How Matrix backed WeAreHolidays is building a managed marketplace for the long run
Deepak Wadhwa and Harkirat Singh have a deep understanding of the online travel trade in India. Though they both studied engineering together, they ended up as product managers at MakeMyTrip (MMYT), almost ten years after the effects of the dot com bust had fizzled out. At MYMT they got to observe the evolving marketplace for the online travel trade first hand. “While working at MMYT, I could observe very closely how the consumers were rapidly evolving and how we were struggling to keep pace. This was the time when Flipkart and Snapdeal were starting out (2009), and I could foresee the need to solve these problems ground up; with fresh thinking and a new approach,” says Deepak.
It was out of this observation and thinking that WeAreHolidays started.
Early Days and evolution
The duo bootstrapped in the early days (2012 -13) by putting together and selling holidays themselves. During this time they also got to understand the consumer and market conditions better. They rapidly forged relationships with suppliers across the globe, and built the product and its back-end technology. They also got on board Mohit Piplani, who now heads the domestic market - for sellers based in India. Mohit is very experienced, having previously worked with Michael Page International and ICICI Prudential. For sellers based across different destinations abroad, Nipun Bhandari leads the charge. On the technology side, IIT-BHU and IIM-B alumnus, Prashant Ghildiyal, is the chief. The duo could afford to make a few ambitious hires owing to the Series A round of funding of WeAreHolidays during the second half of 2014 (led by Matrix Partners).
Earlier this year the company moved into the managed marketplace segment. This is a model in which WeAreHolidays works closely with the ‘marketplace of sellers’ who provide holiday packages for the end user.
Building for the long run
“We’re here for the long term. Large businesses take a minimum of ten years in the making, and we are in it for the long haul,” says Deepak. This is one of the business ideals they imbibed from their previous boss, Deep Kalra, the founder of MakeMyTrip. For WeAreHolidays the basic premise is that holidays continue to be put together and sold the way they were ten years back - this needs to evolve. “There has been little innovation, be it at the business model level, product or technology level, or customer experience level. While this was fine in the past, I don’t think this can remain stagnant any longer.” says Deepak.
As of now, WeAreHolidays focuses on the discovery of holiday itineraries. They’re doing this with the help of contributed travelogues, seller itineraries and curated articles. The bookings of holidays happen through their marketplace of holiday sellers (travel sellers & destination experts - spread across India and holiday destinations like Sri Lanka, Bali, etc.). Since moving to the managed marketplace early this year, the company is seeing a 50 per cent growth rate, MoM.
Building supply and demand
Building a marketplace is hard work. Firstly, one needs to onboard quality vendors and sellers on the supply side. Once this is accomplished, the challenge of building demand via the online channels comes up. While talking about the ‘seller side’ Deepak says, “Success begets success. When people see their colleagues and fellow agents expanding and growing like never before, they want a piece of the action as well. It’s very similar to how Ola and Uber changed the lives of cab drivers. We work closely with our sellers to show them the initial steps to success, and the rest takes care of itself.” On the consumer side, almost all of the customer acquisition is done online. WeAreHolidays is very aggressive about getting inspiring content in place, and social media drives a lot of their traffic and discovery. “Given the space we are in, which is big on experience, we benefit from a very high repeat and referral rate - one in four customers come back or refer someone,” says Deepak.
Case Studies on the supply side
Stories of successful and happy affiliates/partners/associates can be a great boost for any marketplace. Deepak and Harkirat share two case studies:
TripSailer: Saurabh runs TripSailer. After working as a mid level executive at Via.com, he left the company to start a small travel agency in a village near Dwarka, in Delhi. He employed a small workforce to get the business off the ground, and relied on Just Dial to acquire customers. Since TripSailer’s affiliation with WeAreHolidays it has seen its earnings cross Rs. 6 Lacs, and the team grow to ten people. Saurabh is currently in the process of moving to a bigger office in central Delhi, and no longer has to rely on Just Dial.
View Holiday Trips: Dinesh Kumar runs a small agency in Rohini, Delhi. He worked, alone, out of a small 125 sq. feet shop in one of the congested by-lanes of Rohini, till he associated his agency with WeAreHolidays. He has since then employed four people, and moved to a bigger office - four times the size of his original shop!
The competitive landscape in the online travel industry is pretty broad-based. It goes all the way from inspiration to discovery to planning to transaction to destination and back to the top (read more). Deepak divides the landscape into three main categories:
- Offline Incumbents – Cox & Kings, Thomas Cook, etc.
- OTA (Online Travel Agents) – MakeMyTrip, Yatra, GoIbibo, etc.
- Startups – Travel Triangle (marketplace), Tripoto (travelogues), TripHobo, etc.
“The way I see ourselves vis-a-vis the competition is - we’re focusing on a full stack model (discovery, planning, booking and fulfilment) through an asset light and capital efficient marketplace,” says Deepak.
The road ahead
There’s a long journey ahead for WeAreHolidays. The entire discovery and planning stage for the majority of the audience in India is only now moving to online. The incumbents will also try hard to increase their clout in the online world. Al the large offline travel agents now realize the power o online and will make strategies for the same.
As for WeAreHolidays, this Gurgaon based outfit is now a ninety-member strong unit. They are focused on building a trusted marketplace for holiday package sellers across the world, and to provide a customer experience that will attract more people to use their service.