Riding the new-age start-up wave III

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Continuing with our discussion on new-age startups that have the potential to create jobs, and unconventional ones at that, what if we were to give wings to our wildest fantasies and make them take largely maiden flights to hitherto unheard-of vocations. So to say, whereas the last two blogs talked about ideas that had already been tried and tested, what follows is largely uncharted territory – fantastic, fanciful & insanely exciting.

For instance, while we’re already aware that the last bastion of one-horned rhinos in Assam, India, aren’t exactly staring at a bright future, not everyone will, despite beating hearts and glowing emotions, feel it apt to visit Kaziranga and Manas wildlife sanctuaries in person. And this despite the fact that the state, torn apart in the 1980s by ethnic strife, has been pretty placid in recent times. Actually, the greatest issue for everyone, whether from other parts of India, or abroad, is accessibility. The North-East isn’t exactly well-connected though things are changing.

Given these circumstances, what would a wildlife warden sitting in Kohora, one of the main gates of Kaziranga do in order to increase footfalls? Sure, the conventional advertising and PR activities will remain. However, maybe one can take up something really innovative like experiential safaris which are basically augmented reality-like virtual tours that’ll get the potential tourist so engrossed that she’ll pack her bags and set sail for Assam at the earliest opportunity.

In other words, in order to entice tourists into visiting in person, presuming the potential tourist checks in at the website, he gets to see the vanilla pop-up and drop-down advertisements, PR testimonials and the usual stuff. However, the call to action here really is a small video grab that, against a nominal fee, helps one plunge into rhinoceros land lock, stock and barrel! Once the viewer clicks the video, it streams to pan out into a well-cut game-like video that encourages the viewer to partake of the joys of the park – sight birds and wild buffaloes, run around with the shy deer, spot a slithery python sunning itself on the giant eucalyptus, or indeed cap the horn of the one-horned pachyderm with Santa-like caps! This will be designed to be so interactive that the viewer will be induced and so influenced that he’ll book his tickets and make his reservations right away!

Similarly, for heritage tours, one can have an app that is inspired by and designed like a treasure hunt! Imagine an otherwise mundane city ‘darshan’ / tour brought to life with a little imagination where the tourists in different buses are pitted against each other in a race akin to a treasure hunt! For instance, let us assume that Mrs Namrata & Ms Shalini have clicked on to the app. Now, they’re given the option of outwitting each other and winning free passes to the latest water park in town. The app gives them clues akin to a treasure hunt and in the course of the race, they almost experience the city first hand, a decidedly tasty bait for them to make reservations and pack their bags. What’s more, the same app can be replicated on ground and gifts handed out to the winning team. This will easily add the much-desired zing to plain heritage tours or city sightseeing experiences!

Having already spoken of places where the wild things are – of Nature’s bounty as it were – and of man-made heritages and city-walks, it’s a good idea to take a swim with the dolphins and sea-turtles off exotic costs and picture-postcard islands. Yes, when we talk of coastal tours, what is almost always missed out is the crucial bait that makes potential tourists opt for one beach over the others. Look at Goa for instance. What is it that makes this tiny state the party capital of India? Cheap booze? Wrong! There’s cheaper liquor available elsewhere in the country. Is it the beaches? Nine out of ten times, Goa’s famed beaches will leave one underwhelmed. The answer, it’d appear is a quagmire – a cultural heritage that’s as un-Indian as it gets, locals who make a career out of lethargy, a strong PR and Bollywood’s go-to destination for all things sinful! Which is precisely why while a honeymooning couple might choose it, a couple travelling with kids would prefer the serenity of Pondicherry. And while Goa is top-of-mind while selecting a beach vacation, quainter places like Pondicherry and Daman are slowly moving up the line too. So yes, the point is to remain a little enigmatic and a little exotic in order to be that much more attractive to the discerning traveller. So to say, advertise by all means but be clear about your USP. And play it to the galleries.

Riding the new-age start-up wave II

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Continuing our discussion on rocking start-up ideas in travel and hospitality, before we go on the ideas per se, wouldn’t it be worth our while to ponder for a while on allied career paths that you might take after graduating from the prestigious Blue Whale Academy. Confused? We’ll tell you a story that’ll most likely help you understand better.

Take for instance, Anthony Bourdain’s or Samantha Brown’s jobs. Do you think both of these supremely successful travel-show hosts have travel degree under their belts? And we’re not talking of honorary degrees that various academic institutes have conferred on them. Just a cursory skim through Wikipedia will tell you that these people are just plain hardworking chaps who eked out a supposedly cushy life on – guess what – their communication skills and affability alone! So yes, we’re suggesting you can take up an allied career like travel media – don’t restrict yourself by the medium but go the whole hog with TV, radio, print, web and social media. But remember, it’s very competitive and you might not mint money from day one. So, please be patient! And also be prepared for the grime and the smoke that travel entails, as well as inclement weather and your body’s reactions to conflicting time zones. It’s not all about tasting exotic ales & dining at thrilling live barbecues.

Moving on to innovative start-up ideas, there’s the sterling case of Lyft – the cab rental service that unlike its rival Uber enables ordinary people become cabbies and then puts them across to passengers who require rides! So to say, imagine that you’re driving back from office and decide to ferry someone to a place that lies on the way. You post on the Lyft app that you’re travelling on say, the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli-Link-Road to Powai from Goregaon East. This update immediately goes up along with your location details to other users and the user closest to you hitches a paid-ride to Poonam Nagar, Andheri East that’s on the way! In other words, you don’t need to don a cabbie’s uniform, nor go out of your way to earn money – just go with your flow and make money while at it!

Then, take the unique case of two very elemental – yes, maybe, but that much more necessary and ubiquitous apps – WeatherSphere and Peek. WeatherSphere, no prizes for guessing, helps avid travellers negotiate the inclemencies of weather so that the fury of Nature never plays spoilsport in one’s travel plans. Just ask travel aficionados how relevant real-time weather updates are and you shall know just how important a need gap WeatherSphere fills in. Coming to Peek, the app is experiential in the sense that it awards a guided-tour-like experience to its users. And unlike the dime a dozen websites that provide luscious photographs and location reviews, this app by Ruzwana Bashir also employs testimonials by big names to build credibility so genuine that even established players like Disneyland are willing to pay it a 15-20% commission from sales that happen through it’s platform!

And if you always were this grumpy air traveller who managed to find fault with everything from seat reclining angles to food freshness, to heck even the air-hostess’ chipped nail paint, worry not, there’s help for you too! The name’s Tensator – an obvious portmanteau for technical translator. Simply put, these are multi-lingual HD holograms that attempt to enhance ease of travel by answering passengers’ questions about security, flight and gate locations, and airport navigation and in a manner that has been reported to be more affable and knowledgeable than regular ground crew. Currently on a pilot in Dubai International, Washington Dulles, and Boston’s Logan International airports, they’;re so popular as to already solicit coveted epithets like ’employee of the future’.

Further, there’s the absolutely delightful Scottevest – a travel garments’ retailer that prides itself in making travel wear that is fun and functional at the same time. They claim to make “travel clothes with special pockets designed to let you take everything with you”. In other words, they have special pouches/compartments for your mobile, Kindle and other portable devices all sewn in with your travel clothes. Interesting, isn’t it?

To conclude, we return to an app promising a service much like what we began this series with, HotelTonight. This app’s product differentiator is that it helps you make last-minute hotel room bookings without burning a hole in your pocket.

Riding the new-age start-up wave I

Bluewhale_3When it comes to earning dignified livelihoods after passing out from the prestigious Blue Whale Academy, there is indeed no greater truth than saying that the world is indeed your oyster. Given the dynamics of the job market across the wide wide world today, it is indeed no exaggeration to say that apart from jobs across the entire hospitality and ancillary services-related industries, there are indeed wholly unexplored jobs that are waiting to be claimed.

Indeed, given that a strong start-up wave has invaded India, there’s no time like now to be in travel & hospitality. For, like we’ve always desired the world to be, the best thing about startups is that they pay credence to winning ideas. Ideas that have the potential to change the market dynamics and fill glaring need gaps.

Take for instance the stupendously fantastic thought that went behind the modern marvel – Oyo Rooms! When its 22-year-old founder & CEO Ritesh Agarwal, an avid traveller faced the very real and practical issue of unpredictability of quality budget rooms, he pivoted the concept of aggregating standardised budget hotel rooms that undergo periodic audits so as to maintain that most elusive of qualities that the budget traveller faces – QUALITY! In other words, Oyo Rooms is nothing but a cluster of hotel rooms (according to their official website, the present count is over 40,000) that promise to give you exceptional quality without burning a hole in your pocket. The rates are standardised and services are adjusted accordingly. For instance, Oyo Rooms across the country (and they claim to have a footprint across 164 cities via 4,000 properties pan India) priced at, say Rs. 1,000, will have the same facilities across the length and breadth of India – from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Kolhapur to Dimapur. It’ll not be like the unorganised sector where if one gets, say a Wi-Fi room in Guwahati for Rs. 2,000, she’ll have to shell out Rs. 2,500 for the same in Ratnagiri. Apart from price, Oyo Rooms’ fanatical attention to hygiene and standards is another USP for the upkeep of which too, regular audits are carried out.

The point here is not to only to marvel at the success story of a barely-out-of-his-teens Agarwal (that’s of course there) but in order to see how an astute businessman could sense the potent need gap in the market and turn it around into a winning business proposition. And, as any businessman will willingly tell you, at the heart of every single winning business is a simple scalable and executable idea, not rocket science! Purists might argue that there’s hardly anything novel to Oyo Rooms and that it is inspired by the international success of AIRBNB. To that we’ll say that the first measure of success is how many detractors it has! And if, at all, it’s just a matter of inspiration, what stopped others from getting inspired?

Again, when commuting to and from our colleges & offices, haven’t we all fervently cursed the traffic and the attendant din and bustle and promised to take the issue up with gusto with the local MLA? But how many of us have actually done it as against the vast majority of us who have simply preferred to plonk ourselves on the sofa and watch the umpteenth re-run on F.R.I.E.N.D.S? True, isn’t it? A far more practical solution would be what Alta Bicycle Share is doing – operating a bicycle-sharing system. This not only eases commutes by easing traffic snarls but also does a splendid job of reducing carbon footprints and burning unwanted fat in the cyclists’ bodies! How cool is that?

So to say, even our very home-grown Meru cabs did something very novel back then when it launched. It identified a need gap in the market and cashed in on it – a perfectly-sound and logical business idea that was instantly lapped up by passengers who were fed up of cajoling rude auto-rickshaw and cab drivers into rides that they would almost certainly have to overpay for. In it’s stead, Meru proposed a dial-a-cab service that obliterated the very need to step out of your homes before the taxi arrived at your very doorstep. Moreover, you paid by the meter and got a ‘pucca’ receipt for it too! Now that was innovation! Back in the day that is. Of course, one might argue that Meru is a dead duck now, but can anyone deny that back in it’s heyday, it was a beautiful swan?