Indo-Japanese startup Voyagin gets acquired by e-commerce giant Rakuten
Voyagin is a tours and activities marketplace in Asia that has been acquired by Rakuten, Inc., Japan’s leading ecommerce site. Voyagin and its 13 employees will continue to operate from its Tokyobased headquarters under the leadership of CEO Masashi Takahashi with its own distinct brand identity. With the new investment, Voyagin is rapidly hiring for various positions, including engineering, sales, operations and more.
Co-founded by Tushar Khandelwal, Masashi Takahashi and Hiroyuki Hayashi, Voyagin was launched in late 2012 with a mission to help travelers discover and book the best travel experiences across Asia. The website features over 1,800 things to do including tickets to museums and shows, cultural activities, dinners, adventure experiences, and private guides bookable in English, Japanese, and Chinese in over 50 destinations in Asia, in advance or in destination via its mobile optimized website. With more than 30,000 guests in the past year alone, Voyagin has managed good traction in Tokyo, Kyoto and Bali.
Voyagin has an interesting journey. The company started off as FindJPN, a C2C marketplace to discover and book unique experiences offered by locals. “Voyagin started off as an extension to that to discover and book the most authentic experiences in Asia. Today, Voyagin has evolved into a platform to discover the best tours, activities, and things to do all over Asia - this includes things like tickets to museums, cultural activities, private guides, romantic dinners, and adventure experiences. Regardless of whether they are offered by a business or individual, what all the experiences share in common is their quality, curated by our team of community managers,” says Tushar.
The team constantly tweaked their mission and the business model of what they offered on Voyagin after hearing investor's advice and viewing data of what customers' booked. Until 2014, their sales were relatively small. In the beginning, Masashi came up with the concept of a marketplace model and though that it would automatically grow in the same vein that Airbnb did. He wanted to stick to a pure C2C marketplace in order to create a world where locals were able to introduce their neighborhood to travelers, but data showed that his hypotheses were wrong. “One of the biggest lessons we learned was to focus. At first, we thought that expanding our inventory and the number of destinations that we operated in was the most important point for competing on a global scale,” says Masashi.
However, since they didn't have the resources to do this, it didn't go well. After Voyagin raised the second seed round, they had a sit-down meeting with Jungle Ventures and other investors/advisors who suggested to focus on two key destinations (one being a city and one being a vacation destination so that they're polar opposites of each other). The goal was to create sustainable models for these two destinations by focusing on boosting sales and then raising a round to replicate this model across Asia. While they didn't shut down any destinations that they were already present in, this helped Voyagin focus on Tokyo and Bali as key destinations.
Voyagin now provides a trusted platform for tours and activities providers (hosts) in Asia to list their experiences; its team of community managers work with each host to curate their activities both online and during the experience, ensuring their quality. The company will still operate as an independent brand under the current leadership structure with the addition of Rakuten board members.
Marketplaces for experiences have had a rough ride in India. The likes of Tushky and Poshvine started out early back in 2012 and since then, they have been shifting models to find a market fit. Sri Lanka based Trekurious has shifted to Mumbai to try out their proposition, Bangalore-US based Headout has started out by targeting the US market and there are many more such ventures are sprouting in the tours and activities space. E-commerce companies showing an interest in them is also an opening in terms of exit options and how the larger players can diversify their offerings.