27 June 2017 11:00:45 IST

Helping you plan an activity-filled vacation

PickYourTrail provides curated activities for the discerning traveller

Hari Ganapathy and Srinath Shankar have been friends from college. Hari, the senior of the two, graduated in Physics and Srinath in Mathematics. Both got jobs in an IT company, and soon found themselves doing an MBA — Hari from IIM-Bangalore and Srinath from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai.

Their paths diverged when they started working. It converged again in Bengaluru, where both were employed. They were both avid bikers. While Hari had been abroad on a few occasions, Srinath’s attempts to visit Europe did not fructify till he was part of a group with Hari. The wanderlust bug bit them. Soon, the entrepreneurial bug too bit them. Their idea was to launch an online activity marketplace for those travelling abroad, to pick activities that will make their trip exciting and worth remembering. “What activity you do in a city makes a difference to your visit,” says Hari.

On January 1, 2014, they launched PickYourTrail. But just before their venture took off, they made a presentation at a product conclave, where the idea was rejected outright, says Hari, by none other than Rajan Anandan, then head of Google India. “We had already put in our papers. There was no going back,” says Hari. Having committed a good chunk of their personal money, the two decided to go ahead with the venture, come what may. When they launched PickYourTrail, they found there were a good number of visitors to the site, but not many of them were transacting through the site.

‘Hook to book’

Hari and Srinath co-founders went back to their customers to find out what the issue was, only to learn that there was “no hook to book” — flights and hotels, pricing and availability of tickets and rooms are strong hooks. PickYourTrail got in touch with those offering tourist activities in various cities, curated the experiences, got them on board and built a product, allowing activity providers to upload their inventory. PickYourTrail would manage it, get the traffic, visitors would book on the site and the activity providers would fulfil the experience.

The market was still nascent, and though visitors to the site were keen to know about the activities, they did not book on the site as flight and hotel-room bookings were not available. This is when Hari and Srinath decided to tweak the model and build a static website, declaring “Personalised vacations, crafted by travellers. Sign in for early access.”

“We got 1,000 sign-ups in a week and had customers paying for the product. The challenge then was to execute end-to-end,” says Hari. They started attending travel trade conferences, building relationships, understanding how to curate supply and figuring out the process. “What you do when you go to a place is not under my control. My supply partner has to do a good job for you to feel happy and recommend me to others,” says Hari.

Between the time they first launched their venture and the time they tweaked the site, Srinath says they were still earning revenues by e-mailing personalised travel itineraries to those who had signed up. “Whatever the product does right now, we used to do that manually,” he adds.

PickYourTrail tweaked the site to allow visitors to book flight tickets, reserve hotel rooms and plan their itinerary. While booking flight tickets was an option, reserving hotel rooms was a must, as, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to guarantee pick-up and transfer at the appointed time.

Those planning a trip abroad need a travel agent’s advice on the sequence of cities and how many days to stay in each city. According to Hari, they have built a proprietary algorithm that takes care of this aspect.

PickYourTrail partners with companies for flight bookings and room reservations, which is where the APIs (Application Programming Interface) come in. Against a couple of hours or even days — how much time it takes to complete an itinerary with a travel agent — on PickYourTrail, says Hari, the entire process will get done in a matter of minutes. At the back-end, PickYourTrail sends e-mails to all customers, listing each line item and cost, making sure everything is transparent and allowing users to keep track of confirmed/pending bookings.

PickYourTrail’s personalisation starts from the moment the user registers on the site. It encourages users to tell something about themselves — whether they like adventure trips or prefer cultural spots. Its routing mechanism even suggests the optimal route, saving users’ cost and time. Customers can even manage their trips to the last detail, including choosing cabs/hotels. The personalised concierge service in PickYourTrail app goes a step ahead and helps customers in case they face difficulties during trips. It also sends out vouchers and travel advice. The firm’s revenue comes from its affiliate partners, which give it a commission, and from its customers, who pay a planning and concierge fee ranging 0.5-2 per cent of the bill amount.

The company has built a 5,000-strong customer base, mostly through referrals, and earns about ₹3 crore a month. The the duo initially invested ₹1.5-2 lakh. By 2020, says Hari, it should be a ₹200-crore company. Hari and Srinath say they don’t need money to grow, but would like the expertise of those who have built large businesses, to scale up fast. “The choice is doing everything ourselves or getting connected to people and doing it faster,” says Hari, who adds the company has built a strong technology moat.

He is confident their company has built a technology moat that will hold it in good stead for some time to come.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)