3 friends get the 4X4 show on the road with overland adventure-tech startup XTLO
Leveraging the power of technology, XTLO plans expeditions and tailor-makes experiences for off-roading enthusiasts to challenging terrain and locations.
The wind in your hair, the wide road ahead, and the sun beating down. Why on earth would you want to fly when you can get behind the wheel and explore the world at your own pace? Especially if you can drive a 4X4 that wades through water and rides over rocks like knife goes through butter.
But the off-roading sector in India isn’t one that has seen much movement despite the increase in number of people looking for curated and experiential trips. That’s why three friends and off-road fanatics, L D Sharma, Gulam Shaikh and Bertrand D’Souza, decided to step on this untraveled road and founded XTLO in December 2017.
XTLO, or Xtreme Travel & Lifestyles Overland, is all about the epic road trip. Be it setting out on expeditions with like-minded souls or tailor-made experiences, tech-driven XTLO conducts adventure overland experiences for those looking for a sense of achievement, satisfaction, or a thrill.
Their apps allow the driver to understand the challenges of the terrain, the location they are driving in, and also tells them how they fared. XTLO’s technology (powered by apps) provides you with expert guidance on how to use a 4x4 in challenging conditions. The expeditions let you learn how to drive better, how to improve your off-roading skills, and manage yourself in the rough. Mumbai-based XTLO provides all participants with a certificate at the end of every expedition.
Bertrand got the idea of starting up in this area after working for 17-years as an editor in the automobile industry. Candidly sharing his experiences and what led to the idea, he says that as an editor he was involved in much more than content creation. For instance, when he wanted to travel to off-beat destinations to create unique automobile stories, which his publication was very popular for, there were no budgets. So, he had to come up with ideas that helped his team achieve goals and had to go after sponsors (OEMs and the automotive industry) looking for a platform to highlight their brand. He had to project these unique location ideas and sell them to the sponsors, and soon realised this could be done for regular people too – there was a straight-forward business model waiting to be tapped.
“I’ve experienced the joys of overland travel; how it can both challenge and stimulate you and reward you. It’s akin to trekking except you use the road less travelled,” says Bertrand, Co-founder of XTLO.
Then there is an additional piece to the business where people can choose to live well after a hard day’s journey. For this, XTLO has curated luxury stays. The stays are slightly more luxurious so while roughing it out is the norm during the day, the evenings are pleasant, comfortable and well taken care of.
The audience for XTLO includes HNIs, corporates, entrepreneurs, young leaders, and anyone between the ages of 30-50. These experiences work well for corporate for team building and learning how to strategise through stumbling blocks. The off-road vehicle experience, the founders believe, gives you true grit and determination. The trio, which has invested less than Rs 50 lakhs in the business, believes the startup can go global in three years and make off-roading driving experiences a mainstream business in India.
“The space is still very nascent, there are less than a handful of operators who have taken this forward. Most offer travel packages where you have to take your own vehicle or they help you rent something,” Bertrand says.
XTLO says its USP is that it provides an end-to-end travel solution. As a client, you simply land up with a bag full of clothes and anything else that you deem necessary for a road trip. Each vehicle is customised to take on the terrain and spruced up for the thrill of overland off-road travel.
The company is also using technology. “We are using technology to enhance the client experience, not as a marketing or branding tool but as a utility that helps the person when they are on an expedition. Specially created apps for each expedition provide GPS information, maps, location information, regional and local information, weather, and trip data,” he says.
The XTLO app will curate the entire off road experience with this information.
The founder backgrounds and the opportunity
Bertrand, earlier a service engineer for Daewoo and Ford, has an automotive engineering background. He got in to the publishing space with Tata Infomedia in 2000 and spent 17 years learning the ropes at Overdrive, one of India's best-known publications for cars and bikes.
LD Sharma is an entrepreneur and a pioneer in the space of affiliate marketing in India and the Asia Pacific region; he set up the Shoogloo Group and Optimise Group. An automotive enthusiast, he has participated in the Raid De Himalaya and got a taste for off-road adventure through that event a decade ago. He has also funded the business and taken all the financial liability upon himself as the Managing Director of the company.
Gulam Shaikh, the second Founder, has handled logistics and been an event manager. Gulam is COO at XTLO.
XLTO competes with all automobile brands that have their own private clubs for off-roading. M&M and Renault are well known for their off-road experiences. Others like BMW, Land Rover, and Mercedes also offer these experiences to HNIs. The industry is disorganised and has a lot of private clubs offering off-roading. But not all of them curate stays, journeys, and technology.
“Whatever it is you’re trying to create, a good story, a great event, or a magnificent experience, it needs the right people who are willing to invest themselves in it as much as you are. You can have the greatest of ideas, but without the right set of people around you, people who believe in you and are backing you up, it is not going to be very successful,” Bertrand says.
The challenges ahead
The three-member team has been operating the business for four months now. They have five expeditions which are thematic to the adventure. Things like the Star Gazing Expedition, The Winter Drive, The Mountain Pass Expedition, The Rivers and Lakes Expedition, The Detox Expedition are drives created by region in the northern regions of India. These experiences are created to make the customer experience a real off-road vehicle and are rated by difficulty, so it is by no means for the faint hearted. Each expedition comes with a rating, for example the Winter Drive is Rs 2 lakh and above per person.
The challenge, however, like at any other startup, is to increase reach and scale up the technology and the experience. Their strategy to scale up is to add more off-road centres and increase vehicle lineups, which means a capital cost.
“The company does not want a Zoomcar model (in terms of adding cars). But we realise that with the current fleet we aren’t able to conveniently and affordably service various adventure zones,” Bertrand says.
For instance, if they do an expedition in Northeast India and onwards into Tibet/ Nepal/Myanmar’/Thailand, XTLO has to transport their entire fleet from North India to the Northeast, a distance of 1,500 km.
“That’s a logistics challenge. It may be easier to simply add more vehicles and operate them from the Northeast as an additional unit,” Bertrand says.
This company may just catch eyeballs because it is a combination of tech (apps to enable off-roading knowledge while taking up a challenge) and curated journeys. The three founders may have found a niche, but they need to scale up fast and raise capital.
V Ganapathy, CEO of Axilor Ventures, says, “These companies have to garner users - and fast. This will test if the idea can scale up to the millions.”
If it does, XTLO is on the road to something big!