Exhibit interviewed Manish Amin, Co-Founder of online travel booking company Yatra.com, who talked about everything right from their journey, challenges, future plans to different facets of himself.
Exhibit: Can you trace the journey of how you came up with the idea of starting Yatra.com?
Manish Amin: Great things rarely do happen over drinks but in our case, it was exactly that! Post my stint with e-bookers, I was catching up for a few drinks in a pub in London with some of my ex-colleagues when in that moment of “dutch courage” we decided to start an online business in India. The next morning, the idea still made sense and we went about putting together a business plan and from there onto raising capital. That’s how the idea of Yatra came into being; the rest as they say is history. When we started this business, we were just about 20 people who had set out to achieve a dream of providing the best online travel booking experience. We spent about 6 months in raising capital and were initially funded by Norwest Venture Partners, Reliance Capital and TV18. The capital raised from these investors was used towards developing infrastructure, technology enhancements, manpower hiring, marketing and brand building.
Exhibit: What led you to start your own entrepreneurial venture?
MA: Dhruv and I frequently traveled to India and we realised how difficult it was to plan your travel here. The market was still very opaque and thus, there was a huge opportunity for us to help ease travel planning for individuals. So, we decided to leverage our combined past experiences to solve this problem and ended up with Yatra.
Exhibit: What hurdles did you have to overcome while you were on the way to set your business?
MA: The biggest hurdle that we faced was to change the mindset of the Indian audiences and gain their trust to start booking online. Also, finding the right talent initially was a daunting task since no one was willing to work in a startup back in 2006. So, we had few of our friends join us and they helped us kick start our venture. Moreover, the infrastructure at that point in time was not ideal to start an online company, since, majority of the people were accessing Internet over a dial up. Airlines, too, were wary of online travel distribution since they weren’t sure of how this would impact their business. Hence, gaining their trust was another challenge. On the technology front, while the international airline information was available on the global distribution platforms, some of the recently launched Low Cost Carriers at that time were on their own platforms which made integrating into them very challenging. Also, a lot of the hotels did not have any technology for distributing their inventory online in a real time manner hence, there was a lot of engineering effort that went into creating platforms for the smaller budget hotels to be able to manage the online distribution of their rates and inventory.
Exhibit: How do you tackle competition and set Yatra.com apart from the competitors looking at the number of travel booking websites that have opened up?
MA: While there are macro challenges like quality of internet connectivity and credit card penetration which continue to be impediments to faster growth, at a more micro level, in a highly competitive industry like ours, the only way to remain ahead of competition is by being extremely customer focused and constantly innovating. We spend a lot of our efforts in the technological development of the mobile platform to ensure a superior product given that a vast majority of India accesses the internet through mobile devices. Moreover, we have invested heavily in analytics to have a deeper understanding of customer segments so that we can offer the right product mix.
Exhibit: Currently, India is witnessing a great boom with regards to the Startup scene. In your opinion, what are the positives and negatives about India as a Startup hub?
MA: Indian economy is growing from strength to strength and proving to be a great platform for startups. Government’s policies, such as ‘Make in India’ and ‘Startup India’, have given a massive boost to the investment landscape for start-ups in India. Global investors are well-aware of the success of the India startup story and are keen to participate in the growth of the eco-system. With the market continuously evolving and the increasing size of the internet population, there is a boom in the e-commerce market space. There is no dearth of talent and individuals are now being more open to experimenting with new and innovative ideas. Though, keeping aside certain challenges that still prevail in terms of infrastructure development, paucity of data and technological advancement, I feel this is the best time for anyone looking to start up a new business in India.
Exhibit: How big a consumer are you of technology and the internet on a personal level? Which are your go to sites and apps?
MA: I completely love technology. It has really shaped and changed the way we live today. Technology allows one to be more efficient. I am an avid online shopper and love to buy new stuff. My favourite apps are Uber, Zomato, BookMyShow and itunes. I also love reading tech blogs and e-books on Kindle.
Exhibit: How would you chalk out your greatest strengths that you observed after successfully heading a Startup, with regards to your personal and professional life?
MA: I think I have become more open to challenges and learning new things. I do not refrain from trying new ideas because you never know which may turn out to be successful. On a personal front, I have become more exploratory in nature and love to try out new experiences.
Exhibit: You are a veteran in the Travel industry and have had a career spanning many years. With the Internet of things coming into the picture, how have things changed from what they were in the beginning to now?
MA: Internet of Things (IoT) is far bigger than anyone realises. It lies at the intersection of data collection and leveraging it. It helps us to analyse and predict the consumer behaviour on the basis of their historical patterns. It aims to make our life smarter and smoother. Imagine on a cold winter night, you come home and your home heater would have been turned on 30 minutes before so it could warm your living room, your coffee machine brews up your coffee before you arrive at office, your washing machine starts to wash your clothes around lunch time automatically; all this happening by just inter-connection of devices over a wireless network. Wouldn’t that be amazing? That is the power of IoT.
‘‘ I think I have become more open to challenges and learning new things. I do not refrain from trying new ideas because you never know which may turn out to be successful.
Exhibit: What trends do you see the online travel sector adapting in the next 5 years?
MA: The travel industry in India has scaled up leaps and bounds over the past decade and within that, online travel has emerged as the defacto form of booking travel. This rapid growth in the travel industry can be attributed to higher disposable income in the hands of the Indian middle class, greater exposure available to the consumer, increase in domestic airlines and better quality road infrastructure that is encouraging short haul weekend getaways, especially using Metros. For the online travel industry, the smartphone revolution has been a key driver of growth over the past 3 years. With over 300 million+ largely mobile internet users, India offers tremendous growth opportunity for online travel companies. This growth is only going to accelerate as the quality of the mobile internet experience improves thanks to the roll out of 4G connectivity. Voice-based search and discovering things via virtual reality are also some interesting trends to look forward to. In addition, the Indian traveller today has become better informed and is looking to constantly explore. He is no longer interested in just merely visiting a destination but is now keen on “experiencing” the destination. Hence people are searching for unique products which help them truly discover destinations.
Exhibit: What changes do you envision in the various payment options and emergence of the many payment gateways keeping demonetization into account?
MA: Demonetisation has truly changed the way we make payments. It is a strong move towards a cashless economy and with the Government rolling out UPI based BHIM app, mobile wallets/banking will play a very important role. An individual no longer needs to go to a bank or stand in queue for money withdrawal. Everything can now be done by just a click of a button on the go.
Exhibit: Which books would you suggest readers to get their hands on?
MA: My favourite books are Secret, 7 habits of effective people. I also enjoy reading autobiographies and loved Elon Musk’s and Richard Branson’s Losing my Virginity.
Exhibit: Describe a quintessential day in the life of Manish Amin.
MA: I usually wake up at 6 am and head to the gym. Once I reach office, I usually catch up with the team to review where we are and discuss the way forward from a target perspective. Lot of brainstorming activity, passionate discussions and important decisionmaking form an integral part of such meetings. Tech priorities are then sorted and plan is put to action. Before I know, the day is over. Once I reach home, I like to catch up on some shows on Netflix. Since, I am a football buff, around midnight I try and watch a game and at the same time keep an eye on the site.
Exhibit: If you had to make a gadget of your own, what would it be like and which features would it have?
MA: I would love to automate my daily routine in the form of a robot which does all my work.
Exhibit: What do you like to spend time doing when you are not working?
MA: I like to read, love watching football and, if time permits, try and catch up with friends over beer.
Exhibit: What is on the cards for Yatra next?
MA: We are focussing on expanding our hotels and holiday side of the business. We currently are the largest aggregators of hotels amongst OTAs having more than 62,000 hotels in India and over 5,00,000 internationally. Our objective is to create a platform which caters to the needs of every kind of traveller be it a deal seeker, adventure traveller or someone seeking unique experiences. We have already taken a step in this direction by creating a market place for holidays that enables other travel companies to also sell their product on our platform. We are also looking to continue innovating and expanding our offerings on the mobile platform as we have found that more than 50% of our bookings are via this medium. As mentioned earlier, we will strive and do all it takes to make this the perfect one stop shop for travel.
- Best piece of advice given to you: Never Say No
- Most unique gadget you’ve come across so far: Home Automation. It’s a life saver
- New Year’s resolution for 2017: I don’t make new year resolutions since I can’t keep them
- Your most useful gadget that’s not a smartphone or laptop: Amazon Echo
- What’s on your bucket list: To visit Bora Bora Islands
- One thing that gets on your nerves: People who say “no” or “not possible”
- Your role model/Business Guru: Richard Branson & Elon Musk
- One TV show you ardently follow: Game of Thrones and Friends Your Business Mantra: Don’t ask someone to do something that you are not willing to do yourself
- Describe Yatra in a statement: One stop travel solution for all your travel requirements