Planning international tours are not easy, especially for those who’re set to hit foreign shore for the very first time. People browse multiple websites to satiate this hunger for personalization of their international vacation. This information overload cripples planning efforts and slows things down.
Meanwhile, if they knocked on the doors of travel agents, people end up with templated itineraries, hidden costs and boring vacations. Mired by lack of personalizations in the travel space, Hari Ganapathy and Srinath Shankar encountered many hiccups during self-planned tour to Europe in the summer of 2013.
Germination of the idea
In Paris, the duo observed, alike them, other groups of tourists went through many exploration hassles; they felt there was an unmet need to let folks discover new lands at their own pace and style.
Back from vacation, the team of two realized that pain they experienced was same for many who visit on their own or fall prey to poor itineraries. “We felt an urge to build an online platform for personalized itineraries,” says Ganapathy.
Four months later, in December 2013, they launched Pickyourtrail. The platform allows travellers to either customise their own trip or buy packages from Online Travel Agents (OTAs). “Our motive is to get folks to stop touring and start travelling,” adds Ganapathy.
Core problem: lack of personalization in travel planning
In a vacation, there are two parts to personalization. First is the itinerary — the choice of cities, order of cities, what you do within each city et al — and second comes the choice of hotels, flights and other mode of transports.
“In our research, we found that most travellers browse at least 38 sites to make their international vacations more personalised,” mentions Ganapathy. The information overload impacts planning and slows down the entire process.
OTAs were established a decade ago when mass customization was a key to scale. Scale with personalization was unheard of and hence, most of their current offerings are still legacy solutions.
How Pickyourtrail is different from existing solutions
The advantage Pickyourtrail holds is that it focuses on solving core problems of itineraries through personalization algorithm. “The goal is to nail down the itinerary personalization problem. In fact, the least matching score for an itinerary that we have seen on our platform was as high as 89 per cent,” adds Ganapathy.
With Pickyourtrail one can build and book a personalised itinerary in less than 10 minutes. The company forged partnerships with industry veterans like Amadeus, Expedia and TripAdvisor to ensure that the customer has the best of offerings to choose from.
Pickyourtrail has built a proprietary algorithm to solve a couple of pressing problems for travellers.
The platform matches user interest with its database of activities and attractions to create a personalised route of journey.
The algorithm parses through close to 40000 data points like the best time to visit, timing, interest, location, time of day, open and close timings, and combines this with the platform’s metadata before stitching the itinerary together. It also has APIs for flights, hotels and activities to give you the best options at competitive prices.
Reaching $8 million ARR in 4 years
Since 2014, the company claims to have been growing over 120 per cent year-on-year basis with 2000 plus trails, 5000 travellers and 60 per cent repeat and referral customers.
The company is profitable from day one. “We have a clear understanding of the unit economics and we’re on road to hit $8 million ARR by the end of this year,” adds Ganapathy.
So far, the company is completely bootstrapped. When asked why Pickyourtrail didn’t raise any capital, Ganapathy explains, “It is important to realise the need for money. For instance, if you look at folks who have raised money in the travel space – either they need money to invest in assets (Treebo) or build networks that require heavy discounting (Travel Triangle),” says Ganapathy.
He stresses that these businesses would continue to evolve as they try and piece together clear unit economics. “In contrast – our business model was a well-established model offline – that of travel agents,” he adds.
Having cracked the unit economics of the model, Pickyourtrail has managed to build a team of 45 folks while continuing to be bootstrapped. “Our focus is currently to get the right board of advisors, who can take guide us to the next 10X growth,” adds Ganapathy.
Pickyourtrail is bringing vacations online. This is similar to the times when leading OTAs like MMT were trying to get folks to book tickets online. The company will be launching itinerary guides by end of this quarter. “Most of the online content is scattered and with guides we are trying to make it easier for folks to discover content that is relevant to their taste and style,” signs off Ganapathy.