For travel itinerary portal, TripHobo, the journey’s just begun. At present, it has 25,000 itinerary plans listed and provides information on 250 cities. It also has 1.5 lakh unique visitors per month and by next fiscal, it is looking to scale that number up to 2 million unique users
DIVYA M. CHANDRAMOULI
When best friends turn business partners, the dynamics is always challenging yet very interesting. It’s no different at TripHobo, a travel itinerary portal, founded by Praveen Kumar, Karthik Ramachandra and Saket Newaskar, who met on their first job recruitment with HCL Technologies in 2010. “We enjoyed working in a vibrant environment, one that was very encouraging of entrepreneurs,” states Newaskar while adding that the trio was passionate about travel and technology. “As we were exploring opportunities to startup, we identified a need-gap in the online travel space. While there were a few players dealing in bookings, there was a dearth of providers who compiled information in a structured fashion for users. “We worked on a proof of concept for an itinerary planner and showed it to a few angel investors,” says Newaskar. Post procuring seed funding of about US $ 400,000 from an angel investor, the founders established Pune-based JoGuru Inc. (parent company of TripHobo) in 2012. The company contemplated naming its portal JoGuru (a coming together of journey and guru) but while the name was quirky, its significance was lost on the target audience. “We brainstormed over possible options for a name and our mandate was to come up with something that would help us be a global brand,” says Newaskar while explaining that TripHobo seemed to resonate best with users and investors alike. At present, the portal has 1.5 lakh unique users per month of which 40 per cent are from the U.S. while Europe accounts for 25 per cent and South-East Asia for another 20 percent. By the next fiscal, the company would like to push that monthly number up to two million unique users. To aid this effort and to scale content and build on technology, TripHobo raised its Series A of US $ 3.5 million (Rs. 20 crore) from Kalaari Capital in June 2014.
Investing in detail
TripHobo curates the data that is available on the portal while users create their own itineraries that can be shared with others. What’s most interesting is that ‘Itinerary Planner’ feature on the portal allows users to calculate time taken between travel destinations and this makes room for necessities like planned meals. “We allow users to add on personal addresses, even if these are not tourist destinations, just as long as they can be located on a map online,” says Newaskar. The portal also provides critical information such as opening and closing times of attractions, ticket prices and available means of public transport. “Unlike other portals that make recommendations based solely on pricing, our approach is a bit more holistic and also looks at a traveller’s convenience,” states Newaskar.
Speaking of competition, Newaskar believes that the company faces direct competition from Mygola.com in India while Tripomatic.com and Roadtrippers.com compete with it in the international markets. And he also states that TripHobo’s philosophy to accommodate every traveller’s needs is what sets it apart. “We cater to the traveller who is very detailed in his/her approach and the other type who just wants a quick gist of options. We also go beyond descriptions and work out the logistics based on facts,” says Newaskar. He also talks of TripHobo’s user-friendly platform and the assist technology that it uses. “Our technology uses a ‘Theory of Constraints’-based algorithm to work out the most optimum itinerary for a user,” adds Newaskar.
Challenging the situation
One of the initial challenges the founders had to face was, cutting past the bureaucracy that exists in India. “What would take a day or so in the U.S. took us three months to do in India,” rues Newaskar while recounting his experience with registering a private limited company. Hiring is still far from easy as finding the right fit is difficult. “People are less startup averse these days but it’s not easy to find people who can handle the break-neck speed of operations at an evolving startup,” admits Newaskar. However, he’s quick to add that TripHobo faces much less of a problem with attrition. “We are focused on performance delivery and are very flexible as an organisation,” says Newaskar while elaborating that the company has no structured leave policy and allows employees to work from home. “We also issue bonuses when people meet a target before the given deadline,” he adds.
The company also heeds the advice of its investors especially when it comes to making strategic decisions. “Even with simpler tasks such as hiring the right public relations firm or the right mobile app designer we have benefited from using their network,” says Newaskar.
Travelling the road ahead
Today, TripHobo has 25,000 itinerary plans listed and provides information on 250 cities. “In the near future, we want to cover up to 3,000 cities globally,” says an ambitious Newaskar. And for when the company does compile and curate information on a much larger scale, its technology will need an equivalent upgrade. The company is also looking to grow its team from the current strength of 20 full-time employees to 30. As for gaining user traction and reaching its goal of two million users by the next fiscal, TripHobo is relying on solid word-of-mouth referrals, search engine optimisation and social media. It also participates in several travel and tourism meets. In fact, in November 2014, the founders are set to launch an Android-based mobile app at the Travel Innovation Summit in Los Angeles, U.S. “Nearly 25 per cent to 30 per cent of our user traffic is on mobile and we want to provide them with the same experience and ease as our desktop users,” says Newaskar. While monetising in terms of advertising, sponsorship and product placement is on the cards, the portal is not looking to go into direct bookings anytime soon.
Looking to the future, Newaskar and the team at TripHobo have set out to be the first name in travel across all digital platforms. The bar’s set high and time will tell if TripHobo will scale those expectations.
JOGURU INC. (TRIPHOBO)
Founders: Praveen Kumar, Karthik Ramachandra and Saket Newaskar
Concept: A structured travel itinerary plan portal
Investors: Kalaari Capital
Current Reach: 1.5 lakh unique users per month, 25,000 itinerary plans and information on 250 cities
Estimated Reach: 3,000 cities in future, and 2 million unique users by FY15Kalaari Capital travel itinerary travel startup TripHobo