Platform13 rents out luggage to travellers and lets them take home a slice of local culture

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Eight-month-old travel essentials startup brings all that you need to make your journey comfortable, be it an extra pillow, local souvenirs and delicacies or bags on rent, to you at the airport, railway station or bus stop.

Meet Jorge Martinez, a Spaniard travelling across India on a spiritual journey. He collects artefacts in every town; his habit is to buy an item from every railway station as a souvenir. But he isn’t convinced about the quality of items available at the railway station. On his way from Bangalore to Anantpur, Jorge wants to buy Mysore Pak, an extremely popular sweet, from the town of Chickballapur, but he has no way of sourcing this item at the train station.

But things changed when, in April this year, he discovered Platform13, a website that helps travellers discover local culture. The startup enabled him and many others to find souvenirs, among other things, at Indian railway stations, airports and bus stops.

The startup aims at providing the culture of a town at every station of departure and was able to get Jorge the Mysore Pak he wanted to take along.

Jay Acharya, Co-founder of Platform13.

But what is Platform13? Think of it as a travel essentials store that offers all that you need to make your journey comfortable and enjoyable. Be it an extra pillow, local souvenirs and delicacies to bags on rent to accommodate extra shopping, the startup gets them delivered to you – free of cost – at the airport, railway station or bus stop.

Platform13 idea born at an airport

Founders Ceejo Thomas and Jay Acharya conceived the idea at an airport and decided in late 2016 that the Indian railways should be a centre for people to experience local cultures.

Ceejo Thomas, an engineer, was the tech force behind www.platform13.in . Having worked in companies like TCS, he was looking at building a consumer-facing product. He met Jay, who has a background of travel retail, through a common friend. Jay was in Mumbai at the time and when Ceejo was transiting through Mumbai in June 2016, the duo met at Mumbai airport to discuss an opportunity to build a traveller-focused tech product.

“The basic idea of the product was to cater to the needs of a traveller, be it at a railway station or a bus stop through a tech interface,” says Jay.

He adds that having worked in airport retail for a while, he had seen how travellers behave and consume products when the right merchandise is made available to them.

The merchandise that the company wanted to cater to was broadly categorised into:

  • Travel Essentials: Products that a traveller needs for a trip and that would help make the journey comfortable.
  • Regional Favourites: Every traveller wants to take back a slice of his journey in the form of a souvenir or food items the region is renowned for. The company wants to use all stations as places to connect local cultures. Stores in the city will deliver these products to the station.

Why renting luggage is part of the business model

“Our focus is to be where a traveller is and we would have to be involved early on in a traveller’s journey,” Jay says.

He says Platform13 would need to be in the picture from the time a person starts planning his or her trip. The need of the hour is to create awareness about Platform13’s presence and services, which is why the company has started renting luggage to consumers. All luggage is given on a daily rental basis. This helps Platform13 establish a connect with the traveller much before the trip and helps sell local products listed on the platform. The luggage is rented only to those who return to the origin point of their trip.

Co-founder of Platform13, Ceejo Thomas

Renting bags is a way to gather insights, to know what a traveller does after booking the trip.

Platform13 works with retailers on a consignment basis to fulfil the merchandise requirement and charges a commission on the sale. Currently, all deliveries are made by Platform13. All transactions take place on the company’s mobile web-responsive site.

The business is currently operational in Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore. The duo expects to add ten more cities over the next eighteen months. However expansion depends on the learning from the 1000 odd customers that have used the platform.

Chugging off from Platform13

According to Indian Brand Equity Federation, India is the fastest growing travel market. The railways alone cater to 24 million passengers a day, of which about 40 percent are long-distance travellers. The airport-based travel retail market is estimated to be about $450-odd million. If one extrapolates this to all forms of travel, the opportunity is huge.

Naganand Doraswamy, CEO of IdeaSpring Capital, says: “The B2C business in this country has raised a lot of money and only one or two models have scaled up. However, there are several opportunities with data if startups understand the consumers who use their services.”

The eight-month-old company wants to work with retailers to help them “discover” travellers. It is in talks with several retailers and transport departments across the country to scale up. Jay and Ceejo have invested less than Rs 25 lakh in the business and are yet to generate significant revenues.

With most people now thinking “If not now, when” about travel, Jay and Ceejo seem to be in the right place at the right time.

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