Founder Interview:

Travel has always been the biggest chunk of the e-commerce market in any country. As per a recent IMRB & IAMAI report, online travel sales accounted for 71% of all B2C e-commerce sales in India in 2013. No wonder, this is lucrative sector for startups. Added to the market size is the fact that the bigger players have not really led innovation in this space, with most remaining content to simply compete on price and the size of their marketing budget. One of the startups that is looking to address this innovation gap is Holidayen. Tarun Madan (Founder – Holidayen) spoke about how he aims to make trip planning easier through a better interface and relevant recommendations.
What is the one problem that you are out to solve with Holidayen? Where are you better than your competitors: is it the recommendations or cost or user experience or something else?
We are solving a problem faced by most independent travelers who plan trips on their own without enlisting the services of a tour operator – that of destination research and planning, deciding what to do during a trip, which landmarks and places of personal interest to visit, where to shop and when to go where. Planning a trip is a tedious process taking upto several days or weeks of online and offline research and we are simplifying that radically to help people plan awesome trips in minutes or seconds. Our competitors require the user to spend far more time, and feed several inputs to generate basic trip plans.
Even with a number of travel sites, trip itinerary planning is a painstakingly personalized job that has proved difficult to do online – how are you tackling this challenge?
Main issues with online travel planning are reliable data and personalization based on the user’s interest. Both of these aspects are indeed challenging. We have curated open source data on all our destinations using inputs available from real travelers. For personalized recommendations, it is very important to have an intuitive user interface that provides flexibility. With Holidayen, users can change their automatic recommendations based on simple mouse clicks and there is also flexibility to research and add/drop attractions manually. We have received very encouraging feedback for our user interface and we believe that the swiftness in trip planning it provides is a major factor of differentiation with our competitors who face difficulty in planning trips using their products.
We noticed that you are providing a trip planning with hotels & activities but not flights. Will you stay away from flights or is that in planned in the future?
Flight booking is a mature market which has recently seen a lot of good product innovations. We do plan to introduce flights at a later stage to complete the entire trip planning gamut, however, we believe that the urgent market pain point is destination based planning, and that is where we are focusing our attention on.
With all the big players around, travel sites have a notoriously high marketing spend to generate traffic – as a startup, how are you guys planning to go about marketing? Are you funded at the moment?
We are seeking outside investment mainly for marketing expenditure. As our product has been well received, we are aiming at creating brand awareness through social media and travel blogs. Meanwhile, we recently began rolling out mobile apps with a freemium business model to drive revenue and fund short term marketing expenditure requirements.
How is the traction that you are seeing with the Android app, is that going to be the main way forward?
We are seeing good user adoption, encouraging feedback and reviews, and a healthy rate of free to paid apps transfer. We see our apps as a short term revenue building source and a main way forward for few initial months.
What is the one tip that you would like to give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
One piece of advice I would give aspiring entrepreneurs is to network with others who have been through the same startup path earlier. They can gain a lot of market and product development insights from entrepreneurs who have already been in that place.
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Startup Guy

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