It is fun to travel but painful to arrange the trip. When we start off planning, flights, accomodation and attractions – are scattered across multiple websites on the Internet. We spend time scouting each of them for the best deals, and get the attraction reviews from established players in the market. Wouldn’t it be good if we just specified the destination and some platform magically did everything for us and gave our itinerary to us? And with added bonus of being completely customizable. In this digital age of abundant information, sometimes less is more and Holidayen, a startup disrupting the travel industry just goes with the same adage. Having partnered with Expedia for hotels and Viator for activities, the startup definitely have the best information at hands.
Holidayen is founded by Tarun Madan, who just completed my MS from the University of Texas at Austin, having done his undergraduation in Chemical Engineering from IIT Roorkee. Tarun Kalra of Design Mantras provided him with UI inputs for an enhanced site experience. The startup currently has 2 interns working on product development.
Tarun has spent some time with us, explaining what the product is about, and the lessons he learnt on the entrepreneurial journey so far. Do not miss out the important decision that worked in his favor – having an product development team inhouse!
Holidayen helps to plan the perfect, yet customizable trip
Holidayen was created to address the frustration that travelers face while planning trips. While there are many websites to book flights and hotels within minutes, planning other aspects of a trip such as what to see and experience, where to eat and shop entailed time consuming research. Holidayen simplifies and accelerates this part of planning a trip, and provides automatic yet personalized recommendations for sights and activities. It also schedules a daily itinerary starting from the hotel, helping travelers plan their entire trip effortlessly.
The itinerary generated by Holidayen interface is completely customizable. A user can manually add or drop the recommended hotel, as well as particular sights and activities. They can also automatically adjust the recommendations by indicating their trip preferences simply by adjusting the sliders. Our offerings are extensive and encompass a significant percentage of hotels and activities that travelers usually choose. Users can also easily edit their daily itinerary by simply dragging and dropping, which automatically updates the trip on the map. We have recently begun rolling our mobile apps, which are designed to help travelers plan trips on-the-go.
On Research Behind the Startup & Marketing Strategy
As a travel junkie, I understood the pain of trip planning. However, it would have been naive to act without first validating the market and understanding if a number of travelers felt the same pain. As part of Texas Venture Labs, a very popular Entrepreneurship course at the University of Texas at Austin, I developed an understanding of the online travel market size, and gained perspective of the scope of the opportunity globally. I surveyed 200 international travelers, most of whom found planning the worst part of going on a trip and wished for an easier way to get it done.
Our marketing focus is currently on attracting new users through social media, search engine optimization and tech blogs. To drive the next wave of marketing, we are currently seeking funding.
Lessons Learnt in the Journey So far
It has indeed been challenging and a huge learning experience. As far as product development is concerned, I believe that the most useful thing that helped us in securing right partnership was my previous experience and understanding of website development and a trustworthy network of entrepreneurial friends and relatives. We have all heard horror stories of bootstrapped first time startups ending up with small website development companies or freelancers offering cheap services, who end up massively delaying the product development or seriously compromising on the quality. I decided to keep the product development in-house by directly hiring and managing interns for product development.
Travel is a huge industry with multiple players, and offering the best options by choosing the right partners is important for retaining our users. We tried multiple options before finalizing Expedia and Viator, and the key here was to keep trying and identifying best partners aligned to our vision.
Experience of Starting up in USA
There is a higher abundance of professional angel networks, accelerators and entrepreneurial support networks, which is very encouraging. What is especially encouraging is the awareness and availability of support systems even outside the major hubs like Silicon Valley. Presence of a number of quality business schools which are open to help local entrepreneurs is another helpful and distinguishing feature here. I think India has started developing a good system in some cities like Bangalore and New Delhi, but it is equally important to spread the awareness and support system to smaller towns, which can help make small town communities economically more independent by creating local jobs.
One Thing that worked well in the Startup Journey so far
The decision to keep product development in-house helped immensely in timely delivery of the product. I would advise other entrepreneurs to bring the necessary skills for product development and management as early as possible within the team. Also, network and maintain a close relationship with other entrepreneurs who have been through this before. There are a lot of experienced people who are ready to help and provide useful contacts for business partnerships.
We plan to scale up swiftly to include more destinations, and also expand the range of our recommendations to include other aspects such as events and restaurants to make complete plans. We endeavor to help travelers have memorable holidays, and all upcoming features are designed to ensure that users have the best experience possible.
We hope you enjoyed reading this interview, as much as we did doing it. Here’s wishing Holidayen team the very best!