After connecting with a local guide at Kathmandu through a social networking site, 39-years-old Somdev Duttagupta packed his rucksack, trekked to the Annapurna Base Camp and went on to encounter a superlative travel experience, all without having to break the bank.
“The local travel agent had offered the experience at a budget-friendly price, in comparison to those offered by travel agents in India,” recollects Somdev.
This experience became the tipping point for Somdev. “I thought, what if I could create a travel platform where local travel agents could directly connect and interact with interested travellers without third-party interference? It would be a win-win for both, the traveller and the travel agent. I wanted to create a viable, sustainable and, more importantly, a transparent model.”
Today that very same idea has taken the form of TripMamu.
A finance graduate eyes building a tech product
A finance graduate who had minimal understanding of coding, Somdev knew that if he were to build the platform with someone’s help, he needed to be absolutely clear about the idea. So he did what he knew to do best – working on an excel sheet, he began to wireframe the pages of the website, along with descriptions on each and every field and its functionality. “I had the entire website model written in several indexed file on Excel.”
And, as if the universe conspired to make it happen, Somdev got a chance to showcase the idea at the NASSCOM Kolkata Startup Warehouse – a joint initiative by the government of West Bengal and the NASSCOM 10,000 Startups programme. The idea was selected and got incubated. The young entrepreneur began looking for IT companies and professionals to build the platform, but to his dismay either their quote was exorbitant or the companies were simply not competent enough. “Frustrated, I was even toying with the idea of stripping down the model to a basic website that can be designed on any CMS. And, as the deadline to showcase the progress at the NASSCOM 10,000 Startups programme approached closer, I was exasperated.”
In the midst of this crisis, Somdev met Pankaj Tripathi, an M-Tech in Computer Science and expert at Database Management and Software Development. “Pankaj understood what I wanted. He even shared suggestions and vital inputs that helped to improve the functionalities. The constant conversations we had made it clear that he was not just investing his time in the project, but was putting his passion to work. And, I felt his support as a Co-Founder would bring value to TripMamu.” Pankaj agreed. “It was a perfect match, as the project needed a technocrat with proprietary stakes. After teaming up, we employed some more programmers and began working on building TripMamu.”
The journey from ideation, incubation to launching TripMamu in 2016 took eight months of commitment, efforts and discussions between the co-founders and 10 team members. The Travel and Tourism Fair (TTF) Kolkata, a part of India's largest tourism fair network, served as the launchpad for TripMamu, where they won the Best Travel Tech Award for Innovation & Excellence.
Kolkata-based TripMamu is an online marketplace for leisure travels, where people can connect directly with local travel operators and plan a customised holiday. The startup has been incubated by NASSCOM under 10,000 Startups Programme.
As an added bonus, people can pay for these experiences in monthly installments. From touring offbeat places in the Northeast like Tezpur, Bomdila, Dirang and Nameri, to a trek to Kheerganga, rafting at Beas, or a weeklong trip to Bangkok and Pattaya, TripMamu has a variety of interesting experiences on offer– all within a reasonable budget.
The platform caters to the needs of both, local travel agents and travelers. In addition to providing a standardised itinerary, Tripmamu.com also has an online itinerary planning tool for travelers called My Trip My Way (MTMW). The tool enables users to create their own itinerary with auto suggestions, and the customised itinerary will be sent to travel agents best suited for the service required. MTMW also gives users an estimation of the price of the itinerary which can act as a good reference point for users while making their purchase decision. For direct bookings of the customised itinerary, TripMamu has tied up with OYO Rooms which will handle the stay portion of the itinerary.
“We have over 500 registered travel agents from all over India, and the numbers are growing every day. We get over 3,000 monthly inquiries which are validated by our operations team for their authenticity and then cleared for distribution through our system. The proprietary algorithm ensures that the user query is distributed to the accurately-matched travel agents who will be able to provide the service,” explains Somdev.
TripMamu is boot-strapped and currently works on a free model, but the MTMW tool and premium memberships for travel agents will soon transform into a monetisation channel. “We intend to start monetisation after we have a critical mass both from Travel Agent Registration and Monthly User Query. We are hopeful that 2018 will be the defining year in terms of generating revenue,” says the Co-Founder.
The team is also working on introducing a new feature called Group Up. “The concept is to bring together unknown travellers in a group for cost advantage and then match their desired itinerary with the itineraries offered by the enlisted travel agents.”
Brand recognition and product development – two key challenges
Reflecting on the startup’s journey and challenges, Somdev says, “After some initial teething troubles, our biggest challenge was to build up inventory. The travel agents confused us with other lead-providing platforms and refused to sign with us since, they already had a subscription plan with one or more of the said platforms. We had to dislodge their misconception that we were not a similar platform. While we do provide leads, it is just part of our business proposition. By creating a profile on TripMamu, they get to leverage other features such as published itineraries, reviews, rankings, lead management systems, order management system and itinerary creation system.”
The other big challenge for the team has been the product development journey itself. “It has always been running against time which meant we often spot ourselves doing a trade-off between newer features and taking these for a market run.”
The current challenge for the team is to increase the target traffic to gain better traction. “But we have a strong product, a good inventory list and a motivated troop to fight against all odds,” beams Somdev.
Additionally, building a strong operation process, a platform which has in-built features to keep a tap on internal processes like Lead Audits, Lead Result Analysis, Individual Operative Execs Performance Audit and other such Operational Point of Actions has helped the team understand their business and chart strategies based on data and not just gut feel.
Growing the business and the brand
In a domain that is dominated by big players and a few small niche players, TripMamu believes that it is poised to grow because of its brand positioning. “We are clear that we are a platform provider and not a travel agent or a travel experience provider. Hence, travel agents should be our allies– not competitors,” says the Co-founder.
With a long-term goal to become a brand reckoned with in the planned leisure travel segment, Somdev says, “The way to reach that goal is to bring in more participative and quality travel agents from around the world, get into channel partnerships with hotel aggregators, day trip aggregators, car service aggregators and related service aggregators. In short, a strong inventory and quality value service will help us reach our long-term goal.”
It is here that TripMamu has found NASSCOM 10,000 Startups to be a key business enabler. Somdev says, “The programme is clearly suited for startups and brings in immense value, apart from the credibility that it lends with its name. It has helped us to connect with other successful startups and web service providers. Arihant Kothari, Deputy Manager of NASSCOM Kolkata Warehouse has been instrumental in bringing OYO Rooms to the discussion table, which culminated in a partnership. In addition, NASSCOM Kolkata Startup Warehouse’s in-house events and mentorship sessions have helped us gain insights into the workings of the industry, the economy and develop a great perspective.”
Somdev believes that with increasing purchasing power and disposable income, tourism becoming a mainstream activity, and Indian travellers becoming digitally advanced, there will enough and more opportunities for startups like TripMamu to thrive and grow.