The idea for Russia-based App in the Air grew out of a geo-location chat service called Squeek with the team soon realising that key users were those chatting in airports.
Common themes for those users were elements such as delays and terminal/gate information, advice on where to eat and sharing taxi costs to and from the airport.
The team decided to develop a service dedicated to these people, raised US$150,ooo in August 2011 and launched the mobile application just under a year later.
The startup is currently negotiating a second round of investment with initial investor IMI.VC and has received more than 50,000 downloads.
The team is headed by chief executive Bayram Annakov who is also product manager, Sergey Pronin, lead developer, Nitkita Kosholkin, business analyst and Kirill Zorenkov, designer.
Competition comes in the form of two apps - Mobiata's FlightTrack and Flight+ but the startup says the key difference is the social element of its app with frequent flyer tips and chat.
App in the Air is a free service but the plan is derive revenue from Push and SMS notifications for fares as well ancillary travel elements from Expedia, Hotwire and similar services.
Q&A with CEO Bayram Annakov
Describe what your start-up does, what problem it solves (differently to what is already out there) and for whom?
App in the Air perfect companion for anyone taking a flight. It helps users to fly smarter by providing flight and airport information such as delays, best restaurants and wifi locations. More, it helps travelers connect with each other and share taxi costs or get relevant information on unknown airport. It also has Passbook integration so travellers can check in via airline mobile websites and store their boarding passes.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
App in the Air is a money-saving flying assistant.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
- Know where to find the best food in the airport and how to connect to free wireless internet.
- Learn the best ways to spend free time and find the best coffee.
- Don't be late with online check-in and keep your friends and family updated by sharing your flight status.
Partnerships with online travel agents and offline marketing materials including printed and online boarding passes, inflight magazines and monitors.
How did your initial idea evolve? Were there changes/any pivots along the way? What other options have you considered for the business if the original vision fails?
The initial pivot was from geolocation chat app Squeek as mentioned above. The other insight came in monetization - the conversion ratio for Push/SMS in-apps is below 1% which is why we plan to sell deals on hotels, taxi, car rentals and airport venues.
Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome (please refrain from using biggest, best or most awesome in your answer)?
Our primary focus for this year is to become profitable, so the whole focus is on finding the best monetization scheme. What we would like to achieve is to be #1 source of official and unofficial information for any flight traveller, that is why we will introduce the option of reporting actual delays by our regular users, because official information is not always accurate. We want to make the flight information process transparent and less stressful for our users.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
Lack of flight status or, delayed arrival, information from official sources and the stress that anyone experiences arriving to/departing from an unknown airport.
The beauty of App in the Air is that it combines flight status and terminal updates and information with a range of other services including deals via SMS, a travel checklist, airline and aircraft information and destination information including local currency conversion and weather.
The ability to chat with other passengers (kind of addictive) in the airport means you can ask anything. They might be on your flight, they might have been to your destination before and can provide tips, they might want to share a ride with you or they might know the airport and its facilities really well.
The team realised early on that conversions were low in Push notifications so also wants to offer additional travel elements such as hotel and car hire via some of the big OTAs.
One challenge might be whether flyers are actually in a hotel booking phase and App in the Air might have more success aligning itself with the likes of HotelTonight, a tours and activities/taxi service or even restaurant booking service and join the dots that way.
Whatever the strategy, the startup has earmarked 2013 as its year for profitability so watch this space.
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