Indians are swiftly transfiguring from fanny-pack-wielding ‘tourists’ into binocular-donning ‘travellers’, signing up for alternate travelling experiences rather than the one-size-fits-all tour packages. The uncertainty of the sites and sights you will be fortuitous enough to steal peeks of, is the crux of roadtrips– an evolved travel category of its own worldwide. But in India, the uncertainty is a whole new devil. Rather than wondering if the next corner you turn will lead to a stream or a sunflower field, you find yourself betting on which section of the road you flat-tire on, or how long you will have to wait till a rest-stop presents itself. Then, EasyRoads came, they saw, and they curated. The highly niche “roadtrip planning app” helps you discover, customise, book and navigate road trips in India.
36-year-old MBA from SPJIMR, and ex-employee at Capgemini and Atos, Sachin Parikh, a gypsy and slave to the treasures of travel, spent eight years in corporate America and Europe. The entrepreneurship bug bit him on his many escapades, where he came in contact with premier B–schools like LBS, Tuck and Harvard, and was asked to lead groups of MBA students travelling to India. He fleshed this out further into his first venture- White Collar Hippie. A White Collar Hippie himself, he decided to move to India to commit to his startup.
The heavily covered and revered alternate-travel experience had taken off without a waver, but a mismatch in visions between him and his partner led Sachin to move out. He says,
I was extremely attached to WCH, and the thought of not owning it was really hard. When I decided to quit WCH, I had no idea what I was going to do. But once you decide that you need to move on, it is better to take those decisions sooner rather than later, and gear up to see what the future has in store.
Always a traveller who believed in the charm of the journey rather than the destination, he was on one such spontaneous road trip when he discovered and experienced pretty much everything that was holding the concept of roadtrips in India back from becoming a full-fledged travel category. “I love taking road trips, and was on a road trip from Mumbai to Goa with my wife and 15-month-old son. 100 miles into our trip, our car broke down and we were stranded in the middle of the freeway with very little assistance,” he recounts. They did manage to finish the road trip, but it threw him into retrospect mode. What could have helped? Even at White Collar Hippie, he would get a multitude of requests to organise road trips, but the entire process of finding relevant information, booking hotels and finding things to do along the way was extremely tedious and inconvenient.
A PhoCusWright study revealed that 83 percent of recreational travel is on the road, yet people couldn’t find a starting point because of the uncertainties attached to road travel, given lack of accurate information, with the little information that is available being scattered all over the web.
RoadMojo, an American roadtrip app, illustrated that 93 percent of travelers rely on Google Maps, but Google Maps is limited in its application when it comes to the planning of roadtrips. The rest rely on family and friends, and 4 percent rely on travel magazines and websites.
The same PhoCusWrght study also revealed that one in five road travelers are spontaneous bookers, and 43 percent book packages on their smartphones. Combining all findings, the market seemed to be ripe for a mobile-based platform for road trip enthusiasts with pretty much all the details they need- a curated list of exciting places to explore, where to stop along the way, how to make the drive more enjoyable and fun, road conditions and rest stops.
“Our focus is the journey from point A to point B, and everything in between. All of the travel portals in India are focusing on air, trains and buses, but none of them are focusing on car journeys and we are bridging that gap,” says Sachin Parikh.
They are building a system extracting data from different platforms such as Google Maps, Google Places and Trip Advisor, along with their own in-house research team, to create a single platform with all the relevant information for users.
On an average, millennials spend approximately 22 days a year on roadtrips, spending close to $40 a day, including on accommodation, meals, activities and petrol.
In the app’s discovery section, the users will not only be able to find new and curated roadtrip itineraries, but also be able to customise them based on own their interests, enabling them to find interesting places to see and explore en route, great local dhabas and restaurants to eat at, and rest stops, to name a few of the potential discoveries. The User Generated Content (UGC) section, under construction at the moment, will enable the community of travelers to contribute to the trips, and thus, crowdsource all the finer yet vital details about roadtripping - like clean and hygenic rest-stops. The section is Over and above that, they also provide for uncertainties like car breakdowns by providing 24*7 roadside assistance and one-way driver services.
Another key differentiator that they are working on, is their Interactive Travel Buddy feature and also the ability to download the entire itinerary offline and navigate via GPS. Soon, users will be able to create road trips dynamically to and from any location, thereby giving them full flexibility
With the foundation stone laid in September 2015, their MVP version was launched in February 2016, with about 25 road trip itineraries. Since then, they have garnered about 2,500 app downloads on Google Play, where they have been live since June. What awaits the user, in turn, are 125 curated road trips starting from Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru, with 550 attractions and 350 accommodations, waiting to become the stuff of fond memories.
They even raised an angel round amounting to about $200,000 in late April, from investors like Rohan Angrish, CTO at digital lending platform Capital Float; Hrishi Oberoi, founder of mobile games development studio Photon Tadpole; Rahul Mehta of RoseBay Consultants LLP; Kapil Hetamsaria, CEO of Velvetcase.com; Ravi Shroff and Hrishit Shroff, promoters of Excel Industries Ltd. group, and founders of MobiTrash Recycle Ventures Pvt. Ltd; and Amsterdam-based trader Pranav Dedhia.
But their greatest instance of validation came when the Tourism Ministry of Maharashtra agreed to endorse them in July 2016.
By 2020, the Indian travel market is estimated to be worth $40 billion, according to an IBEF study. In 2013, India had 1.15 billion domestic tourists, the number growing at a rate of 9.6 percent according to the Ministry of Tourism. Besides, there are 200 million smartphones, 16 million bikes, 3.5 million cars and 3 million miles of roads to curate.
Several travel companies have mushroomed which cater to several niches, but road trips as a segment is yet to be explored to its full potential. In the Indian context, there is no close competitor to Easy Roads, but this model has already evolved in the US, with companies like Roadtrippers. Their competition from the unorganised segment would entail family and friends and the scattered non-vetted information that exists all over the web.
They are currently working on creating road trip packages that users will be able to purchase on the app. The package will include a self-driven car, accommodation based on the users’ budget and price, activities and restaurants, and the users will be able to customise them based on their needs. Easy Roads will monetise this through commissions, business listings and in-app purchases, not to mention ads- but that will be at a later stage.