The last few years have seen a steady growth in the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) and travel industry in India. According to a statement by the Indian Ministry of Tourism earlier this year, India sees 5.1 million outbound travellers annually, and more than 20 percent of this number or 1.5 million are outbound MICE travellers.
A report published by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) accords the 31st rank to India in the global MICE destination tally, well behind other Asian countries such as Japan, China and Philippines. However, favourable factors such as increased connectivity, a growing middle class and initiatives such as the Make in India campaign are indicators that there is a significant opportunity for the country to move up the ranks.
One startup that has picked up on this opportunity and decided to contribute to this growth is Foxtrot Interactive.
How Foxtrot came into being
“In November 2016, Naasir Merchant (Foxtrot co-founder) and I realised that there is ample scope to pioneer how the MICE industry uses technology. Between the two of us, we had 25 years of experience in the travel and sales domains, and in organising conferences, meetings and incentives for corporates. We realised that what we had in mind was something the MICE industry desperately needed, so we decided to take the plunge and Foxtrot Interactive was born,” says Unmesh Vaidya, Foxtrot co-founder.
What helped them take off successfully was the fact that the country was seeing an increasing number of smartphone users, more people on social networks and alternative communication platforms and more clients willing to go the digital way.
A convenient solution to a range of problems
Anyone who has organised an event, conference of incentive trips knows about the multitude of minute details needed to ensure that it goes off without any glitches. The scale and magnitude of the events combined with some complicated and outdated processes can be challenging even for the most adept planners.
Foxtrot aims to take the headache out of organising large-scale conferences, meetings, conventions, trips and events though customised mobile apps. Their main offering is a white labelled event application targeted at the MICE industry, a one stop solution which helps mobilise, simplify and streamline the entire process for their customers.
“The interactive and informative solution is convenient for end users as everything is available on their app. Corporate entities don’t have to chase individual participants and keep track of details such as their meal preferences, their tickets, hotel rooms, etc. Everything can be updated on the mobile app. Since the app is white labelled with the branding of the corporates, it also doubles up as an easy marketing tool and increases their brand visibility on digital platforms,” says Unmesh.
Their target audience comprises corporates, third-party planners, educational institutes and government bodies.
Also in the works is an advanced campaign management mobile application for corporates to run their sales campaigns which they plan to launch at TechSparks 2017 next month.
The increasing number of smartphone and rising budgetary expenditure on events are the main drivers leading the growth in the MICE industry. While the industry itself is a mix of outdated methods and newer ways of working, Unmesh says corporates and other organisations are realising that to be relevant they need to be innovative and stay in sync with technological advancements.
According to a report , the global event management software (EMS) market is set to grow from $6.21 billion in 2017 to $9.28 billion by 2020. While in India, this market is still at a very nascent stage, it is expected to catch up in the next couple of years.
Headquartered in Mumbai with sales resources based out of Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Foxtrot has a team of nine for now, a good mix of tech, business development and client servicing.
“When we started out, building a team was our first prerogative as we needed dedicated sales professionals and client servicing personnel from the domain. In a month and a half, we had a team that could, hit, touch and close deals in the market, and an equally efficient servicing team. Though we couldn’t offer them high salaries and perks, we could give them high-octane growth probabilities. The team is focused, super-motivated and strongly believes in product need and scalability, which is a win-win for us and the clients,” says Naasir.
Great traction in India and plans to go global
In a short span of four months, (they began operations in April 2017), the startup has seen sales of Rs 5 million from 18 corporate customers and 25 projects. Their client list includes Axis Bank, Kotak Life Insurance, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Akbar Travels, JSW Steel, Crompton and EAI Systems, among others.
They are in the process of shortlisting partners for distribution across the UAE, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, and in six months, they plan to take their event app global. “We will be coming up with a payment gateway on the app shortly to provide easy digital payment solutions for users. In the coming months, the app will be available in five Indian languages. Likewise, we’ll be working on more product innovations and develop a more advanced interactive interface,” says Unmesh.
Funding and growth plans
Currently, the startup is bootstrapped and angel-funded. “We were lucky to have friends who believed that we could make it big. We didn’t opt for funding or diluting our equity when we started off. Currently, we have a decent amount of sales, and now we believe the time is ripe to increase our bandwidth, hire more people and spread our wings across the country. In the next 18 months, we are looking to raise funding of $400,000 to work on research and development, new hires, marketing and sales expenses, and expand our footprint,” says Naasir.
Innovation and market presence
Ask Unmesh what’s sets them apart from competition and he is quick to list out Foxtrot's differentiators, namely that they primarily focus on events and MICE-based travel, offer a white labelled – branding/marketing platform, and an intuitive and ergonomic app design.
Recognition has come in the form of an award for the most Innovative product by the Business and Luxury Travel Mart (BLTM ) Hyderabad 2017, organised by the Travel and Tourism Fair (TTF).
“We are not just selling to every new corporate. With every new app of ours in the market, we bring about a small innovation to the UI or the design interface so that it looks good and works better,” says Unmesh. “Our application is robust and coupled with its intuitive user-interface and accessibility across different mobile operating systems, it is rapidly emerging as the go-to solution for large-scale event organisers or corporates to plan their group travels and conferences,” he adds.