From Bloomberg to Travel bug: Roomorama's journey

By Archana Sudhendranath|27th Jun 2013
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Roomo
Jia En Teo and Fedrico Folia, were living and working in New York, at Bloomberg, when the travel bug bit them. The couple would sub-let their apartment and rent a similar arrangement during their travels. It met two of their needs: living in someone’s apartment when they travelled gave them a local and homely feel to the place and secondly, it subsidised their travel.

There were a few hiccups in plan though: the process was cumbersome, there was always an element of uncertainty, besides lack of safely assurance in payment methods. During their travels they had met several people who traveled similarly. The duo put the two links together, realized there was a big enough market of travellers who wanted an in-between option to the fancy hotels and hostels and thus was born Roomorama in 2009.

The company name, interestingly comes from the 70s trend, where the process of automating anything was suffixed with '-orama'.

‘one wrong choice in the beginning cost us heavily’

“The beginning was the toughest”, begin Jia, reminiscing the difficult times. Three months into the launch, an employee, their developer, slapped a lawsuit on the company, over equity, which under the terms of contract had to vest in him over time. The duo were embroiled in the suit for almost 2 years which naturally hampered the growth and also forced to bootstrap all along. “It made us to learn quickly and plan budgets very carefully”, smiles Jia.

She admits it was a wrong hire, which they rushed into, in their eagerness to get the product off the ground. What kept her going then? “Our conviction in the product and of course a good business partner can help you tide through such situations”, she says of her business partner and husband, Fedrico.

NY-apt-2
At the end of 2010, when the lawsuit was settled, Jia and Fedrico decided to shift the business to Singapore. Besides the change they wanted on a personal level, they saw a huge potential in Asia and their new CTO was looking at moving to Singapore.

“The initial two years, we didn't have any staff, the team included 5 people and we managed the whole process right from scouting properties, calls/emails to people very manually”, says Jia.

'Differentiating factor is important'

Their differentiating factor, they decides would be instant confirmations. To provide this, the company started working with large property management systems who could provide real time updates on property prices and availability.

Romoramma currently lists over 100k properties around the world including Asia, Europe and the US.

Jia credits Singapore for being business friendly and a providing an english speaking workforce. That the startup community is growing so well here is their added bonus. "Couple of years back, [tue community] wasn't so vibrant. There were a few big events, but nothing informal like the walkabout, founders drinks, where you can meet potential partners", she says.

'Growth depends on many factors'

While the concept of staying in an alternative to a hotel is a still new in Asia, Jia says factors such as increase in budget airline and more people traveling with friends (who prefer living in one apartment rather than getting several rooms) and hotels becoming increasingly expensive are contributing to their growth'. "Thats our target audience, working professionals, who are looking for mid-range accommodation. We don't cater to budget travellers/backpackers", she asserts.

Another major distinction she draws with the European and US markets are, Asian hesitance to transact online.

The website sees a traction of 450-500k people visiting every month and the average nights booked is between 9-10, indicating that people possibly prefer apartments over hotels for longer travels. The company monetizes the business through a booking fee on every transaction.

The biggest challenge for the business has been 'getting rid of the couch surfing hangover people have as soon as they think of apartment booking during travel'.

Speaking of their market in India, Jia says its still at a nascent stage since people still largely prefer staying at hotels or with relatives when they travel.

Their ambitions growth plan includes building a footprint in Asia and they are targeting a listing of 20k properties in the region and are also focused on actively marketing the company online.

The company has already raised angel funding, besides a merger with Europe and US based Lofty early last year and a VC round of $2.75 million thereafter. They are currently looking at raising more funding to help with their expansion.

Read more about the Indian startups in Travel space here.

archana@yourstory.in

 

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