Imagine looking at a series of pictures which look intriguing but do not tell you the story your eyes are looking for. Add sound, text or voice to it and it turns into a tale that brings reality to life virtually. This is what Boni Gopalan, 40, and Amit Sharma, 39, have been doing at WalkInto.
WalkInto is a Pune-based startup that offers a platform for creating engaging stories based on Google StreetView. It is used by panorama photographers and businesses around the world for both commercial and recreational story telling.
This is not the first entrepreneurial plunge for the founder duo. They have been innovating since 2008 and created two ventures before WalkInto, together. “We never thought about our ventures as something that was separate from our passion. We had tech-based solutions for problems and we just kept building products and offering it to people who needed it” explains Boni, whose first venture with Amit, Entelligentsia, is in the healthcare domain and consults on image analysis.
Their second venture, GoLocl, was started with the idea to build a CRM system for small businesses and freelancers. “GoLocl set the stepping stone for WalkInto. While working with Google in facilitating the discovery of these small businesses, we realized that unlike known brands these small setups needed something tangible for their customers to virtually experience their service,” adds Boni, who is a mechanical engineer and comes with 18 years of experience in the tech industry.
Co-founder and CEO Amit is a chemical engineer and shares an equal passion for technology. They soft launched WalkInto in June 2014 and added 300 users within six months of their operation.
Google has created many virtual tour platforms over the last decade -- Street View that covers public places, Business Views that cover indoors and Google Views for photographers interested in 360 degree panoramas. Together there are around a trillion 360 degree panoramas available as digital content. However, Google does not cover some key features such as navigation menus, clickable hotspots that spring to life with audio and video, analytics about activity on these digital assets, which could have turned this content into amazing stories.
WalkInto solves this problem with its simple editor that stitches various elements of creating a complete story together. Their service currently is used by photographers across 85 countries to create engaging virtual tours. These tours are sold as digital assets to businesses, government or used by photographers to showcase their work. Apart from the software and hosting service, WalkInto also offers an end-to-end service to create customized virtual tours. They have local photographers onboard who help conducting the shoot and create a virtual tour for the customers as per their need. Edit these tours with WalkInto editor and your story is ready to be told to the world.
One would find members building virtual tours right from showcasing real estate properties to describing the history of train stations across Europe.
Two months after Boni and Amit started working on the product they received an email from Google promoting a Netherlands-based company, Tour Dash, which was trying to build a similar platform. The fear of shutting shop took over until they checked their competition product and realized that they have been building something much more efficient and comprehensive. It was this confidence that today has fetched them a global customer base of 600.
The startup is now 18 months old and aims to reach an active user base of 5000 by end of 2015. The service is free for its members this year. In 2016, they aim to charge USD 30 per tour, annually for an ad free premium version. The company plans to introduce white label domains, extra storage space, integration tools and consulting as a part of their premium service package.
WalkInto is a seven-member team, including the founders and works with local designers and photographers on a contract basis. They have bootstrapped till date and plan to raise funds in 2016. They expect a growth rate of 20% in their customer base year on year and plan to add six more people to the team in 2015.
Seventy five percent of WalkInto’s customers are hotels followed by real estate companies, automobile showrooms and town directories. Neighboring countries like Sri Lanka, which is an upcoming tourism destination, holds a huge potential for the startup in the future. Sri Lanka is not a part of the Google virtual tour system and needs third party platforms to generate content.
Similar regions which would see a rise in hospitality and real estate industry would make virtual tours an integral part of their online marketing strategy. With a client base that includes global hotel chain Hilton and famous photographers from Australia and Europe, WalkInto is cashing a digital space that observes 1, 20,000 virtual tours added every year.