Bangalore-based Tourlandish(now Headout) assists travelers to find local activities that each destination has to offer. In addition to curating these experiences, the site also allows a user to book the activity – no enquiries, no waiting periods for confirmation. One click and you’re done.
Tourlandish was a product of its founders’ own experiences; they were its first customers. YourStory caught up with Tourlandish at TiE Bangalore’s Anthah Prerana event. Below are some edited excerpts from the conversation.
Varun Khona (CEO): I graduated with a degree in Business Management from Bangalore University and interned at Goldman Sachs in Listed Derivates. Having secured a PPO from Goldman Sachs, I decided to let go of the opportunity to work at an investment bank and started an offline experiential travel company called Trippy, gaining valuable industry expertise. Recently, I represented Tourlandish on the Bloomberg TV India show ‘The Pitch’ and was a finalist competing against India’s finest entrepreneurs.
Vikramjit Singh, our CTO, has been dabbling with all things code since a fairly early age. He is the man behind our magical platform and previously worked with Oracle for almost four years as Senior Member Technical Staff before co-founding Tourlandish. He believes in building stable scalable systems and has an exceptional understanding of user experience. Outside Tourlandish, he is a KravMaga expert.
Suren Sultania is our COO. He brings operational and financial expertise to the company along with a keen understanding of international markets having lived in Europe for three years. He has worked at Ptolemus Consulting in Paris and led the operations team at Airtravels, a leading cab rental company in Hyderabad. Suren also leads product and is responsible for the long-term vision and continuous development of the platform.
Varun: We were planning a trip to Europe to meet Suren (who is now my co-founder) and had a long list of ‘must experience’ activities. We struggled with the emails, calls, language barriers etc. while talking to these offline businesses providing extremely interesting local experiences. 80% of them didn’t have a website and it was a pretty annoying affair given this was 2012. We ended up spending precious hours ‘googling’, calling, emailing these folks.
Around the same time, the feedback from customers using Trippy’s services largely centered around the fact that they were very comfortable booking flights and hotels online but stumbled when it came to discovering ‘things to do’ and its booking.
The combination of these two factors clearly signaled an opportunity.We pitched this idea at Startup Weekend Bangalore and ended up winning the competition. That gave us a lot of confidence to take that leap of faith.
We started in May 2013 with a team of three founders, Suren, Vikram and me. We all shared the same degree of passion. We were also driven by the same goal – to obsessively focus on providing the best in-class customer delight. And we shared the same temperament – the ability to hang in there and persist in face of all odds longer than anyone.
I think it was a pretty big shift for Vikram and Suren. Post IIT, Vikram was in a very comfortable job at Oracle building world class enterprise products and Suren had one of the most sought after management degrees in Europe with an opportunity to settle down there. But I guess like every other entrepreneur, we have sacrificed a lot to make this dream a reality and the experience so far has been nothing short of epic.
We’ve set up base in Bangalore and our team has slowly expanded to five members now. I think our primary challenge has remained capital. Being in our early 20s, we didn’t have enough savings to invest in the startup. However, that has forced us to run a very efficient and lean ship that’s paying rich dividends today.We’re focusing on keeping our operations lean and building the best customer experience possible with this team. Constraints and limitations have a fantastic way of bringing out the absolute best from each and every team member.
YS: Tell us about Tourlandish. How is it different from every other travel startup out there?
Varun: Tourlandish.com is an online global marketplace for ‘things to do’ that connects in-destination travel service providers and travelers by helping travelers find and book the perfect local experience. It helps service providers distribute inventory online enabling seamless discovery, incredible convenience and secure transactions on one single platform, all over the world.
Travelers are able to search, compare and book flights and hotels online. However, the same experience hasn’t been translated to the large segment of local tours, activities, attractions, events etc. The supplier base is fragmented and offline. Hence the process of discovery and booking in this segment remains a huge challenge.
Globally, this is a US $ 200+ billion industry and the online penetration is in low single digit percentage.
We have a very straight-forward business model. We do not believe in charging the customers anything for our services which is why our website is completely free to use. Instead, we charge a nominal commission from the guides and tour operators when we distribute their services on the Tourlandish marketplace.
The market segment we primarily cater to is the Free Individual Traveler (FIT) market that roughly forms around 75% of the traveling population. Geographically, our focus for the next 18 months is inbound and outbound traffic to/from Asia.
We also have a slew of products and features in the pipeline for 2014 to further strengthen our offering for our customers and suppliers.
YS: What stage are you at present? How many users have successfully booked activities on Tourlandish?
Varun: We’ve just recently launched our website. We are present in Singapore, Bangkok, Sydney and Barcelona. We will be soon launching in Phuket, Bali, Dubai and Mumbai with an aim to be present in 50 cities by Q4 2014.
So far in our very short journey, we have sold experiences in 38 cities across 14 countries. As expected, it hasn’t been an easy task at all.Our primary challenge remains the lack of 100% real-time inventory given the fragmented nature of the industry and the lack of yield management in the industry. They tend to be our biggest challenges (not competition).
YS: Where would you like to see Tourlandish in a few years?
Varun: Our vision is to change the way people discover our wonderful world for the better, one experience at a time. We want to be ‘the’ biggest marketplace on the internet helping travelers access tours and activities in almost every country across the world. To achieve this, we are betting big on real-time inventory and being mobile. Our near future plans remain geared to go after these opportunities.
[The article was last updated at 1:26PM, Sep 3, 2016]