Startup pitch: Padhaaro wants to bring life to local experiences in India
Padhaaro, which means arriving in Hindi, is an India-based startup connecting local experts with tourists, both foreign nationals and Indians.
Plans to start the company seeded about two years ago when its founders were in Moscow and wanted to explore the city in a local way. According to co-founder Ish Jindal, guidebooks are all very well but it is the human touch that makes a trip complete.
He and co-founder Saurabh Jain thought a platform bringing together local expertise in India would work well because of the country’s unique and authentic experiences.
In addition to the founders, Padhaaro has taken on a couple of interns to look after content and social media marketing.
Padhaaro estimates the Indian tours and activities travel market at around $2 billion but believes there is no big player in the East so it is all to play for.
There are a number of startups in the space but the founders believe they are doing something different in terms of the problem they are solving and the services they offer.
Revenue is expected to be earned by charging customers for every experience they book. The booking amount varies based on the group size, city and any relevant add-ons.
Q&A with co-founder Jindal:
What problem does the business solve?
Padhaaro is trying to fill a gap that currently exists between local experience providers and travellers and other users who value these services significantly.
There are a lot of local people from housewives and students to working professionals and retired people who have an innate passion and expertise other than their day job.
There are artisans, historians, designers, photographers, yoga teachers, cooking experts etc. who do not get a chance to showcase their expertise. And then there is another set of people who are actually looking to feel the local essence during their trip.
The whole idea is to connect people with unique local things which are specific to a certain place and is of interest to them.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
As a pilot, we started it as a volunteer based model, with local experts providing the service for free. We received overwhelming response and feedback from the tourists.
But, over time we realized that for the long term sustainability of the idea, we would need to compensate our local experience providers for their time and efforts. Hence, we introduced a fee for tourists and shifted to a model where we would just take a share of the experience fee.
During the process we realized that we had lots of locals who had something special about them, or who were experts in many fields that could be of interest not only to foreign nationals, but also to Indians. For example, a 55-year old lady runs a popular cafe at a prime location in Mysore, she has been doing something like Padhaaro locally for the past 20 years by teaching yoga, cooking, paper cutting art to foreigners.
So we included “expert-led” Indian experiences as a part of our offerings, and opened these offerings for Indians as well as foreign nationals.
Why should people or companies use the business?
Travellers can explore the local things that they wouldn’t otherwise experience by travelling on their own.
Local get an opportunity to showcase and share their expertise with people who value it and get incentivised at the same time.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
We are doing a mix of online and offline marketing to create an awareness of our offering. For online marketing, we mostly use social media channels and travel forums to spread the word and also do more direct customer-centric marketing.
Other means include:
- Partnerships – establishing relations with businesses which share a similar user base
- Blogging contests – we encourage bloggers to share their travel tips about different Indian destinations
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate?
In three years time we see Padhaaro as one of the key players in the Indian tourism industry, with our local experts across almost all tourist destinations, and a major source of Indian experiences for people visiting various parts of India and various expert-led trips across all big cities.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
The players in the field are travel agents who just take tourists around the “tourist places” in their city, showing them monuments of historical importance or gardens.
The need for a “friend” within a city is still unfulfilled, and tourists are often left to themselves to explore the city. In this process, they also get cheated, or end up wasting their time by capturing only beautiful pictures of historical monuments or gardens.
Indians travelling to an unknown city feel nervous, for example, taxi drivers surround people at the railway station and take them to hotels or restaurants where they earn huge commissions.
People search in Google for places to visit in a city and ultimately they end up visiting only that.
Imagine this – in your last trip to an unknown city you had a friend who came by for a few hours and took you around for sometime and talked to you about the city like a local. Now, compare the comfort factor and overall feel of your visit to the city in both cases above. That is the difference we are trying to bring in.
What other technology company would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style… and why?
I think we believe more in the honesty and integrity with which we are building the business and that is more or less reflected in our culture and style.
We are not really aligned to any company in terms of ethics or work culture right now, but we would like to follow the TATAs and build a business that really matters to a lot of lives.
In the past six months in Tnooz, we have covered a number of travel startups who operate a similar model to Padhaaro. The differentiating factor in Padhaaro is its India-focused service/operation. The reasoning behind this approach is valid given the diversity in culture, various types of destinations, and number of languages spoken in India.
As Padhaaro says, there are a number of unexplored destinations and local experiences in almost every state in India.
For example, I personally went on a two-day experience trip to a rainforest called Agumbe, only to stay in the dense forest and see and study with an expert about King Cobras.
Now, these are experiences that almost no tour management companies or travel agents offer. A tourist will never be exposed to activities like these.
The good news is, there are many such experiences in India, and they are slowly being exposed to a larger audience through platforms like Padhaaro.
Though concepts like Padhaaro are relatively new in India, the competition is tough. In Bangalore alone, there are at least five startups in a similar space.
Padhaaro’s site looks neat, however there seems to be less inventory compared to competitors.
Vine video of Padhaaro:
Karthick was general manager for Tnooz in Asia until September 2014.