Event manager turned tech entrepreneur - Singapore’s Krystal Choo on starting ZipTrip
Krystal Choo has always had an entrepreneur in her. After studying communications, media management and international business management, she started her event management company. Krystal loves traveling and once, while planning her trip, she realized that she had 20 different tabs open on her browser, had spent near to 24 hours trying to figure out the best deals but could not make a decision yet. She tried finding an easier way for planning her travel and amidst that she figured that there are many unsolved problems in the travel industry, and she had the entrepreneurial chutzpah in her to start a venture to solve this problem. Thus was born ZipTrip. Hear from Krystal about her entrepreneurial journey:Introverted event manager to hi-tech entrepreneur
I started an events management company in Singapore, which has grown and is still thriving. But my personality is rather introverted. Since childhood, I’ve been more excited by technology and gadgets, which is still the case now – I prefer that to attending and managing events. So you can imagine the events job was a bit taxing on me. After running that business for a couple of years, I sold my shares and left. I could only write simple front-end code for websites, but I thought to myself - just because I can’t code, it doesn’t mean I can’t be working in technology. Also, I’ve always felt a need to do my own thing - creating something makes me the most satisfied.
Genesis of ZipTrip
I found planning trips very hard with the existing resources – so I created ZipTrip. It started as an itinerary planner. I then went about finding my CTO who came on-board to join me in solving this problem. We met in late November last year, iterated on the app, pivoted twice, and came up with the current business model, which though is miles away from an itinerary planner but much better solution for a user’s real concerns. We got funded in June by Expara and Singapore Government. We are now approaching the end of that round and are looking for the next round of funding.
When people want a holiday, they book flights and hotels separately. As a budget-conscious traveler, you’d compare fares diligently before buying. More often than not, people do not buy the tickets on the same day – they’d think about it for a while after checking out the fare for the first time. They’ll probably talk to the people they are traveling with, discuss it, then book in a few weeks. Now, this entire process is extremely tedious. One has to input so many dates and durations to land up with cheapest travel prices during a period. Using ZipTrip, we tell you when is the best time to travel throughout the year, and we update you of all the exciting deals. So you don’t have to keep going and checking constantly; instead, the best deals come to you based on your preference. We completely automate price comparison and tracking for travelers.
Being a woman and minority in consumer tech
When I started the venture, I was completely new to consumer tech. There is a stark disparity in the representation of men and women in this industry. I choose to see being a minority and a woman as a positive thing. People are often more curious about the ‘anomalies’ and listen better. They also want to see if I have the chops and can measure up to the men. This curiosity makes networking and opening up dialogue a little easier than if I had to fight for attention like everyone else. That being said, it’s not all pretty. I have been picked on, even publicly on twitter, for no logical reason. Some conference attendees may be uncomfortable with my not fitting the norm, and have quite explicitly excluded me from group conversations. I have been at conferences where people were outright unprofessional and gossiped about me personally, to the limits where they would say ‘she has had plastic surgery’ and much more. I’ve heard similar stories from other women. I don’t see men being the target of this sort of gossip. I also get a lot of questions from people assuming I attend as a journalist or someone’s assistant, even though I’m a founder. But these experiences are uncommon – in my experience, most people are respectful and gender-agnostic, and are delightful to connect with.
On raising funding
We met 5 different private incubators; all of them had great advice and were interested in pushing us forward. When I first met Douglas, he was extremely critical when it came to reviewing our app and the processes we were following. I thought he expertise would complement and fill strategic gaps in our team – our likelihood of success would increase with him on-board. Our team currently has a great relationship with Douglas.
ZipTrip is currently in closed beta mode and we’re releasing it to larger groups in stages so that we can iron out the bigger usability issues. The next big release will be at the end of the month. We’re really excited about the launch later in the year.
Big audacious goal
My big plan is to help leisure travelers in Asia spend less time hunting for deals and more time going on holidays. And because we save them so much money without all the hassle, they could actually travel more. The encompassing goal for ZipTrip is really to change the travel industry in a way that is consumer-driven. Currently, the travel industry has a lot of legacy weighing it down. Usually when people want personalization, they go to a travel agent - but with that comes with extra fees. Sometimes the itinerary or price might not be what they want, which is why more people are going online and doing things by themselves. However, the services available online are very cumbersome, with so many steps a traveler needs to go through before they even book. ZipTrip’s plan is to make the travel industry very consumer-driven, and provide the answers to really personal, human questions via an easy-to-use interface.
Competition in the industry
Our over-arching competition includes the likes of meta-search engines like Wego and Kayak, as well as affiliates like TripAdvisor etc. Few truly target Asia, with our unique buying behavior kept in mind. However, established meta-search engines have strong relationships with suppliers, which we do not yet have as it is both time-consuming and not a core driver of our service. We do not want to take on the big players; we want to provide our users a very distinct advantage that is not available elsewhere. ZipTrip also comes in very early in the travel shopping process, way before people are ready to book; we can later redirect them to existing large players, so we like to see ourselves as partners to these existing sites. We like challenges and are excited to take them on. Right now, we are focused on innovating for our users.
Learnings as an entrepreneur
As an entrepreneur, you have to be very flexible, yet at the same time be very stubborn. The journey has been very encouraging and challenging. On one hand, you want to listen to everyone’s opinions to not be myopic. On the other hand, there is no shortage of some negative things that aren’t parallel to your vision – that’s when you have to be thick-skinned and stick to your ideas. You also need to surround yourself with healthy, knowledgeable people to ensure that you have all the support you need during this phase. Discerning between good and bad advice is very important.
You also need to have stamina and persistence to be an entrepreneur. I am not from the travel industry, but I am building a travel app. To many people that would be shocking, but I see it this way - if I do not know something I will take steps to find out, or look for people who can help. That is the mindset I have. However, it can be very tiring, you need to ensure you are balanced so you have energy to push things forward. Entrepreneurship is an industry of romantics – we all believe in an idea that is somehow better than the status quo – and usually the only differentiator between the dreamers and the doers is persistence.