Startup pitch: PlanMy.Travel wants to solve travel planning woes with human expertise
When travel planning, do you search multiple websites and look out for as much information as possible? If yes, then PlanMy.Travel says it has a different approach to it.
India-based PlanMy.Travel says people shouldn’t be overloaded with information, rather they need less information that are provided by trustable people, very useful and authentic.
The service connects travellers with experts who have knowledge about destinations and various activities. Based on the traveller’s request, the expert customizes a personalized trip itinerary, and clarifies all questions thereafter – entirely online.
However, there is a fee that travellers have to pay the expert to get their guidance, PlanMy.Travel takes a cut from that fee.
The traveller can either decide to keep the trip itinerary and discussion logs with experts as public (for others to read) or make it private.
Q&A with founder Aashish Gupta below.
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
When I was running my previous startup, Yellowleg.com, I came across many travellers looking for reliable, first hand, expert travel advice. On the other hand, plenty of travel bloggers, travel writers, and travel enthusiasts have a ton of expertise without a good means to disseminate it or monetize it.
Thus was born the idea of connecting the two via an internet-enabled platform – the Travel Ninjas service, where users could discover and hire destination experts to plan their trips.
I dedicated a part of the Yellowleg.com site to offering this service in a very rudimentary way. I realized that there a pretty big opportunity with this model. When I felt like I had learnt enough about what our users wanted, I decided to take it to the next level by creating PlanMy.Travel
Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
We’re currently a team of three. I’m the solo founder. Vignesh Rajagopalan is leading the technology front and Priyanka Dalal is managing our Community efforts.
We had raised a small accelerator round from The Morpheus, and are now looking to raise $100-200K in the next round.
Estimation of market size?
We target the global FIT market, especially the segment that seeks a moderate to high degree of novelty from their trips. We’re not targeting the organized package tour market. As for specific size, there aren’t that many reliable numbers that we can use, but we know from our market research that globally there is a huge market for our offering.
There isn’t anyone directly competing to sell the same offering to our customers right now. We do face general competition from all other travel planning websites, but are confident that our offering is of superior value to our target users.
Revenue model and strategy for profitability?
We currently take a percentage of whatever our Travel Ninjas charge the user. Going forward, we have plans to integrate with referral programs that will help us gain a share of the revenue from the bookings that our customers make. We will also be looking at monetizing the great content that our Travel Ninja’s generate.
What problem does the business solve?
All existing trip planning solutions are based on the idea that users need more information to plan their trips. We disagree. We believe users need less information, and more knowledge – information that’s been processed by an expert, personalized and has credibility; it inspires confidence in the user.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
There have been several feature and design changes that the product has gone through, but the core idea hasn’t really changed much since we started. However, we only recently released our product for the public, so we will be learning from our customers about the way they use the site.
Why should people or companies use the business?
PlanMy.Travel gives people access to real expertise about destinations and trip planning. This not only helps them have mind-blowing trips, it also saves them the anxiety about whether or not they will be spending their hard-earned vacation time and money well.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
Initially we will be doing a lot of one-on-one interaction with potential users via social media. We will also be working on attracting organic traffic as the excellent content of the trips planned on our site will act as our best advertisement.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
Our vision is to be the de facto source on the web for the best travel planning knowledge. The goal is to make a huge dent in this space. Other than that, I don’t really plan that far ahead.
As for challenges, initially, I anticipate there will be challenges in getting a marketplace kickstarted since we need to build a significant audience on both the buying and selling side to keep both sides interested in investing their time on the platform. Other difficulties may come in building right partnerships with other travel services.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
The travel planning segment is actually quite crowded, but, as I mentioned most of them are working on giving users more information, rather than helping the user make sense of that information.
Some others are using technology-heavy solutions to solve this problem, which would be wonderful if it actually works. But, the current state of technology does a terrible job of it. Maybe some of these start-ups can crack that puzzle in a few years, but in the current scenario, we believe tapping into human expertise is the way forward for solving this problem.
What other technology company would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style… and why?
I would think Amazon. Being an ex-employee, I have really imbibed the core value of “customer obsession” practiced at Amazon and we are doing that here as well – to always do what’s right for the customer and then think about how we can make business sense out of it.
I also greatly admire Jeff Bezos personally and have found him to be an inspirational figure in my entrepreneurial journey.
The key point PlanMy.Travel says is that there are many travel planning companies in the market that are trying to solve the same issue as it does, but others do entirely online. The startup believes that human intervention is needed to address travel planning.
While this may seem right and logical that a human touch is unlikely to be replaced with technology, we have a startup (Mygola) that was in the business of providing a virtual concierge service and later pivoted. Earlier in mygola, users can pay a fee and discuss with a travel expert about trip planning. The company recently pivoted to become an online travel planning service (however, contacting a travel expert is still kept optional).
While PlanMy.Travel is removing the task of trip planning from a traveller, a number of companies are trying to do the other way around by enabling travellers to plan their trips with visually stunning user interfaces.
As Aashish mentioned above, a strong marketplace (of experts, and FITs) is needed to make a big impact in travel planning stage. We will have to wait and see how this marketplace grows. While its a chicken and egg scenario here, it’s an interesting problem to solve to succeed.
Related read: Rome2Rio CEO’s view – Travel planning is not broken, so don’t try fixing it. Do not miss the comments.
Vine video of PlanMy.Travel
Karthick was general manager for Tnooz in Asia until September 2014.