Travel aggregator Shoes on Loose wants to disrupt the space with ‘destination experts’ to guide every traveller
Have feet, will travel? This Delhi-based travel startup aims to help you hit the road and enjoy the best vacations and holidays. Launched in 2011 by three IIT-Delhi alumni, Shoes on Loose is tapping technology to create transparency between travellers and service providers, and ultimately ensure “hassle-free travel”.
The travel aggregator, which prioritises customer experience through the entire process, focuses on “a drive to discover – locations untouched, sports untried, sights unseen and people never met before”.
Mohit Poddar, CEO and Co-founder, says the fact that travel is a broken experience, when planned through several channels, led him to start up. Along with Co-founders Gaurav Kalyan, CTO, and Kritagya Tripathi, CMO, he decided to take a shot at solving this pain point by bootstrapping Shoes on Loose.
Shoes on Loose Founder Mohit Poddar is keen to make travel a hassle-free experience.
In the beginning
Mohit began the venture where he was organising group trips focused on a referral audience.
“During that period, I was looking for people who could seamlessly handle different tasks. I happened to approach Kritagya and Gaurav and they agreed to join me. We decided to start up in 2011. While working together, we realised that we complemented each other’s strengths and had the same vision,’’ Mohit says.
The co-founders believe that the problem in the travel space is commodification. “Travel has to be an experience. Clients who go to an expert or company want insights on the destination rather than just pricing and inclusions,” Mohit says.
Shoes on Loose focuses on identifying every customer’s requirements and offering the best products available with the least efforts involved.
How does Shoes on Loose work?
“At Shoes on Loose, we have developed the concept of ‘destination experts’. Each of our team members works on just one destination at a time, channelising all efforts and time to that particular destination. S/he curates a value-for-money itinerary for clients to deliver the best sales experience, followed by an on-ground experience in line with the clients’ expectations,’’ Mohit says.
Iin-house CRMs are in place across the entire buyer’s journey. The technology not only helps a customer finalise a trip based on preferences, but also assists destination experts to generate customised travel itineraries in seconds.
Customers have become tech-friendly and value-conscious with technology taking centre stage, Mohit says. And Shoes on Loose, which does not work on a price-conscious methodology, is catering to value-conscious customers.
“In terms of value, they’ve become very strategic in choosing their experiences. They’re value-driven, and will pick brands aligned with their own personal values,” Mohit says.
This is the reason that the travel startup prioritises customer experience throughout the planning and execution phase, and believes it to be its single most effective differentiator. It focuses on “knowledge-based selling”, positioning itself as a team of destination experts as opposed to travel consultants or agents.
Tapping tech to simplify travel
Shoes on Loose currently has 50 travel experts on board, and all are trained in delivering end-to-end solutions in destination travel.
A client dashboard gives travellers access to their entire trip details, vouchers, itinerary, blogs (trip guides/FAQ's), so they have complete knowledge of the destination they are heading to.
Keeping in mind changing customer behaviour and the near-dependency on gadgets, the startup – web-based till now – is developing a mobile application that will cater to the needs of travellers before and during trips.
Shoes on Loose’s first client was an HR group of 45 people who approached the startup through a friend. The group was keen on a three to four-day wildlife getaway and wanted Shoes on Loose to plan the entire trip, from zeroing in on a place to managing all the finer details.
“After due diligence by our travel experts, we suggested Bandhavgarh. To make their trip memorable, my team and I visited the place to get in-depth knowledge. We engaged with the group on a regular basis, and did things like sharing live videos of the resort that we shortlisted and taking their approval for the smallest aspects. That helped us build a personal connection,” Mohit says.
The trip left everyone happy, and Shoes on Loose didn’t get its first big cheque; it also found a loyal customer. This was in 2012, and brought them several other clients.
The challenges along the way
"Though the journey has been very adventurous, there have been a few ups and downs. The first year was really very tough for me," Mohit says. He was juggling the startup with his job, which required personal involvement with developers and designers to get things done.
Later, when he left his job to focus on the company, he was clear that he did not want Shoes on Loose to be a generic travel company. To this day, Mohit remains focused on ensuring that the startup remains tech-driven.
Apart from operational challenges, Mohit and team also took various risks like pre-purchasing flight seats without any B2B company backing them to make the travel packages more attractive.
“The risk has been worth it. These difficult decisions and all other efforts have made our company what it is today,” Mohit says.
The business model
Shoes on Loose’s business model has evolved with time, but the core has been the same: creating a product with the best value for the client and establishing long-term relationships.
More than 33 percent of the revenue is driven by referrals. The model is built around retaining existing clients while selling packages to gain new ones. The travel startup claims to have successfully conducted over 10,000+ customised tours to domestic and international destinations. More than 35,000 travellers have booked trips with Shoes on Loose.
The startup takes a commission from every package.
“Considering that the market is price-sensitive, we have direct tie-ups with tourism departments, hotels, and airlines to remain competitive and provide our customers with value-for-money services," Mohit says.
Apart from customised holiday packages, the startup also has an inventory of camping equipment that can cater to 500 campers at a time. They are the official camping partners of some of the leading music festivals in India, including Magnetic Fields Festival. “We also provide camping gear on a rental basis and are trying to increase the demand as SBU of the company,” Mohit says.
The founders have also launched a Save Ladakh campaign to promote sustainable tourism and educate travellers about rising concerns related to plastic waste management and water scarcity in Leh.
In the future
According to IBEF, the Indian tourism and hospitality industry has emerged as one of the key drivers of growth among the services sector in India. A Techsiresearch report states that the country’s travel and tourism market stood at $56 billion in 2017 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of over 7.5 percent to reach $86 billion by 2023. This growth will be led by growing domestic and foreign tourist footfall and increasing number of religious and leisure trips.
Shoes on Loose, which started with an initial investment of Rs 20 lakh, has been reinvesting profits to expand the business. It remains bootstrapped, but is looking for Series A investment for business development, product development, and expansion.
The company is currently generating Rs 4 crore in revenue and is targeting Rs 8 crore by the end of FY20. It competes directly with aggregators such as MakeMyTrip, Yatra, and others, and niche travel startups like PickYourTrail and Wandertrails.
Over the next 18 months, the founders aim to achieve a 5 percent market share in the destinations that they are promoting. The long-term plan is to make individual and corporate clients brand ambassadors and advocates for the startup.
They are also working on a client and vendor app to make the process transparent.
“We are planning to launch both apps by the beginning of the next financial year, which I believe will garner traction and be a leap towards making the end-to-end process hassle-free,” Mohit says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)