA’s conversation with insurers is in terms of an exclusive partnership that involves both parties working together to jointly develop the insurance products. Koh and Shanmuga stress that they are not out to make money from the insurers or tap into their current market. Instead, DraVA is able to offer insurers access to previously untapped markets, such as driving schools, and to potential clients, such as new drivers using the app.

The founders admit that both getting funding and getting insurers interested has been challenging because they are pushing into a traditional industry with little interest in innovation.

“Disrupting this industry is not as sexy as disrupting retail, an industry that is seen as a low-hanging fruit. And we are disrupting the disrupters,” says Shanmuga. The telematics device players were seen as disruptors within the insurance industry but DraVA feels their model is not sustainable because of device cost, an unsolvable equation. “A lot of them got their funding by playing the IoT card,” he explains.

Koh and Shanmuga do, however, have hope that DraVA will succeed in the space. Koh says that the insurers are not too far away from understanding what DraVA can offer them. “Although those players started earlier than us and have more funding, none of them has sealed a deal with an insurance company yet. In that sense we feel validated to say where we are at an equal footing to them.”

Once DraVA does seal a partnership with an insurance provider, it is looking at a win-win situation: “Together we will develop a product that doesn’t yet exist, the insurer doesn’t have to share data with a competitor, and DraVa identifies new target markets for them,” explains Koh.

This sounds like a perfect idea and would certainly work in an ideal world, but the challenge that DraVA and local insurers face is that nobody knows how to analyse and translate the data into a workable insurance policy. This is something that has to be worked out. 

“Realistically we have to get this done by the middle of the year,” says Koh. Shanmuga adds that DraVA’s other projects – working with driving schools and putting together a driving safety campaign in schools will run parallel to this.

Ready markets

The DraVA team is no stranger to hard work and growth; the app was launched and improvements made within six months of ideation and the MaGIC workshop. Koh attributes part of the initial growth to the MDEC Fintech Bootcamp it participated in, in September 2016, where it leveraged on networking opportunities and learnings from experts.

DraVA has had no external funding – though it is driving for funding - and is running very lean, both in the money sense and in product improvement. Shanmuga, who is chief technical officer, says that the app is being continuously improved based on user feedback. “In that sense we are quite agile. This kind of continuous improvement is part of our product development.”

Besides the potential insurance partnership, DraVA is looking to recruit more driving schools into its fold – 10 schools in the Klang Valley in next few months. There are also regional plans; DraVA was asked to think regional at the bootcamp.

“There are few markets that share the same problems as Malaysia - Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam,” says Koh.  DraVA has no intentions to go into Singapore for a few reasons: there are few drivers, drivers are more disciplined in terms of road safety and cost of operations is high.

“If we don’t get funding, there’s no point burning our dollars there. There are more ready markets for us where the DraVA concept will work very well,” he says.

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