“I like to travel a lot and manage a quick getaway once a quarter. But someone who owns a travel website ought to travel a lot more,” jokes Aloke Bajpai, CEO and co-founder of ixigo.com, a travel planning and search engine. For Bajpai, taking a holiday means soaking up what nature has to offer, enjoying some time alone with his wife and two-year-old son. He also likes to absorb the local culture and goes off the beaten track to mingle with the community. While he owns a travel site, his wife is an active contributor in planning their holidays, which is done at least a month in advance.
I got some unforgettable nuggets of wisdom from my Prof (Late) Patrick Turner. He taught me entrepreneurship and used to tell me never run out of cash. I cherish that advice. He was also mentor and our angel investor.
An electrical engineering alumnus from IIT-Kanpur and an MBA graduate from INSEAD, Bajpai worked for Amadeus SAS, a France-based travel reservation company that serves airlines and travel companies across the world, between 2001 and 2004. He was part of the team that built the world’s first web-based cruise-line booking engine for agencies. During this period, Bajpai and his partner, Rajnish Kumar (who also worked for Amadeus) realised that the Internet was beginning to impact the travel distribution space and soon a number of websites would mushroom for people to transact from. “As a result, it is hard to understand if one is getting the best deal,” says Bajpai. After performing the same search on multiple platforms – online agencies, airlines websites, hotels – the founding duo understood the importance of aggregating the data in one place. They decided to aggregate all available data and provide a real time interface for comparing prices and information thereby saving money and time.
Before setting up ixigo.com and soon after he completed his management degree in 2005, Bajpai worked in a mid-sized travel company called FinalQuadrant Solutions in India. After working there for about eight months, he understood the dynamics of the travel market in India. “Companies in various travel spaces like yatra.com were coming up alongside new airlines. We knew that there would be multiple places where consumers would look for information and the pain point for a consumer would be in finding out where to look for best information to make smarter travel decisions. That’s how we got this idea and set up the company,” says Bajpai.
ixigo.com is a travel planning search engine that aggregates and curates travel information for people in India. It caters to the diverse information needs of travellers, aiding them through the entire travel planning process – from when they start to consider destinations to when they go ahead and make their bookings. Incorporated in 2007 and backed by industry leaders, in August 2011, ixigo.com received an investment to the tune of US $18.5 million from SAIF Partners and Makemytrip.com. Earlier, in 2008, ixigo.com received its first-round of financing from BAF Spectrum Pte Ltd, a leading Singapore-based investment firm.
Developing the right attitude
Bajpai likes to start his day with me-time with his toddler and once refreshed, he heads to work. “What excites me daily is the feeling of what’s new out there. Our analytics solution shows what’s happened the previous day in terms of traction, downloads, users, products and revenue,” shares Bajpai.
Currently, Bajpai takes care of the overall operations of the company including marketing, support and human resources while Rajnish Kumar handles the product and technology aspect of operations. Bajpai manages a team of almost 100 members, out of which the core team is around 50, including the team that validates data and information.
The founders have consciously built a culture that encourages people to take risks. “Our engineers come up with ideas and implement its short prototypes. It is about making people take small risks and, if it works, place bigger bets on them,” shares Bajpai. The company’s road trip app and train app is an outcome of this approach.
“Our meta search is largely based on our own experiences as a traveller. We are not in the business of selling tickets; we are in the business of delivering actionable information that is unbiased, transparent and consumer friendly,” he states. The company’s revenues come from advertising and lead generation to third party websites.
The company’s marketing is also word-of-mouth, organic and, ideally, viral. Social media is a very important tool for ixigo.com and it has almost one million followers on Facebook and Google Plus. The company posts engaging content on its social media platform. For example, it recently posted a video called Travel Hack, which showed people how to pack luggage more effectively. This video got 10 million views and went viral. “This also helps us reinforce our brand image as a neutral and unbiased source for travel information. The fact that we keep sharing inspirational travel details also means that people come back to us,” says Bajpai.
More recently, the company expanded its scope beyond meta search to itinerary creation and planning an entire trip on the site. It also puts in a lot of effort on content marketing.
ixigo.com takes feedback from its users seriously. “We receive almost 300 emails daily and these are not always positive,” admits Bajpai. The company responds to any feedback within 48 hours. While Bajpai agrees that ixigo.com is not in the business of selling anything, he acknowledges feedback as a very important connect with its consumers.
Exploring a world of ideas
Bajpai is an avid traveller who has travelled to destinations like Portugal, Grottos, seaside caves of Algarve, Germany, Paris and Coonoor and experiences from here have helped him come up with some ideas for ixigo.com. He recalls a recent one. Whenever Bajpai travels, he avoids staying in five-star hotels and prefers independent boutique villas. And that’s how he understood their pain points. “In India 90 per cent of bookings are still not happening online. They come in as phone calls or emails and it is not easy for them to manage that,” says Bajpai. He continues, “However, these owners want to know how to get more relevant people to approach them and drive more walk-ins, which are the easiest to convert. For most of them, almost 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the customers are still walk in customers.” ixigo is working on a solution for these owners.
Ratings and reviews is another area where the company has done some work. “There are many sites which have reviews of hotels. We aggregated them, assigned a weighted average rating and did a semantic analytics of all of those reviews,” says Bajpai.
Bajpai believes that there is a huge number of travellers who do not get served by what today’s online travel portals have to offer. With a strong passion for travel coupled with the need to address the woes of a traveller, Bajpai and his co-founder, are all set to ensure ixigo.com remains relevant to a traveller from itinerary creation to sharing of photographs and reviews.ixigo.com Makemytrip.com Saif Partners travel startup